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

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | The Steadfast Tin Soldier | Summary



A box filled with 25 tin soldiers is given to a little boy, but for lack of enough tin, the last soldier must stand on one leg only. He does this steadily, standing on a table just as well as all the others with two legs. Other toys are also on the table, including a marvelous cardboard castle in which may be seen a lovely paper doll dancer balancing on one leg. The tin soldier falls in love with her, but the Black Bogey (a jack-in-the-box toy) objects to this, warning the tin soldier not to look at her. When the tin soldier is left on a window ledge and knocked over, he undergoes a series of arduous travels, ending up inside a fish that is caught and prepared for dinner in the same house where the little boy lives.

Everyone is amazed to find the one-legged tin soldier unharmed, and he is placed on the table once again to gaze in mute adoration of the paper doll dancer. Things go on like this for some time until the Black Bogey causes one of the children to throw the tin soldier into the fireplace. A puff of wind picks up the paper doll dancer and blows her in there, too. She is instantly burned to ash, while the tin soldier melts down into a little tin heart.


With his one-legged tin soldier, Andersen references veterans returning from war who come home so damaged, they can't find jobs in civilian life. Loss of a limb or limbs is also a feature of "The Red Shoes."

The relative durability of the materials making up the physical or psychological "bodies" of many of Andersen's characters comes up in other tales, such as "The Sweethearts." In "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" the tin of the "tried and true" soldier endures as the distillation of his longing when it is melted into a heart for the paper doll dancer. She herself, as nothing but paper, represents the ephemeral illusion of the stage and burns to nothing but ashes. The story has been transformed into several ballets, most notably for the New York City Ballet by choreographer George Balanchine (1904–83) in 1975.

Unrequited love is a common theme in Andersen's stories and a type of suffering with which he was all too familiar in his own life. In this case love is exchanged between the tin soldier and the paper doll dancer only by glances from a distance.

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