Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Study Guide

Hans Christian Andersen

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Course Hero. (2017, October 6). Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved July 16, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/

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Course Hero, "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide," October 6, 2017, accessed July 16, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/.

Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Symbols

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Fire and Ice

Images of fire and ice, with their opposite attributes, are powerful symbols of transformation in many of Hans Christian Andersen's stories, including "The Snow Man," "The Little Match Girl," and "The Snow Queen." Summers are short and winters long in the Scandinavian countries, and Andersen uses the effects of these seasons on emotions to express the resolution of justice or a change of fortune for the characters in his tales. While it was important to teach children about the dangers of freezing to death, he clearly found it equally important to show them that frost, snow, and ice could be transformed, through imagination, into all manner of fantastic creatures. On the other hand, while fire brings warmth and light (as in the visions offered by lit matches to the girl in "The Little Match Girl"), it can also destroy, as in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier."

Light and Dark

Darkness often symbolizes loneliness or abandonment in Andersen's tales. It is in the darkness of a New Year's night that Andersen sets the story of the neglected, starving girl in "The Little Match Girl." In an effort to survive, the little match girl strikes matches and by their light has visions of a better life. The evil spell cast over the 11 brothers in "The Wild Swans," however, is in force only during the daylight hours. Illusion peels away at night, and their true human identity is revealed.

In developing light and dark symbolism, Andersen was also guided by the Romantic idea that dreams and visions are valuable because they reveal buried feelings, like the little match girl's experience prior to death. The story "The Shadow" delves into this idea by showing the artist in pursuit of truth and beauty must be prepared to acknowledge his darker, shadow side in order to be successful.

Common Objects with Uncommon Properties

In several stories Andersen endows common objects with uncommon properties in order to underscore a moral. The reflective, sharp, and brittle surfaces of mirrors, windows, and ice in "The Snow Queen" are representations of evil. When the hobgoblin's mirror shatters, the shards lodge in people's eyes and hearts to twist everything they experience into ugliness. It takes the tears of pure, brave Gerda to melt the shard in Kay's eye.

The tinderbox in the story "The Tinderbox" is a common household object with no particular use except to strike a light for a fireplace or a smoke. But like the galoshes in "The Galoshes of Fortune," it turns out to have the extraordinary power to grant wishes. The galoshes for the most part bring their wearers misfortune, as the wearers have committed the sin of wishing to be somewhere or someone else. In contrast the tinderbox brings rewards for the enterprising soldier.

The specific properties of wood, tin, and porcelain not only define the characters made of these materials in "The Fir Tree," "The Steadfast Tin Soldier," and "The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep," respectively; they symbolize challenges to their abilities to realize their most cherished desires.

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