On her fifteenth birthday, the Little Mermaid is allowed to see the human world above the waves, and instantly falls in love with a prince. Is it true love, or physical attraction? Well, let's decide it's true love for now, even though she doesn't know him, as is often the case in the old fairytales.
She is the ultimate martyr. She would give up anything, sacrifice her three hundred years of life, to experience a single day with him as a human being and then go to heaven – very religous and virtuous. She wants an eternal soul, and asks why the mermaids don’t have one, which is a good question that is never really answered.
Now comes the misogyny theme. The only way for her to have an eternal soul is to win a man’s love. Someone has to fall for her. Back then, a woman had to be acknowledged and chosen by a man, and, as usual, it is the physical attractiveness that will, perhaps, earn her an eternal soul. The only way to earn it is through marriage. This indicates that a woman’s purpose was to please men, and be virtious. From the moment when the Little Mermaid discovers the prince, her whole existence is about pleasing him. She is thus initially brave and strong, but eventually becomes fragile, vulnerable and dependent. That isn’t enough. If the prince falls for someone else she will die.
Now begins the transformation process that is still happening today, but today it is a system earning some people much money. She has to change her appearance to be able to please him, and she literally cuts her fin in half. She sacrifices everything. She can never return to her family and she endures much pain. Every step feels like stepping on broken glass. She even gives up her beautiful voice that makes her special - thus, she looses her power. She becomes her appearance.
After being discovered, naked, by the prince, and later having danced for him, perhaps a seductive dance, the bastard still doesn’t want her, but allows her to sleep on a cushion on the floor outside his room. She is, after all, reminded of the fact that she is not noble, and therefor, she doesn’t even deserve a bed. What does she see in this man? Her love is, of course, based on physical attraction. He is horrible, but everyone is treated after appearance, and he is obviously stunning.
H. C. Andersen rewrote the ending, which is obvious. The message is obvious. Certainly it can be useful to encourage children to be kind, but kindness can mean so much. The Little Mermaid’s good work as a kind of angel is strange. Why do mermaids need to earn an immortal soul in such a way? Are they not as good as human beings, who are supposed to have faith and live according to the religious rules, but never do? Furthermore, isn’t the reward of an eternal soul making the good deeds selfish? The original ending was darker, but more fitting. Of course, it is consoling that the Little Mermaid is able to have an eternal soul finally, but if the story had not been so misogynistic, she would have earned it already. She sacrificed her life for the person she loved, after all.
Despite these arguments, the fairytale really captivated and affected me.