The Little Mermaid Essay

2418 words - 10 pages

The Little Mermaid

"But I must be paid also," said the witch, "and it is not a trifle that I ask. You have the sweetest voice of any who dwell here in the depths of the sea, and you believe that you will be able to charm the prince with it also, but this voice you must give to me; the best thing you possess will I have for the price of my draught. My own blood must be mixed with it, that it may be as sharp as a two-edged sword."

"But if you take away my voice," said the little mermaid, "what is left for me?" "Your beautiful form, your graceful walk, and your expressive eyes; surely with these you can enchain a man's heart. Well, have you lost your courage? Put out your little tongue that I may cut it off as my payment; then you shall have the powerful draught." "It shall be," said the little mermaid. (Andersen 50)

The passage quoted above is an important excerpt from "The Little Mermaid," a famous work by the great Danish storyteller, Hans Christian Andersen. This excerpt marks the turning point of the story, when the little mermaid adamantly resolves to trade her voice for a pair of legs with the sea-witch, a decision that adversely changes her fate. From here onwards, the story of a mermaid who longs to be human and with the prince she loves heads towards a tragic end: she will transform into wind eventually, bereft of love and overcome by grief. This is no doubt a poignant story about unrequited love; however what makes it striking is also its primary and perhaps conflicting role as a fairytale. In fact, "The Little Mermaid" was one of the stories from Andersen's third volume of fairytales for children: "Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. Første Samling. Tredie Hefte" published in 1837. In the passage itself, the two main characters involved are magical creatures depicted in a rather common situration that we find in fairytales. The witch and the princess aptly fit into the categories of certain "dramatis personae" (Propp 79) with specific spheres of action as described in an essay by Vladimir Propp, a Russian Formalist who systemized theories about folktale. The witch acts as a "donor" (Propp 79) who provides the mermaid princess, the "hero" (80), with a "magical agent" (79) for her quest (to be with her prince).

However, in retrospect this situation is not so fairytale-like anymore if we realize that the "magical agent" is actually an indirect cause for the little mermaid's eventual demise. There is dramatic irony in this exerpt (discussed further later on), which leads to the eventual subversion of the fairytale ending. The tale can also be called a parody of conventional fairytales masked as one itself: when the ending turns out to be a tragic one, the expectations of the readers are subverted. Here parody and irony lead to a somewhat conflicting contrast between a fairytale and a sad love story, and this conflict substantiates the idea that "irony can destabilize" (Montgomery et al 169). However, the stark disparity between a...

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