And They Lived “Happily Ever After”-Oh That’s A Different Story

In Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” everyone lives “happily ever after”.

However, this is not the case in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”.  The Little Mermaid sacrifices a great deal to try to win over the love of the Prince.  She leaves her family for him, gives the sea witch her beautiful voice, and even sacrifices herself at the end of the story by refusing to “stab [a knife] into the Prince’s heart” despite knowing that she will die at the first sign of dawn (231).

The only positive outcome to the story is at the end when the Little Mermaid does not turn into sea foam as all mermaids do, but instead into a daughter of the air.  She is informed that, “When for three hundred years we have striven to do the good we can, then we shall win an immortal soul and have a share of mankind’s eternal happiness.” (Andersen 232). However, this isn’t very promising for there is a catch: if they encounter a good child “a year is taken away from the three hundred.  But if [they] see a child who is naughty or spiteful, then […] every tear adds one more day to [their] time of trial” (232).  This makes achieving a soul a long, tedious process.

The Little Mermaid is not the only character to be deprived of a “happy ending”.  During her time on land and right up until the night she dies, the Little Mermaid’s family experiences a lot of grief and self sacrifice too.   Her sisters would often visit and remind the Little Mermaid “how unhappy she had made them all.” (228).  Her father and grandmother grieved her absence too.  And in the end the Little Mermaid’s sisters gave their “beautiful long hair […] to the witch” in order to try and save their younger sister (231).  Even the soon-to-be-married Prince will spend the rest of his life thinking of the Little Mermaid “sorrowfully” and debating whether or not he could have prevented her from “throw[ing] herself into the waves” (232).

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