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

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | The Child in the Grave | Summary



A mother has lost her youngest child, a little boy. Despite the inevitability of his death and all attempts by her family to console her, she is unable to overcome her grief. She will not sleep or eat, and even though the funeral has passed, all her thoughts and prayers are for her lost child. There is no room for anyone else in her heart—so consumed is she with her attachment to the boy. When she visits his grave one night, a gentle voice speaks to her. She turns to see it is Death standing by her side, observing it seems to be her wish to go down into the grave with her child.

Death grants the mother her wish and envelops her in his cape to take her underground. There she finds her child, and the two have a joyful reunion. He explains with delight he can now fly, and all about him is beauty and joy. But he also tells her when she cries for him, it pulls him back so he can't fly with the other happy children there. If she will wait a little while, he tells her, they will be together again; in the meantime, he reminds her there are others who need her. As the sun rises, the mother wakens from a deep and restful sleep, feels restored to peace, and is able to release her beloved child and to return to her family once again.


The moral of this story is Death, as a natural process of life, is not to be feared. Instead it should be respected with resignation, since it is the agency by which souls are brought to final judgment at life's end.

The story is similar to another mother-and-child tragedy by Andersen titled "The Story of a Mother." Andersen is reported to have said the two stories gave him much pleasure, since many grieving mothers had told him they have found comfort in them.

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