From “The Ugly Duckling” to a “Real Swan – The Story Behind Andersen’s Iconic Fairy Tale

From “The Ugly Duckling” to a “Real Swan – The Story Behind Andersen’s Iconic Fairy Tale

16 September 2022

Witches, fairies, mermaids, little girls who can fit within a flower, and other magical beings are a common themes in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. These characters often go on exciting journeys. However, a number of his works—including “The Ugly Duckling,” which was first published in 1843 and is among his most well-known and important works—have realistic settings.

What is The Ugly Duckling all about?

For a fairy tale, “The Ugly Duckling” begins with a somewhat uncommon theme: expressed bitterness against motherhood and all of its obligations and constraints. The majority of ladies in fairy tales want to have kids to the point that they cast charms or chant rhymes asking for them or even go to fairies or witches to beg for assistance in becoming pregnant. The beginning of “The Ugly Duckling” takes place when a mother duck is sitting on her eggs, impatiently waiting for the eggs to hatch. She lives on a beautiful farm, the weather is lovely, and there are lots of other ducks and even the rare stork walking about, but they don’t bother to stop by since they can go swimming instead. The mother duck feels lonely and dissatisfied.

In addition, it makes a great observation about the social limitations that certain handicapped individuals in both Andersen’s day and our own experience since they are unable to get out and meet new people due to mobility issues. However, in this instance, the emphasis is on motherhood and the fact that being a mother may impose limitations on women, which some women, or at the at least, ducks, may come to resent. This duck strikes a cynical and unmagical tone by not being too interested in small ducks, having little ducks, or being resentful of little ducks from the start. We also discover that despite the duck’s ability to fly and swim, as well as her awareness of how much bigger the world is than her little refuge, she has never even reached the far end of the garden or the nearby parson’s field.

What makes the story more interesting?

A few lines later, the duck makes a casual remark about how she is essentially raising the ducklings alone since their father hasn’t been by despite the fact that they have a striking resemblance to him. Andersen’s findings of duck behavior in nature may be accurate. I have no idea—I have no knowledge of how actual ducks raise their young. Or it might be a reference to the human dads he had met, who likewise abandoned their moms with large flocks of brooding kids who had no exposure to the outside world.

Anyway. The biggest egg produces the last duckling to hatch, which is obviously different from the others and doesn’t merely hatch a few days later than the others. Given how long she has already been sitting on it, the mother reasons that she may as well stay there and assist in the egg’s hatching. The final duckling is big and ugly, but he can swim, which is unmistakable evidence that he isn’t a turkey, whatever else he may be. I was somewhat reminded of a Monty Python sketch about witchcraft when the mother decided to put the child into the river to test whether he was a turkey.

Armed with this information, the mother duck introduces her young ducklings to “high society,” which consists of all other farm animals except for the cat. The introduction goes badly for the final, enormous, ugly duckling: the chief duck doesn’t precisely want to get rid of him, but she does believe he can be better. (Andersen does not state that this is because the cat is in reality not just high society, but royalty—ask any cat. He is being violently abused by the other chickens who want him gone. When the physical assaults begin, his mother first stands up for him but then declares that she wishes he had never been done.

The tiny ugly duckling takes off, as expected.

He temporarily joins forces with several geese who believe that despite his appearance, he would be able to meet a good goose and establish a relationship with her. This is all quite pleasant until they are shot down from the skies. Shapero noted that the following this clearly traumatic event, the duckling ends up in a run-down cottage with an elderly lady, a hen, and a cat. The hen and the cat both plainly outperform the duckling and provide examples to support their superiority (the cat, I feel, has a point). They are horrified by his desire to swim in the sea as well, claiming that because they are all plainly better beings and none of them share this desire, why should the duckling?

He only has to find something productive to do, like lay eggs, and he won’t even need to swim. The duckling has the foresight to flee at this time, discovering a pond and seeing swans glide above, which gives him an odd feeling. He is momentarily saved by an even worse family before being frozen in the pond, and in the spring, he discovers that he has changed into a swan.

Due to the fact that the duckling hasn’t done anything to merit his good fortune and luck, as numerous people note, this narrative may also be seen in some ways as one about injustice. Not only during his transition, but also in instances when he takes cover from a storm (and avoids being devoured by a cat) or manages to dodge many flying projectiles—and avoids being found by canines who are especially searching for dead birds. He turns into a swan since he was born that way and had the good fortune to end up in a duck nest after being separated from his mother.

Final words

Making this story practically the opposite of Cinderella, despite its obvious similarities to Andersen’s own life and his self-perception as an ugly duckling, it may not really be that representative of Andersen’s life. Andersen spent years in school and worked very hard on his writing, unlike his ugly duckling. He was surprised by his accomplishment, but he had worked hard for it. Though his ugly duckling lived in a fairy tale, he lived in the real world.

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