lunes, 1 de enero de 2018



Fairy tales, proved to be cautionary and revealing, are entitled as the first readings exposed to children all over the world nowadays, transcending generations and cultures with instructions of social morals and gender roles. Propelled by the second-wave feminist movement, postmodern western feminists have been interpreting and remaking traditional fairy tales and prototype in a variety of discourses and techniques, such as psychoanalysis, historicism, structuralism (metafiction and intertextuality), etc., refilling vitality in the academic debates that crosses time and space. In reality, preceding three hundred years at least, women already adopted gender approaches to fairy tales, prefiguring the critiques and constructing female scholarships of later generations. Simone de Beauvoir (1961, p.187), although being criticized for simplistic reading of ‘demonstrating the social-cultural myth (Hasse 2004, p.3)’, represented the early feminists who deficiently considered female oppression in socialization, and she exclusively discussed woman’s nature in relation to male domination. Throughout the 1970s the ideas of the female representations and their effect on the gender construction and behaviour of children proliferated, the following critics creating more complex analysis to conform to modern identities of emerging females, further, continuing on pluralizing the dimensions of woman’s life and the recognitions of historical female authorship (Ibid). Focusing on how traditional tales as the lens to examine sex, violence, nature, romantic love and adapted social mores to promote patriarchal bourgeois values (Ibid, p.10-12), Maria Tatar (1987, p.xxi) stressed the different cultural reflections of fairy tales on current lives. The last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed the blossom of women (Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Anne Sexton, etc.) recreations of fairy-tale traditions (Hasse 2004, p.23) to which the criticism also echoed as the incentives of feminist movements. Bacchilega (1997, p.51), for example, questioned the nature of gender and narrative plots in postmodern revisions by promoting intertextual multivocality to decentre the patriarchal images. Over the hundreds’ years of traditions, the combination of feminism and fairy tales has created precious opportunities to explore the female representations under specific socio-cultural and economic situations, more importantly, to liberate children with nonstereotypical, multicultural and transnational notions of gender through the creation, research, reception of fairy tales. 
Deeply inspired by the European traditions of both avant-garde literature of Romanticism (Ludwig Tieck, Hoffmann and Novalis), folklore, religious fantasies, classical storytelling traditions, and bourgeois individualism, not aiming at children, Andersen challengingly initiated a new genre of literary fairy tales with his own creativity and the cleansing of sexuality (Zipes 2005, p.79). His vernacular tales received popularity firstly in Denmark, then Germany, Britain, and the US, and so forth, Andersen’s globalized impactsteadily expanded, credited largely to the massive translations of over one hundred languages (Bo 1980, p.136-144) and his modernized insights.

Chapter One ‘I Intended to Save You’: Redemption of Both Sexes 

Both stories discussed in this chapter are of magic adventures with a univocal theme ‘redemption’: Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ tells about a little girl named Gerda who rescued her male playmate Kai out of the manipulation of Snow Queen. Through the way of redemption, the protagonists separately endured growth at the expense of separation, betrayal and longtime struggles. Clearly, the tales involve the rescue of the opposite sex, which the former contains the collaboration of eight strong women. Andersen’s subtle narrative preserves the innocence of female protagonist through symbolism such as the splinters of glass that torture Kai’s views and behaviour – sneering, mimicry and moodiness (Wullschlager 2000, p.244). Corresponding to the favourite nineteenth-century theme, Andersen depicts his own version of woman’s redemption of man (Ibid, p.245), which coincidently contrasts Luce Irigaray’s feminist assertion of ‘mimicry (Irigaray 1985, p.220)’, symbol of ‘mirror (Ibid, p.177)’, and ‘redemption of women (Irigaray 2004, p.150)’.

1.1 Love, Glass, and Tears: Woman’s Redemption 

In this imaginative tale, Andersen portrayed the adventure of a little girl who finally found and released her friend, who was abducted by the sinister Snow Queen, with love and compassion. Owing to the help of other female and animal figures, Gerda managed to thaw the splinters of glass inside Kai’s ice-cold heart and eyes with hot tears while the Snow Queen was away from home. It is difficult for readers not to be moved by Gerda’s courage and perseverance that she alone fumbled all the way to the North Pole while encountered eight strong women characters, for instance, an old woman who saved Gerda out of water then lured her to stay with flowers and the warm sunshine, a pair of crows with recognizably human characteristics, the little robber-girl who became thoughtful after hearing Gerda’s story, and finally, a Lapp woman and Finnmark woman who guided Gerda to Snow Queen’s palace step by step.

Speaking from the phenomenological perspective, this woman-centred tale about Gerda’s journey presents the readers with a small matriarchal society in which women are active as men. Different from other well-known fairy tales, the real help for the heroine does not come from an omnipotent ‘fairy’ grandmother but from a series of female strangers. The main male character, surprisingly, is vulnerable and less witty, isolatedly trapped in the Snow Queen’s palace failing to work out logical puzzles. Wolfgang Lederer (1986, p.183) interpreted the tale as men’s dependence to women, ‘without the validating love of his woman’, he maintained, ‘man in himself would be an empty shell, an ephemeral accident unrelated to the grand purposes of the world, an idle display.’ Compared to Lederer’s deficient analysis that simplified woman’s purpose in life is only to redeem man through love, Andersen, in fact, is more open-minded in expressing ‘male-authored construction of femininity’. He not only depicted the contradictory images of women that Gerda as an obedient, kind, and lovely maiden while Snow Queen as an evil, powerful and cold-hearted woman, being not confined within the dichotomy, he was also fully conscious of the complexity of human nature, beyond merely gender differences. The most notable example is the little robber-girl who was touched by Gerda’s experience and decided to help Gerda with all she could.

The robber-girl gazed at Gerda seriously, nodding her head a little, and said, ‘They shan’t kill you unless I get really cross with you, and I shall do it myself!’ Then she dried the tears from Gerda’s eyes, and put both her hands inside the beautiful muff that was so soft and warm (Andersen 1961, p.242). 

Spoiled and barbaric as she is, also adventurous and brave from another perspective, distinct from stereotypical female characters who are reticent and tame, she is even born with Scandinavian male virtues, ‘stronger, broader shoulders’, more ‘dark-skinned’ and ‘sleeping with a knife’. Her manners to Gerda are imperative and rude, revealing her identity as an offspring of robbers: ‘slapping Gerda in the face with the dove […] “You lie still now, or else you will get my knife in your belly (Ibid, p.244)!”’ However, tangled with a mixture of viciousness and kindness, sisterhood becomes an essential to Gerda’s successful rescue that directly guided her to the right direction. Further, mother-daughter relationship is also depicted as a sweet episode, ‘the little robber-girl jumped round her mother’s neck […] Her mother flicked her under the nose and made it red and blue – but it was all done out of the pure affection (Ibid, p.245).’ 

Compared to his treatment of Gerda, Andersen victimized the only male who was designed to be pricked by ‘the splinters of glass from the demon mirror’ in the narration: mimicry of adolescence (Wullschlager 2000, p.244) and the wait of being redeemed. Mimicry, however, is also the strategy promoted by Irigaray (1985, p.220) to deconstruct the masculine discourse in the process of ‘body writing’, expressing females’ inner sexuality by adopting a female language system. Besides, ‘women are a mirror value of and for man (Ibid, p.177)’, as she argued, through which women are constrained within the reflective function and silenced to subjective discourse. In ‘Snow Queen’, however, the splintered mirror functioned as the male distortion of world views, the divergence from compassion and love and compliance of logics and reasons. 

Besides, Gerda cried and shed tears twelve times through the tale, no matter when she was sad, lonely, worried, terrified or joyful. Tears, as the last key to melt Kai’s icy heart, redeemed him back from the consciousness and compassion, which, on one hand, signifies creation, love, new birth. and hope: ‘tears not only represent feeling but are also lenses through which we gain an alternative vision, another point of view (Estes 1992, p.155). On the other hand, they can also be interpreted as the symbols of helplessness and panic, somewhat painted Gerda with immature childishness. 

Overall, it is undeniable that Gerda is a faithful and active heroine. More than interpreting it as a romantic love story with happy ending, this is a story full of united feminine forces and humane love. Having endured the emotional isolation and fractured feelings, the main characters experienced individual growth, particularly Gerda who endowed the journey with feminine meanings and successfully completed her mission. Just as the puzzle’s answer revealed: ‘eternity’ written on a sun, it not only signified children’s forever friendship, but also reflected the warmth of human relationship and feminine efforts towards redeeming not only others and more importantly, the females themselves.

1.3 Heroine or Victims: Who Needs to be Redeemed by Whom?

Breaking the conventional dichotomy of ‘passiveness’ and ‘activeness’, Kay Stone sorted the heroines into four categories: the persecuted heroines who were not only passive but actually murdered; passive heroines who took little action on their own behalf; tamed heroines who were initially assertive but ended as submissive wives; a very few heroic heroines who were automatically in charge of lives (Stone 1996, p.14). No firm line between each category is strictly delineated now since it is commonly challenged by feminist critics who ‘placed persecuted and heroic women at opposite ends of the scale (Stone 2004, p.126)’. In ‘Snow Queen’, Gerda, although is well-behaved and sometimes self-effacing, not a rebellious girl in all aspects, is dauntless and resourceful enough to be categorized into the last type. She walked alone through the dreadful Queen’s palace without any protection but only hymning evening prayers. Aware of what her purpose is, unlike some female figures quietly staying beside male protagonists, Gerda revealed to readers how powerful female can be and how indispensable the female is to male by completing her story of travails as an innocent girl. As the Finnmark woman referred to Gerda, 

I can’t give her greater power than she has already! Can’t you see how great that is? Can’t you see how she makes man and beast serve her, and how well she’s made her way in the world on her own bare foot? She mustn’t know of her power from us – it comes from her heart, it comes of her being a sweet innocent child (Andersen 1961, p.249). 

Although the story has a ‘happily ever after’ ending, by no means of an inevitable concluding marriage, it depicted how child protagonists turned to be grown-ups who remain children at heart with abundant biblical and mythological indications.

Firstly, sharing the same motif of ‘redemption’, both stories mentioned ‘dream’ in a solid frame in which the protagonists projected the desire onto the individuals they intended to save. ‘Dreams are theatres which put on the appearance of a play in order to slip other unavowable plays between the lines of the avowal scenes (Cixous 2006, p.3).’ 

In Gerda’s dream, Kai still appeared with the last look before he went missing, ‘an angel pulled a little toboggan behind them, and in it sat Kai nodding to her (Andersen 1961, p.240).’ The elusiveness and illusion that the dreams containing all endowed the tales with magical meanings. Similarly, the animal mount – reindeer with somewhat mythical characteristics, played key roles in the protagonists’ adventure and was separately given by the little Robber-girl. No matter Gerda, Savitri, or Portia, they are kind, innocent and trying-to-be assertive in their lives. Rescuing Kai became a catalytic experience for Gerda that propelled her individuation process. 

Secondly, considering about the representations of gender, Cao and Andersen utilized quite opposite narratives, plots and characters. The western critics’ interpretations were pessimistic about Andersen’s text: ‘Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven!’ Andersen was interpreted as the guard of Virtue who insisted in preserving the innocence of children by repressing their sexuality linked to the appetites, curiosity, and invention (Zipes 2005, p.100). Instead of arguing that Gerda redeemed Kai, Zipes maintained, they were both redeemed by the LORD – the omnipotent patriarchal figure, which rendered the story with no feminist colour. Andrew, similarly, by pre-affirming Gerda’s heroic deeds, considered the fact that Gerda endured long process of self-sacrifice only to redeem Kai reinforced the idea that ‘female was asked to abandon agency for the sake of male self-realisation (Teverson 2013, p.80).’ Controversial as the tale is, it includes one of the most potent female characters in the canon of classic fairy tales, ‘a small image of emancipation (Carter 1997, p.452).’ Unlike the heroine in the typical definition who fight alone with self-devotion spirits, Gerda charmed strong female figures and animals alike to assist her, which, in particular, proved that the feminine capacity to unite humane love surpassed the gendered statement ‘man’s redemption by women’. Obviously, the rescuing journey was a self-imposed task starting with Gerda’s declaration ‘I will put my new red shoes on and then I will go down and ask the river (Andersen 1961, p.224).’ 

Chapter Two ‘Through the Sacrifices I Sought Freedom and Independence’: Explorations of Female Identity (The next chapter, is about the Little Mermaid) 

Far from any adventures that to save the other’s life – brave Gerda enduring long struggle to rescue her playmate Kai – starts this chapter with two heroines who initiated the explorations of their female identities. It is surprising to find that unlike previous female characters in Cao’s works, he depicted this girl to be an independent, assertive and considerate ‘young adult’, with certain innocence like Gerda who is unaware of her most precious power. Although many academics have harshly pointed out how ‘the dichotomized world with androcentric and phallocentric power that Andersen depicted opposed to an abused and silenced female world (Wang 2014, p.134)’, without denying that these two female figures are still living in a male-dominated world, to a large extent, this chapter argues that they have escaped from the stereotypical setting that their free wills and self-autonomy are no longer affiliated to or entirely controlled by their male family members.

Third chapter, on the Chimney-Sweep and Shepherdess:

In the short story hid Andersen’s contrasting views / morals about marriage and gender differences: one shall bravely fight against the forced marriage under patriarchal system while one shall not overreact with recklessness; the girl shall be emotional, timid and easily panic while the boy shall never lose nerve for he should always be sensible and helpful; suited marriage (perfect match regarding class and wealth) is worth pursuing while any unblessed marriage is profane and shall be forbidden. According to Zipes (2005, p.89) ‘Andersen’s girl figures are rarely allowed to develop, and their “realms of happiness” are associated with domesticity.’ The underlying ideological inclinations culminate at the twist section, with the two figurines' first glimpes of the night sky, when the shepherdess announced: 

‘It is too much!’ she said. ‘I cannot bear it! The world is much too big! If only I were back again on the little table under the mirror! I shall never be happy until I’m there again! I’ve followed you out into the wide world, and now, if you love me, please follow me home again (Andersen 1961, p.284)!’ 

Ironically, the same syntactic structure that she adopted to express the willingness to freedom, ‘I shan’t be happy until we’re out in the wide world!’ sharply contrasted her later retreat caused by the nervousness and lack of self-confidence, which committed all their efforts in vain. The ‘kidnapping’ in the title of love not only impaired her subjectivity and independence, but at the expense of exacerbating instability and passivity in the relationship. Corresponding to the aforementioned twist of story, it can be commented that Andersen never endows the shepherdess with any initiatives, even her reaction towards the flight that was firstly proposed by her presentation full of doubts and fear. Compared to Gerda and the Little Mermaid who never regretted and owned female helpers, the lonely girl’s active engagement and woeful return can only be interpreted as her recklessness, immaturity, and unintelligence, which revealed the ideological power that superior male-dominated society acted upon younger generations.

Unlike Gerda or the little mermaid who completed their bildungsroman redemptions, scarcely seen any development of the shepherdess but her return to domesticity.

Thirdly, the disguised/ mocked harmony ending ‘and they loved each other until they broke to pieces (Andersen 1961, p.283)’, different from the motifs of ‘eternal happiness’ that Gerda and the little mermaid are offered, makes the story with pessimistic inclinations.


In summary, through my analysis and comparison of the six texts on figures, plot, narration, and ending, it is understandable that for Andersen, the representation of his women characters is not wholly harmonious with the traditions of German Romanticism, which makes it is sophisticated to define. Religious and romantic ideological notions included in Andersen’s tales manifest his adherence to the European traditions: the focus on the inner life, emotions, the dark tones of introspection and loneliness, the preoccupation of rational and irrational, anti-feudalism and the appreciation of individualism (Wullschlager 2000, p.100). In ‘Snow Queen’, Kai’s rescue revealed the German view that ‘creative autonomy through the exercise of man’s imaginative’ has the ability to surpass rational power and transcend reality (Stahl and Yuill 1970, p.113-114).

The translation of Andersen from which the excerpts were taken was by L.W. Kingsland (London: Oxford University Press, 1961)

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