The Little Mermaid’s Gender Role: Hans Christian Andersen vs. Disney’s Film Prepared By: Britney Eggers Prepared For: Mr. Timm Hackett WOST 3510
Thesis • The Little Mermaid’s gender role in both Hans Christian Andersen’s original tale and Disney’s film version portrays a strong feminine character that struggles with growing up, embraces her strong virtues, and pursues a strong individuality to obtain what she wants most in life.
The Little Mermaid: Original Fairy Tale to Disney Film • Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Little Mermaid, made the main mermaid the youngest of all the daughters of the King of the Sea. • When adapting the tale for Disney’s movie, the little mermaid received the name Ariel and was kept as the youngest of all King Triton’s daughters. • The choosing of the little mermaid to be the youngest sister symbolizes the struggle as a woman to flourish from adolescence to adult-hood. We see the desire in Andersen’s original tale for the little mermaid to reach 15, meaning she is viewed as a young lady, and therefore old enough to venture to the surface of the ocean. Disney never discloses the age of Ariel, but you generalize that she is quite young, though maybe portrayed as older than 15. This slightly alters the perspective on Ariel, because she has more mature characteristics in the Disney film compared to Andersen’s tale.
Differences Between Andersen’s Mermaid and Disney’s Mermaid • Andersen’s little mermaid was very quiet and reserved. She also seems quite depressed after she rescues the prince. • Disney’s Ariel is quite the opposite. She is a vibrant character, as illustrated by her fiery red hair. She has a rather adventurous personality and is very outgoing. Upon rescuing Prince Eric, she swims around the castle singing and humming in a love sick trance.
Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid • Andersen’s original little mermaid is very juvenile. She mourns her unfortunate body, and longs for an immortal soul. This represents her adolescence as she is changing from a child to a young woman. After seeing the prince, she is immediately concerned with love, like many young teenage girls. Her voice is sweet and her skin, hair, and form is beautiful, yet her tender heart is broken at only 15. While not as determined as Ariel, she does still find strength in going to visit the sea witch to obtain what she wants.
Disney’s The Little Mermaid • Disney takes a more feministic approach on Ariel’s character. They turn the shy and quiet mermaid from Andersen’s tale into a bright and curious young woman. Ariel focuses more on being human and the relationship/love aspect of being a woman in the world. The focus is taken away from her immortal soul and used more towards her self-discovery as a woman. She becomes the average teenage girl that falls in love and pursues her dreams.
“Wish I could be, part of that world” • Disney incorporated music into their film The Little Mermaid, producing a well known song entitled “Part of Your World”. Disney took the extra step to include a desperate song sung by Ariel, expressing how she wishes to be human. The song begins with the words, “If only I could make my father understand” and includes phrases such as “bet ya on land, they understand, that they don’t reprimand their daughters. Bright young women..”. This shows how Ariel, as a young woman, feels imprisoned by her father, and that she is at the age where she is developing her own views on life, and a sense of rebellion. Her rebellion is much more animated in Disney’s version compared to Andersen’s where we barely hear of the mermaid’s father.
The Prince and the Mermaid • While there are many similarities between the two versions of the tale, the endings are quite different. In Andersen’s ending, the little mermaid is presented as a hero because she chooses not to kill the prince to save herself, even though he has married another woman, meaning she is doomed to death. She is portrayed as a self-sacrificing hero, and inevitably comes out looking smarter than the prince himself. This shows the strong virtue of forgiveness in a female.
The Prince and the Mermaid • In Disney’s ending, we get the generic happy ending. Everything is solved with a kiss, and Eric finally realizes he has been tricked and rescues Ariel from the evil sea witch Ursula. Ariel becomes the average damsel in distress. She is not the strong individual she was at the beginning of the film, and becomes another woman in a hero’s arms. While she does achieve her dream of being human forever and marrying the prince, she loses her strong sense of individuality as a woman.
And so the story goes… • While Andersen’s mermaid expires and goes on to another form of life, and Disney’s Ariel lives happily ever after, we are still left with a moral to each story. Andersen’s moral is that self-sacrifice can reward you, while Disney’s is that “Dreams do come true”. As for the moral on gender in each role, it seems to show that the character’s gender role can change, as does any ordinary persons in life. Certain situations make a woman strong, while other situations can break a woman in two…and of course in some situations there’s a handsome hero waiting to take over her spotlight.
Works Cited • Surlalune Fairy Tales. “The Little Mermaid.” March 12 2008http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/littlemermaid/index.html. • HCA Gilead.org. “Hans Christian Andersen – The Little Mermaid” March 12 2008 http://www.hca.gilead.org.il/li_merma.html. • Hastings, Professor Waller. Northern State University. “The Little Mermaid”. March 12 2008 http://www.northern.edu/hastingw/mermaid.htm. • “Symbolism and Folklore in The Little Mermaid”. March 12 2008 http://www.the-little-mermaid.com/symbolism.php.