Hans Christian

Topics: Consciousness, Carl Jung, Unconscious mind Pages: 13 (4470 words) Published: May 2, 2013


David Johnston


According to the wisdom of Marie Louise von Franz (1973), a Jungian depth-psychological study of fairy tales begins with the initial exposition of all the characters. One examines the quality, number and role of characters for what is missing in order to bring archetypal completeness. In this tale, it is the Sea-King and his six daughters including the Little Mermaid. There is also the king’s mother, who is described as being a woman of great wisdom. There is no queen and the king is widowed. They all live in a beautiful palace far out in the ocean, where it is very deep, as mermen and mermaids, and have fishes’ tails.

This story comes directly from the imagination of Hans Christian Anderson and is not based on oral folk tales that are normally the basis of written Fairy Tales. Nor does the story involve heroic motifs and the triumph of the inferior son or daughter, where most of the action often begins in the Royal Palace and usually takes place on the earth. Here, the cast of characters and description of the initial situation takes place in the sea, which is, symbolically considered, the realm of the collective unconscious. Moreover, given the fact that everybody has fishes’ tails, from the point of view of consciousness, the characters depicted are all driven by unconscious instinctual impulses, including the Little Mermaid.

There are eight characters described at the beginning of the tale, the king, his mother, the Little Mermaid and her five sisters. Symbolically, the queen is missing, although the king’s mother is described as very wise and as having brought the children up well, and the total number of characters amount to eight, a double four, suggesting wholeness. The king’s mother relates to the quality of ageless feminine wisdom that is imparted to the king. Yet, when the Little Mermaid looks down into the water from above under the moonlight, she saw her grandmother sitting on top of the castle, wearing a silver crown, suggesting the undersea realm is, in fact, matriarchal and therefore archaic and conservative. Given her knowledge of the upper world, there is a suggestion that she actually lived and ruled there as queen prior to the natural elemental matriarchal values she represents fell into the unconscious.

She is, moreover, not the Queen of the sea, who would connect the King to all his subjects and the undersea environment in a timely dynamic way and render the kingdom fertile. The missing queen therefore points to the deficiency of the ruling elemental Eros and relatedness, even at the level of the unconscious, let alone consciousness. With the king’s mother, the number of characters involved is eight, a totality, and yet the ruling elemental Eros and feeling values that would be actively carried by the queen are missing qualities in the unconscious. This is not just an idle statement, as there is typically a metamorphosis of the archetypal powers of the unconscious prior to their reaching consciousness, as, indeed, is exemplified by the Little Mermaid. To become conscious requires mutual collaboration between the conscious ego and the unconscious.

Defective Consciousness: Aspiration for Consciousness and the Seductive Lure of Unconsciousness The situation depicted, therefore, indicates considerable unconsciousness, which always implies a defective conscious attitude. Although this unquestionably directly reflects Anderson’s personal neurosis, as it is his story and not based on a folk tale, it may also relate to the defective neurotic consciousness of the times, mid to late 19th century Denmark. The old matriarchal consciousness that has sunk to the bottom of the...
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