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Published: 05-11-2019

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What Do of Hans Christian Andersen’s & Disney’s Mermaids Have in Common?

Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale “The Small Mermaid” and Disney’s 1989 film adaptation differ in a multitude of notable techniques, from key elements of plot to those of character. Probably the most distinct distinction, aside from the very contrasting endings, is the characterization of the protagonists, the tiny mermaids themselves. Disney’s version presents to its viewers a wild, adventurous, 16-year-old girl named Ariel, even though Andersen’s original story features a pensive and quiet 15-year-old who remains nameless throughout the entirety of the tale.

Due to her rebellious, outspoken nature, Ariel’s character may initially seem to viewers as a far more good, feminist part model for girls and young ladies. Right after all, the Disney film was released about 150 years soon after the very first publication of Andersen’s “The Small Mermaid,” for the duration of which the women’s rights movement produced countless advancements in the western planet and beyond–perhaps most notably, ladies in the United States gained the appropriate to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. Even so, regardless of this vastly various cultural climate, Disney’s Ariel still in the end proves to be beneath patriarchal reign, in some techniques even far more so than Andersen’s original small mermaid.

It is essential to note that each and every mermaid exists in an completely diverse cultural landscape. Andersen’s nicely-known fairy tales had been published throughout the Romantic period, throughout which a multitude of writers and other artists rejected the rational ideals of the Enlightenment in favor of the crucial principles of individualism, reverence for nature, and emotionality. Andersen’s little mermaid exemplifies these new ideals. She is repeatedly described as a “quiet and thoughtful” child who appreciates art and nature (150). Her individual garden, unlike those of her sisters, pays homage to all-natural components rather than material ones their gardens are “filled with all sorts of items that they had collected from shipwrecks” while hers includes only a single non-organic object: “a marble statue” (150, emphasis added). This statue is not just a “thing” but a work of art, which the mermaid practically worships, even “embracing” it soon after noticing its resemblance to her beloved prince (157). Furthermore, when she is lastly allowed to ascend to the water’s surface, the first point the small mermaid sees and admires is the sunset–a all-natural element rather than a man-made one particular, like the ship, which she notices only right after viewing the sun.

So, Andersen’s tiny mermaid seems to be a correct Romantic heroine, endowed with all the qualities that would have been considered perfect in the course of Andersen’s time. Disney’s Ariel, on the other hand, represents an entirely new and diverse type of woman. Like the older sisters of Andersen’s tiny mermaid, she has a vast collection of “things,” all of which are incredibly essential to her. In this way, she is a true contemporary lady. Her dearest need is to reside inside a capitalistic society where one’s ultimate objective is not to appreciate art and nature but only to obtain more and more items. Hence, Ariel and Andersen’s tiny mermaid contrast starkly due to the values of their respective societies.

An additional essential difference amongst the societies in which Ariel and Andersen’s tiny mermaid exist is their patriarchal and matriarchal natures, respectively. In each narratives, the little mermaid has numerous sisters and no brothers. But in Andersen’s tale, the small mermaid and her sisters are raised mostly by their paternal grandmother, who is portrayed as a distinctly feminine character, with her jewelry and stories for the mermaids. Interestingly, the girls’ father plays virtually no function in the story. So, the little mermaid is raised surrounded by ladies, in a decidedly matriarchal society.

The Disney version, even so, totally eliminates the grandmother character, selecting instead to give Ariel’s father, King Triton, a substantial function in the plot. Indeed, it is his harsh and destructive actions, combined with her adore for Prince Eric, that in the end result in Ariel to go to Ursula the sea-witch, not her personal desire for a soul, as in the original story. For that reason, female autonomy is diminished in this newer version regardless of Ariel’s apparent spunkiness, her actions are largely reactive to those of men and hence much less reflective of her personal desires and inclinations.

Disney’s film also contains the addition of numerous other key male characters: Flounder, Ariel’s sidekick, Sebastian, her paternally-appointed babysitter, and Scuttle, the kooky seagull with supposed understanding of the human world. Aside from Flounder, who can be assumed to be younger than Ariel due to his babyish voice, every single of these characters is tasked with guiding Ariel in some way or an additional. Sebastian must supply the “constant supervision” that a girl her age supposedly must receive, and Scuttle provides his comical evaluation of human objects and rituals. It is notable that Ariel’s very first step when encountering these foreign objects is not to try to discern their utilizes for herself, but quickly seek the guidance of a male. She also does not in any way query Scuttle’s statements, no matter how strange they sound. In this way, Scuttle serves as the masculine replacement for the grandmother in the original tale in that he supplies information about the human globe, like the grandmother did, but filtered by means of a male point of view.

As for Flounder, the fact that Ariel actively chooses the firm of a male than her sisters clearly illustrates her entrenchment in patriarchal society. Though Flounder is shown as cowardly and meek, typically holding her back on her daring adventures, his firm is nevertheless preferable to that of another woman. Also, although he is a rather two-dimensional character, he is still provided significantly far more of a character than Ariel’s sisters, in between which there are no distinctions other than their names. In Andersen’s story, each mermaid is shown to be various through their 1st interactions with the human globe for instance, a single is also meek to venture close to human life, even though an additional is so bold that she swims right up a river into a hugely populated region. The addition of each and every of these male characters and deletion or neglect of the female ones causes Disney’s Ariel to exist in an utterly patriarchal planet.

Overall, though Ariel may possibly at 1st seem like a much more progressive representation of femininity than some other fairy-tale women, like Andersen’s original small mermaid, closer analysis reveals her accurate lack of any meaningful sense of autonomy. In the finish, she is simply and clearly transferred from her father’s authority to that of Eric, her husband. Alternatively, Andersen’s tale, shows that women, too, can be active participants in the intellectual discourse of the time by featuring a female character who truly embodies the ideals of Romanticism.

Performs Cited

Andersen, H. C. “The Small Mermaid.” Hans Andersen: His Classic Fairy Tales. Trans. Erik Christian. Haugaard. London: Victor Gollancz, 1985. Print.

The Small Mermaid. Dir. Ron Clements and John Musker. Perf. Jodi Benson and Christopher Barnes. Walt Disney Photos, 1989. DVD.
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