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

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | The Emperor's New Clothes | Summary



A powerful emperor obsessed with new clothes provides an opportunity for two clever swindlers to spread rumors around the kingdom they are master weavers of a particularly rare kind of cloth that is invisible to anyone stupid or unfit for his rank. When the emperor hears of this, he thinks such clothing would be perfect for him to have, so he could recognize all the fools and incompetent officials of his kingdom. The emperor sets up the two swindlers in a palace workroom, giving them every costly and rare material they might need. The swindlers put all the goods into their packs and pretend to weave, cut, and sew cloth for the emperor's new clothes. It takes them quite a long time, however, so the emperor sends various officials and courtiers to check on their progress.

None of the courtiers can see anything, but fearful of being exposed as either stupid or incompetent, they play along, praising the quality of the cloth and the cut of the clothes. Finally the emperor himself arrives to try on his new clothes and is upset when he himself is unable to see anything at all. Rather than reveal his own inadequacy, the emperor also plays along. He dresses in the invisible clothes and parades forth in public with several courtiers holding up the "robe." All the townsfolk are dismayed since the emperor appears to be wearing nothing at all, but everyone loudly exclaims his or her admiration for the marvelous clothes. Finally a little child blurts out the emperor isn't wearing anything. Knowing this to be true, the emperor lifts his head a little higher and continues his march as proudly as ever.


In this story Andersen validates the candor and honesty of children, particularly in contrast to the artifice of adults. The story shows many adults are overly concerned with appearance and image rather than character and substance.

It is possible with the tale Andersen was poking fun at the French monarch Louis XIV (1643–1715), who spent a good deal of his time dressing in fine clothes. He kept his nobles so occupied at court with trivial issues of attire they had no time to plot against him. Andersen himself credits the Spanish author Don Juan Manuel (1282–1348) as the originator of the idea for the story.

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