Course Hero. "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide." Course Hero. 6 Oct. 2017. Web. 23 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/>.
Course Hero. (2017, October 6). Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 23, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide." October 6, 2017. Accessed September 23, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/.
Course Hero, "Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) Study Guide," October 6, 2017, accessed September 23, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Fairy-Tales-of-Hans-Christian-Andersen-Selected/.
Karen goes barefoot in the summer and wears heavy wooden clogs without stockings that hurt her feet in the winter, but the kindly old mother shoemaker stitches together some red cloth for a pair of slippers for her. These Karen wears to her mother's funeral. An old lady in a carriage sees the poor girl and asks to be given guardianship of her. Karen believes this good change in her fortune happened because she was wearing red shoes. Her guardian raises Karen carefully, but will not allow her to wear red shoes. When Karen is to be confirmed at church, she is taken to get a new pair of shoes, but, she tricks her nearly blind guardian into buying for her a pair of red shoes instead of black ones. Everyone at church stares at Karen's red shoes, and she basks in the attention. Her red shoes and dancing are all she can think about.
An old soldier near the church taps the soles of her red shoes and tells them to never come off when Karen dances. Shortly thereafter, Karen's guardian falls ill. Karen tries to take care of her, but misses the fun of dancing at a ball. She puts on her red shoes and can't resist trying out a few dance steps. But the shoes take over and she can't stop dancing or take off the shoes. When she dances out to the church, an angel forbids her entrance, telling her she must dance through all the world as an example to other vain and proud children. Finally she dances to the home of the executioner and begs him to cut off her feet, whereupon the shoes dance away with her feet, leaving her to find whatever work she can without them. Once her heart is cleansed of all vanity and she is truly repentant of her sin, Karen is transported by an angel to the church, where sunlight streaming in through its windows releases her soul to heaven.
As a child and young man, Andersen was keenly aware that shoes—or the lack of them—make all the difference in how people are treated. This story is one of several, such as "The Swineherd," in which a pretty but vain young girl's obsession with her looks leads to her downfall. The stern and "sober-dressed" Lutherans predominant in Denmark of Andersen's time took a dim view of dancing, drinking, playing cards, and wearing bright colors that would call attention to the person wearing them. Andersen himself admits when he wore leather shoes for the first time in his life for his communion, he was filled with pride. Everyone in the church would hear the squeak of his new shoes, instead of the clap of wooden shoes on the floor. He was later horrified by his lack of piety, and that memory inspired the story.
The shoes are not just a symbol of Karen's vanity, but of the seductive pull of sin itself. Karen ignores the advice of her elders when she allows her desire to dance to outweigh her understanding of what is right. Having given in to sin, she finds it separates her from her old life, and only death can redeem her.