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“The Ugly Duckling” was a short story written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1844. Although it is nearly 200 years old, the story is still one of the most popular retellings within modern culture. The question, of course, becomes “why?” We all know the story: a fowl is born to a duck family, shunned by its family and community because of its looks, and later develops into a beautiful swan that is envied by everyone for its beauty. Why would this story stand the test of time to not only still be heard on the lips of storytellers around the world, but to also be retold and reinvented through modern day translations? To answer this question, we must first look at the story itself in order to first understand its literary value and then to evaluate its impact on our popular culture.
Many would first assume, by its presentation, that “The Ugly Duckling” can be considered a good example of a fairy tale. Bruno Bettelheim, a noted educator and scholar on the role that fairy tales play, has stated that in fairy tales, there is typically a battle between good and evil. Characters are absolute...either good or evil. He also goes on to say that the goal is not to impart a moral, but rather to show that one can overcome any obstacle (Bettelheim 216-217). Based on this criterion, “The Ugly Duckling” falls short of what could be called a fairy tale. Other than the anthropormorphisizing of the animal characters, there is no magic that is done in the story. The characters are not absolute. For instance, the main character’s mother was quite loving and protective of him in the beginning of the story, and she also defended him against both family and outsiders who made fun of him. As time progressed, however, her feelings towards him changed, and she became one of his detractors. Also, as Bettelheim has mentioned, fairy tales usually do not try to convey a moral lesson to the reader. However, by the end of “The Ugly Duckling”, the reader is left with the sense...
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