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A Sense of Satisfaction and Self Understanding

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Marcela Caldera


Scand 50W

30 July 2015

A Sense of Satisfaction and Self Understanding

One fundamental human need is to feel integrated into a community where one’s goals and interests can best be actualized. Searching for a new home that one feels most comfortable in is a common theme depicted in various Scandinavian literatures. For example, the main characters of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and The Ugly Duckling, and Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House illustrate a desire to escape the conventionalities and societal norms in their current environment to find freedom. Their journeys not only exemplify a need for emotional attachment to a place, but also a development of character that transitions from an initial motive brought about by internal conflicts in their home, to consciousness of what they perceive their place in the world to be. In contrast, the characters of Andersen’s Thumbelina and Isak Dinesen’s Babette’s Feast are initially content with their upbringing and have no motive to leave the current home they have. However, the stories differ in the outside forces that wish to take them from their home and the way they face them. In Babette’s Feast the main characters are courted with opportunities for love and fame but disregard these proposals. Whereas Thumbelina has no choice in leaving her home when the toad steals her away to marry her son. Despite the characters’ reluctance to change their lives, they eventually realize that the opportunities presented to them offer greater possibilities that lie outside the comfort of their home. These Scandinavian texts all depict a similar theme of searching for a sense of life satisfaction in a new home. The characters in these stories are presented with opportunities to leave their current home and thereby search for some life-changing goal. As a result of each individual journey, the characters evolve and develop a new sense of understanding of their environment and of themselves.

Hans Christian Andersen’s portrayal of The Little Mermaid depicts leaving home as a way to escape one’s inevitable fate. The little mermaid has two goals that are tied to one another which require her leaving her mermaid life: to attain the prince’s love and gain an immortal soul. When she speaks to her grandmother about human life versus mer-people life she becomes discouraged about turning into sea foam after she dies. The little mermaid cries, “as the foam of the sea, I shall be driven about never again to hear the music of the waves, or to see the pretty flowers nor the red sun,” (Anderson, The Little Mermaid). She says she “would give gladly all the hundreds of years that [she] has to live, to be a human being only for one day, and to have the hope of knowing the happiness of that glorious world above the stars,” (Anderson, The Little Mermaid). From this moment in the story, the little mermaid has decided to change her fate even if it means having to sacrifice her home and all she’s ever known. When the little mermaid turns fifteen, she is finally able to make the journey up to the surface and see what lies above the waters of home. She encounters a ship carrying a handsome prince whom she instantly falls in love with. After saving the prince from a shipwreck and finding out where he lives she, “spent many evenings and nights looking at the splendid palace. She swam nearer to the land than any of her sisters had dared. There was a marble balcony that cast its shadow across a narrow canal, and beneath it she hid and watched the young prince,” (Anderson, The Little Mermaid). This terrestrial attachment the little mermaid has formed sets the second goal she has in mind to become a human in order to win the prince’s love. Her determination is seen in not only putting her life at risk by swimming farther to land than her sisters did, but more dangerously her decision to see the sea witch about giving her a pair of legs. Even after the sea witch explains that the transformation will be tremendously painful, describing the feeling “as if a sharp sword slashed through you” and “every step you take will feel as if you were treading upon knife blades so sharp that blood must flow,” the little mermaid agrees nevertheless to endure the suffering with the “thought of the Prince and of gaining a human soul,” (Anderson, The Little Mermaid). The sea witch cackles, “I know what you want… and it is stupid of you,” (Anderson, The Little Mermaid). The remark she makes about the little mermaid’s foolishness in wishing for a human life alludes to the misconception the little mermaid has made about happiness connected to a human soul. In Anderson’s story, contrary to Disney’s adaption, the little mermaid does not win the prince’s love. Despite the great sacrifices the little mermaid made such as losing her voice, enduring almost unbearable pain, and risking her life for the prince, she died and turned to foam. However, because of the same sacrifices the little mermaid made, the spirits of the air give her the chance to gain an immortal soul by doing good deeds for 300 years. Even after suffering greatly and sacrificing her goal of gaining the prince’s love, the trade she is offered by the spirits may not be the fairest but she is still given the opportunity to achieve her more important goal of earning an immortal soul.

The Little Mermaid explains how self-sacrifice and unselfishness embodied in the little mermaid provided her with a much more valuable goal obtained. The little mermaid left her home in search for a human life and an immortal soul that also would give her the chance to live with the prince. The new life she imagines for herself gives her a sense of hope of life-satisfaction. Staying under the sea would result in herself becoming foam and she fears this fate, which is why she must set out to find a way to become human. In the end, she is not able to attain the prince’s love which results in her death. Throughout the story, the little mermaid’s benevolence does not change; however, because of her great sacrifice, she is promised an immortal soul and this changes her perception about a mer-person’s afterlife. The little mermaid’s decision to leave her home did not end with everything she wanted, but she does earn an opportunity to gain a chance at an afterlife by the air spirits. By accepting their offer, she understands where she falls in her new environment and what she must do from this point forward to ensure her soul.

Similar to The Little Mermaid, Anderson’s The Ugly Duckling, depicts a desire to escape home and seek a new life elsewhere. Contrary to the little mermaid; however, the ugly duckling leaves home to escape the harsh treatment he suffers during his upbringing. The duckling, “who had been the last to hatch and was so ugly, was bitten and pushed and made fun of both by the hens and by the other ducks,” (Anderson, The Ugly Duckling). The ugly duckling is teased by others because of his different appearance that does not fit the normal standards set upon by those around him. Because of the criticism the duckling endured, he was driven to leave his home and search for a place where he could better assimilate himself and his abnormally considered appearance. When the duckling meets the cat and the hen, they tell him that if he wants to be taken seriously, or for his opinion to be acknowledged, he would have to behave certain ways. This message is interpreted as the need for one to speak and behave the way societal norms have established. The ugly duckling is struggling to find a sense of belonging because he fails to meet the standards of others conceptions. Until he finally encounters white swans near a stream and immediately feels an inexplicable connection towards these birds when he describes the encounter, “He did not know the name of those birds or where they were going, and yet he felt that he loved them as he had never loved any other creatures. He did not envy them,” (Anderson, The Ugly Duckling). The ugly duckling fears that the beautiful birds will “will peck [him] to bits,” and even yells that the kill him because he feels he is not worthy enough to be in their presence because of his appearance. The ugly duckling had been ridiculed for his looks for so long that he came to perceive himself as ugly in the same way. However, the strange sense of belonging to this group that the ugly duckling feels is later noted by the swans when they describe him as the handsomest of all. As he looks at his own reflection and sees his resemblance he realizes, “It does not matter that one has been born in the henyard as long as one has lain in a swan's egg,” (Anderson, The Ugly Duckling). In the end, the ugly duckling was a handsome swan all along. Being brought up in an environment where he did not necessarily fit in with the other ducks created distress for the ugly duckling because he felt like an outcast. This led him to leave the place he considered home in search of a new home where he could feel integrated. The Ugly Duckling represents a search for identity instead of assimilation. The ugly duckling struggled to find a place to fit into until he stopped searching and was led to his kind all alone. Because of the torment and suffering the ugly duckling had to endure from everyone who deemed him too different, he began to lose a sense of hope and a sense loss of place in the world. He soon gained understanding about himself and his identity once he discovered his resemblance to the swans. Once he finally encountered his family he was able to consider that a home where he felt appreciated and inclusive, as opposed to his previous homes.



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