Hans Christian Andersen’s affect on the fairy tale genre was profound. Back ‘The eye Queen’, ‘The Emperor’s new Clothes’, ‘The small Mermaid’, and ‘The Ugly Duckling’ have the ring that timeless fairy stories, they were all original tales composed by the Danish storyteller in the mid-nineteenth century.

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First published in 1843, ‘The Ugly Duckling’ is just one of the most celebrated of all of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. Yet what does this story mean?

‘The Ugly Duckling’: plot summary


Before we sell some native of analysis, it might be precious summarising the plot the ‘The Ugly Duckling’.

‘The Ugly Duckling’, in summary, tells of a mom duck, whose eggs room hatching. The last of her baby birds to hatch is a larger bird than the other ducklings, and the other birds – and the other pets around on the farm yard – think about it to it is in ‘ugly’. Lock mock and vilify him, and also he pipeline his mother and siblings behind.


He encounters part wild geese (technically, ganders as they are male birds, strutting about), and also narrowly prevents being eliminated when hunters rotate up through guns and dogs and shoot the geese.

The ugly duckling keeps wandering, until he come at the home of an old woman. Here, when again, that isn’t over there long prior to he is taunted and also abused by the woman’s cat and also hen: the hen dismisses the ugly duckling’s longing to glide ~ above the water, saying the she (the hen) is cleverer 보다 him and also it’s a stupid idea. When more, the ugly duckling leaves and continues top top his way.


The ugly duckling come upon a flock of swans, and longs to join them, but he is unable to fly. He is delighted and also excited, but he cannot join them, for he is also young and also cannot fly. The duckling endures a harsh winter in a cave, and when spring arrives, he sees a i cry of swans gliding top top the lake.

The miserable duckling has given up ~ above life through this point, and decides to throw himself into the path of the big swans and be killed, therefore he cannot be abused and also rejected for being ‘ugly’ any type of more. Yet – surprise, surprised – the swans nothing devour him but instead welcome that with open up arms (or wings) as one of their own.


And once the ugly duckling catches sight the his own reflection in the water, that realises the is no an ugly duckling any type of more, yet a beautiful, elegant swan. Having actually realised his beauty and found his family, this majestic swan takes trip with the i m crying of swans, happy in ~ last.

That’s a brief an introduction of the story of the ugly duckling, yet if you want to check out the story in full, girlfriend can find a great translation here.


‘The Ugly Duckling’: analysis

Of course, the twist in the story is the its title transforms out to it is in erroneous and inaccurate: the ‘duckling’ is not a duck at all, yet a cygnet, i.e. A young swan. As soon as Andersen first came up through the story in 1842, that planned ~ above calling that ‘The Young Swans’, yet decided the the surprise twist should be kept ago until the end of the story.


We are to presume (though Andersen’s story doesn’t state together much) that the ‘ugly duckling’ hatched from a swan’s egg that had actually accidentally finished up in the mother duck’s nest.

Indeed, this aspect of the tale has led to part biographical speculation, consisting of the (rather fanciful) idea the Andersen was illustration on the current revelation the he had been a changeling as a baby, and also that that was actually the illegitimate son of Prince Christian Frederik, that later became King Christian VIII of Denmark. This is unlikely to it is in true, however then, v fairy tales, Freudian and biographical interpretations (where the writer of the fairy tale is known) are as unavoidable as death and taxes.


That said, Andersen self was by all accounts one ungainly kid who was abused in ~ school. He later on said his schooldays to be the darkest of his entire life, and also we have the right to speculate (though the is just speculation) the Andersen’s own experiences together a boy fed into ‘The Ugly Duckling’.

‘The Ugly Duckling’ has, choose Andersen’s development of the ‘emperor’s brand-new clothes’, entered everyday speech and common use. The story has end up being a symbol and also a shorthand because that the spurned outsider who virtues space ignored by the world, just for them come transform into a successful human at a later on date.


The short tale have the right to be read, variously, together a moral fable around the short-sightedness the dismissing who for their perceived lack of traditional ‘beauty’ or for ‘not installation in’, or as a story celebrate the value of perseverance. Not everyone in the people will necessarily welcome friend with open arms, yet there’s a ‘family’ or group for everyone. At least, that’s one way come analyse the story – yet is its definition actually a small more complicated than its simple plot, and seemingly simple moral, suggest?

Well, probably there’s a little an ext to it than that. Andersen’s fairy story are amazing in the genre for not shying away from the harsh realities the life: world aren’t going to favor you (‘The Ugly Duckling’), the one friend love isn’t necessarily going come love you earlier and yes sir nothing you have the right to do around it (‘The small Mermaid’), and often angry or manipulative people get away with it and also avoid punishment (‘The eye Queen’). And also although ‘The Ugly Duckling’ ends happily, and also with a far more conventional happy ending than Andersen’s fairy tales regularly have, the is actually not around acceptance.

Or rather, it is about the protagonist’s accept that most world don’t favor him, fairly than the world’s accept of him. If anything, the story is an acknowledgment that the tribalism and also lack of acceptance that is one inevitable function of human being society, fairly than a resolution that this depressing feature.

Or, to placed it an additional way, the happy resolution to the story is a result of thin fluke – the the ‘ugly duckling’ was, essentially, a changeling. This doesn’t do ‘The Ugly Duckling’ an unusual fairy story by any type of means: the the indistinguishable of the poor orphan girl discovering she’s really the princess, or the kitchen boy finding out he’s heir come the throne.

But it does remind us that Andersen’s work is shot through with a melancholic streak i beg your pardon keeps in mind the misery the lies simply under plenty of people’s daily lives. If that title had actually not been a misnomer and the ugly duckling had just grown as much as be one ugly and misshapen duck, no happy finishing would have been possible.

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The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. He is the author of, amongst others, The an enig Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey through Curiosities that History

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 and The good War, The garbage Land and the Modernist lengthy Poem.