Last year, just two weeks after I got the brand new Razr that I’d been wanting forever, I was sitting on my boyfriend’s couch with the phone next to me.  Mark came to sit down on the couch and I picked the phone up and dropped it on the floor…at least dropping it on the floor was my intention. I actually dropped it into a glass of cranberry juice which then shattered and poured sticky dark red liquid all over the white carpet. Not good. Not only was Mark a bit upset, I ended up totally ruining my phone. Well I’ve been switching phones for the last year…we’ve got tons of old ones that we’ve upgraded from, so I use one until it breaks and then change again. So, I finally killed the last of our umpteen billion phones last week and had to order a new phone from ebay. Anyways, it just came in the mailFriday and I am super excited! Not only that…I have been wanting an accordian forever! I know, I know, its kind of an odd thing for a 21 yr old girl from the midwest to want, but I do! So I found this gorgeous one on ebay and sent it to my mom and said it was what I wanted for my birthday! Well, It came in the mail too! I just want to say that some people had better be impressed, because I was home alone with this thing and I didn’t open it! Wow. So yes, what a splinded day! Not only that, my history teacher randomly decided to send everyone a study guide which is already filled out and completed for us! So basically, if we memorize the 22 pages, we’ll ace the final! Yay. And, I turned in my Little Mermaid paper today and I think I’ll get an ok grade on it. I’m going to paste it in here so you guys can read it and tell me if you agree.

The Differing Female Figure in The Little Mermaid


            Identical titles and the claim by Disney that their movie was based upon Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale may lead people to believe that the two are both equally valuable to the human race. However, this is a dangerous position to take and could lead to disheartening results. While some of the featured illustrations in Andersen’s version of The Little Mermaid remain the same in Disney’s version, the main character has been changed so much that she is no longer the positive role model that she was in Andersen’s fairytale. It is important to understand the purpose of creating another version of this fairytale in order to grasp the reasons for many of the changes. Both Ariels may have been born as mermaids, but little else remains similar between the two. In fact, the two Ariels stand in stark opposition to each other, not only in their participation in their future, but also in their motivation, the causes of their struggles, and the ultimate outcome of their lives.

            Andersen created the epitome of the classic fairytale in The Little Mermaid. Not only is there a fantastical setting – the underwater world – there is also the hint of a love story. The Little Mermaid was a traditional fairytale long before Disney came along, and with so many elements of interest, Disney would have been foolish not to attempt to recreate the story. What better way to illustrate the world of a mermaid – one which most people had never quite been able to picture before – than to show it on a screen? This being said, however, Andersen’s The Little Mermaid wasn’t perfect material to put before children; many of the elements of his story were dark and dealt with things that would hold no appeal for them. In an attempt, in Disney’s view, to make the story suitable for children, there were so many changes to it that the only remaining factors of Andersen’s Ariel in the Disney version are her gender and fins.

            As a woman, Ariel’s participation in her own life sends a powerful message to any woman who reads the story or watches the movie. Andersen shows a woman who initiates her own salvation. Unhappy with her current situation, Ariel endures pain in exchange for the chance to earn a soul; each step that she takes is the pain of a thousand knives piercing her feet. When her original plan does not work and the prince falls in love with someone else, Ariel willingly becomes a vapor of the air just for another chance to gain a soul.

            Conversely, Disney portrays a woman who lets the events and people around her shape her life. Instead of Ariel earning her own humanity, her father eventually gives it to her with no price for her to pay. When Eric is about to marry Ursula, Ariel’s friends – not Ariel – are the ones who keep the marriage from taking place. Not only is Arial passive about her life, she allows Sebastian to tell her what she should do in order to be safe and to obtain Eric’s love.

            If a woman were only to read Andersen’s The Little Mermaid – a positive influence on women – they would receive the idea that they themselves are the prominent force causing the outcome of their life. However, watching Disney’s movie gives a woman the message that she is not the perpetrator of her own destiny. This change is one which makes Disney’s Ariel a negative influence even though she seems to be based upon Andersen’s Ariel.

            One of the most phenomenal changes that Disney made to Andersen’s story was Ariel’s motivation; this change shows an extreme difference in the way that women are seen in the two stories. Unlike the Disney version of The Little Mermaid, the fairytale was not actually a love story. As a mermaid, Ariel will have an extremely long life; however, merpeople do not have souls. Although the rest of her family is content with this scenario, Ariel’s greatest desire is to obtain a soul. Through her grandmother, Ariel learns that a mermaid may receive a soul only after she has also received true love. The implications of this true love are that Ariel will marry a man that loves her and have a family with him. In this way she will be able to have a soul by creating a family which will continue forever. Merpeople do not love the way humans love however, and Ariel is forced to seek this love in the world of humans.  

            There were elements of Andersen’s fairytale that lent themselves to the creation of a love story which in part allowed Disney to create the version of Ariel that is seen in the movie. For example, Ariel’s main struggle is to receive love from the prince, but Disney changes completely the reason for this struggle. Ariel simply sees Eric, thinks he’s beautiful, and wants to be with him.

            This change implies a drastic difference in the way that women are viewed. In Andersen’s version Arial, the woman, is motivated by the search for something good and holy. Disney creates the picture of a fickle girl who lusts after the man. Rather than being on a holy quest, the woman is a selfish girl. Not only does this portrayal show a lack of respect towards women, it teaches girls that this attitude is acceptable because everything eventually turns out well for Disney’s Ariel.

            Another change which signals the separate messages to women of the two versions of the story is the change in the origin of Ariel’s struggles. Andersen’s Ariel faces difficulties that happen to every other merperson and even some that happen to human people as well. Ariel struggles with the fact that she does not have a soul, and according to Andersen this is a natural thing for any merperson to go through. Similarly, the prince’s love is drawn away from Ariel, not by an evil witch, but by a kind princess who lives near the prince’s palace. So, Ariel’s struggles stem from very natural things which could happen to anyone.

            On the other hand, Disney creates Ursula, an evil witch, for the purpose of causing Ariel grief. None of the bad things which happen to Ariel are just facts of life; they are all caused by Ursula. When Ariel and Eric’s boat turns over just as they are nearing the vital kiss, it is not the wind or waves that cause it, but Ursula’s evil companions. Likewise, it is not an innocent and benevolent woman who keeps the prince’s love from her, but Ursula disguised to appear as such.

            These changes signify yet another essential dissimilarity between the viewing of women in the stories. Andersen’s fairytale sends the message that every woman faces struggles. However, none of Ariel’s struggles in Disney’s version are natural which gives women the idea that Ariel’s struggles apply only to her and that bad things aren’t likely to happen to them.9

            The ultimate outcome of the two Ariels’ lives are perfect examples of how different the versions are and why Andersen’s Ariel, unlike Disney’s, is a positive role model for women. In Andersen’s story, the prince does not fall in love with Ariel and because she did not find true love, Ariel is still soul-less. Ariel can return to her home and family for a time and then turn into sea foam, but instead she chooses to join the spirits of the air in order to have another chance to earn a soul. Being a vapor of air is not a guarantee that she will get a soul however; one must earn their soul by bringing joy and comfort to humans for thousands of years.

            Disney shows a typical love story in which Ariel becomes happy through her marriage to Eric. All of her problems suddenly disappear with the development of her relationship to Eric: her father forgives her and turns her into a human and Eric defeats Ursula for her.

            While Andersen’s The Little Mermaid seems to reiterate the fact that a woman can and must participate in her life, Disney shows a version that teaches women that they can only be happy through men. Unlike Andersen’s version – a wonderful example which says a woman can succeed without the help of man – Disney once again shows a lack of respect for women by making men the saviors of Ariel’s life.

            These are not the only examples of the ways in which Disney has taken an admirable role model for women and turned her into yet another representation of what patriarchal ideologies say that women should be. If a woman wishes to view a positive example of the female, the only version of The Little Mermaid which would fulfill that need is Hans Christian Andersen’s original fairytale; the movie is plagued by countless disparaging portrayals of woman and can only be looked to as an example of the ways which society is permeated with unhealthy patriarchal ideologies.


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