Hans Christian Andersen: Persona & Personhood

Jun 2, 2022

Photo Credit: Artem Sapegin via Unsplash

While many of Hans Christian Andersen’s 19th-century stories have moralizing motifs, their universality and depth places them among ageless fairy tales. Although The Princess and the Pea and The Emperor’s New Clothes are social satire, they also depict psychic dynamics. A young prince searches but cannot find a mate—until a princess arrives one stormy night, soaking wet and mind-blowingly over-sensitive. Do opposites attract, or are they only contrasting representations of superficiality and entitlement? Andersen’s pen next delivers the famous emperor an even more pointed jab: a child, innocent of the contrivances of social status, blurts truth: he has no clothes! Perhaps each of us has an inner emperor whose shadow is on unwitting public display—and a wise child. If Andersen has little regard for self-aggrandizing conceits, The Ugly Duckling depicts compassion for suffering and the downtrodden. Despite abuse and exile, the ugly duckling responds to springtime’s jubilant beauty. He takes wing, answering the call to transcendence—which reveals his transformation. Swans are the divine bird—a royalty we may rightly aspire to. 

Here’s The Dream We Analyze:

“I am walking and see a headlight lying on the road (on a bridge) and a baby crawling beside it–the baby narrowly escapes from being hit by cars. I see a black and red Bugatti parked (owner of the headlight) and denounce the driver to my football coach, who is also a policeman. I remember the car’s number plate. I get a lot of attention due to this, and I greatly enjoy this. I start murdering people to get more attention. The first murder is with a pistol, the second with a revolver. I try to steal a gun from the football cafeteria for the third one, but I fear being found out by my trainer/policeman, so I end up throwing the gun into the changing room. I confess to him that I am the murderer. My trainer accompanies me to a field nearby where some of my classmates from school are celebrating my birthday. There is a pool. On our way there, I explain to my trainer that I committed those murders because I had become addicted to the attention and adrenaline. It is dark, and suddenly my trainer starts walking faster. There is a donkey chasing us. We manage to evade it and climb the fence. The donkey jumps over the fence and attacks me. I crawl underneath the fence and arrive at the spot where my classmates are.”


Hans Christian Andersen. The Complete Fairy Tales & Stories. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1626860998/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_86034741H5DFNZAHMH8D


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  1. Judy G.`

    Hearing this, I realize I’ve never read Anderson’s works. I’m guessing I mostly know them from the bio movie featuring Danny Kaye.

    Even though you didn’t cover the story, you’ve reminded me of The Mermaid’s Daughter by Anne Claycomb. In the novel, the mermaid’s curses were passed down to her daughter and her daughter’s daughter and so on until seven generations later the latest descendant, Kathleen, feels as if she’s walking on glass and while she doesn’t actually lose her tongue it can feel as if it’s been cut off. The sea witches, also bound by the curse, want her to break it which would require her killing her girlfriend with the knife. SPOILERS: Kathleen’s father, a composer, and her girlfriend write an opera and the first performance, with Kathleen playing the mermaid, breaks the curse. There’s a lovely bit where the sea witches are astonished. The humans have no magic, but they somehow created a magic that even the sea witches don’t understand.

  2. Karen Nimmo

    I was listening to this and was interested in Deb’s comments about the use of ‘last year of secondary school’. I’m in the UK and this is very normal language to use about ‘high school’. We don’t talk in terms of senior year. Although, secondary school is the more formal / grown up phrase to use than high school.

  3. Monique Lusse

    Hi Deb and Joseph, this is a comment about the dream. I live in the USA and the recent spate of school shootings jumped into my mind as I heard the dream ego using guns to commit murder for attention and stimulation.

    My question to you is: if you had this dreamer in front of you and were able to ask him questions, what would you ask him in light of the tragic rise of shootings in the US by young men? “Six of the nine deadliest mass shootings in the United States since 2018 were by people who were 21 or younger, a shift from earlier decades.” https://www.nytimes.com/2022/06/02/us/politics/mass-shootings-young-men-guns.html

    What if this dream is a portent? How would you know? What questions would you ask to gather information to assess whether or not this dreamer was a potential mass shooter?

    Thanks. I hope you reply.


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