Episode 12 – The Little Mermaid


(no tale type because, as we discussed in class, this isn’t technically a fairy tale)

Hi, I’m Shay, I’m Maddy, and I’m Danny. This is group 10 and we are performing our Archetype episode on “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen. “The Little Mermaid” was published in 1837 in a danish fairy tale collection.


Publication info: “The Little Mermaid” was first published 7 April 1837.

Further information: Digterens danske Værker 1822-1875 number 304.

The work was published as a part of Eventyr, fortalte for Børn. Første Samling. Tredie Hefte. 1837[Danish title].


-Grandmother, also like the fairy godmother. In this story, the grandmother is a source of knowledge about the world above the sea, and is a loving figure.

-Youngest Child: often the most beautiful and gifted. Often the subject of fairy tales

-Witch: lives in woods (and yet somehow underwater).  The witch isn’t as evil as other witches common to fairy tales. She makes the little mermaid really think about her decisions. Archetype of the old crone. In this case, she is both helping and hindering the main character in the story. She helps the little mermaid get to the land, but also makes her journey difficult by imposing various drawbacks.

– Sisters: The little mermaid has many sisters. Sisters are common characters in fairy tales. These sisters are loving, although they have some trouble understanding the little mermaid’s desires.

-Dead mother

-Clueless king/father: he doesn’t play a large role in this tale.

-Prince as the guileless fool: he is not a very dynamic character. Because we read the story from the mermaid’s perspective, we are frustrated at how blind the prince is to her love. Everything turns out well for the prince in the end, he gets his happily ever after without putting in any effort, but the mermaid suffers.


– Numbers (age 15): coming of age

-Cutting off tongue/voicelessness: metaphor for femininity

-Hair as a symbol of feminine beauty: sister’s have to sacrifice their hair in order to try and save the little mermaid.

-Sea foam as a symbol for the essence of life: tying in with protoplasmic theory that was popular at the time the story was written

-Marble statue: symbol of personhood, image of beauty, immortal soul

-Pain/blood:  symbolizing menstruation.


Hans Christian Andersen wrote “The Little Mermaid” while living in Denmark in the eighteen-hundreds. While growing up, Andersen was raised by a poor family and had depression issues. He had heard many fairy tales from his grandmother throughout the years, which probably sparked his interest in this genre[1]. The combination of childhood sadness and hearing tales may have been an influence for incorporating darkness into his tale “The Little Mermaid”.

Because this fairy tale was written in the pre-darwin era, it shows how ideas about life and death were different then from how they are now. Women weren’t necessarily seen as people; they had to gain their status through men. Much of what determined status for women back then was marriage.

In class, we related this idea to the tale. In “The Little Mermaid,” mermaids do not have souls. Although they live much longer than humans, when they die they turn into foam. The tale explained that a mermaid can obtain an immortal soul if she marries a human man. This is likely related to the views of women at the time. Status for women was gained either through her father or through her husband. She was passed from one to the other like property, with marriage acting as a transfer of ownership[2].

The foam that the tale mentioned also relates to the time which Andersen wrote this story. Protoplasmic theory was popular at the time. The idea behind this theory is that protoplasm is the essential substance that brings life. Life in all forms is tied to protoplasm. This was an early incarnation of cell biology[3]. Protoplasm can be correlated to foam, in the case of “The Little Mermaid.” When a mermaid dies in this story, they become nature again in the form of sea foam. The foam is a metaphor for the essence of life.




-implications for women: women were seen as less than people.

They were viewed as property. This view is displayed by how the prince acts towards the mermaid. He completely takes her for granted. He knows that she is devoted to him, but what does he ever do for her? She is merely a source of affection. She serves his needs, but he does not reciprocate at all. He does not value her as a person, and repeatedly refers to her as “dumb.” He treats her no better than a pet.

-validation through marriage: women cannot be validated as individuals

Instead, they must gain status through marriage. If their efforts to find a suitable husband prove futile, then there is not much else that they can do to be successful in society. This really reflects the beliefs of women at the time.

-silencing of women, and metaphors of womanhood

The mermaid has to cut off her tongue in order to pursue her prince. Because she has to learn how to attract with her body rather than voice, this story can be viewed as a metaphor for womanhood. Not only this, but it indicates a woman’s lack of power in society. She, quite literally, is unable to voice her opinions or say anything at all about who she is. Just like women are powerless to the injustices against them in society. This is a coming of age story, meant to portray how women have to adjust to society’s view of them once they reach maturity. Furthermore, the fact that every step she takes feels like knives, and that “the blood must flow” this brings to mind images of menstruation, adding to the metaphor of womanhood.

(All the historical facts I refer to here were pulled from our historical context section, or in-class discussions. I did not use any additional sources)


-In my close reading I found that this story was written with a masculine essence, which i interpreted in a dominating way. This relates to the historical connections in this story. It shows how men were somewhat more meaningful than women at the time. One way this was expressed was how Andersen described the community under the sea. He described this by describing the underwater community as “sea king and his subjects”. This story also uses this manner when explaining a women’s choices and desires. Throughout the story, I found it interesting how the little mermaid is always choosing to do dangerous acts to attempt to get what she wants. This is shown when she reaches the age of five-teen, and is able to go to the surface of the ocean. There, she finds the prince. The remainder of the story consists of her fighting to be with him. It is all about The Little Mermaid enduring losses and sacrifices have him as her own. She does this to become mortal and live as a human with the prince. This is shocking to me because this story is not how fairy tales usually play out. She sacrificed her voice and tongue to be with him, even though she would not be able to remind him of the first time he saw her due to her loss of voice. She endured sharp pains with every step she took, to be able to have human feet. She put her life on the line, only to be turned to foam. The prince ended up choosing to not have her, making the little mermaid suffer the consequence of death. Each time she got denied of something, she kept fighting and working towards what she wanted. However, it all ended when the male in this tale decided he wanted another woman. She lost everything she had, including her life, because of his decision. She knew she would be forever immortal and die if the prince did not choose her, and she continued to take those risks. This shows how conflict and frustration are strong trends in this tale and how it is perceived. I think that Andersen was trying to tell the audience through the story that life doesn’t always have to end in happy endings, even if it is sacrificed for.


     In my close-reading of “The Little Mermaid”, I argue that the story is a female coming-of-age tale as reflected in its imagery and that the little mermaids’ physical transformation is symbolic of a female’s transition from adolescence into womanhood. The idea that the little mermaid begins having sexual desires at the age of 15, and must go through a physical transformation to fulfill those desires, is a clear allusion to puberty. It is of note that the little mermaid’s only prerequisite to become human is through the acquisition of legs, an analogy to the physical requirements necessary to engage with a man sexually. Analogous to the little mermaid’s physical transformation is physical pain – a clear reference to the physical pain of a woman’s menstruation. The little mermaid feels physical pain at the beginning of her pubescent transformation when she is adorned with oysters by her grandmother, and again after drinking the witch’s draught – for which the witch says that the “blood must flow”. The cutting off of the little mermaid’s tongue as well as the blood requirement of the draught are also clear references to the physical turmoil of a woman’s puberty. One thing that I thought was interesting was that the little mermaid must sacrifice her voice in order to undergo her transformation. In literature, the voice of a mermaid or a siren is so beautiful that traveling sailors cannot escape its coercive beauty[4]. As a mermaid, by sacrificing her voice, the little mermaid is literally sacrificing her means of attracting men. In many traditional cultures, a woman’s virginity goes hand-in-hand with her social value and her ability to attract a man. Thus, the little mermaid’s loss of voice is symbolic of a loss of virginity or innocence – which makes sense in context of the story – as the little mermaid seeks the help of a witch to engage in her sexual desires involving the prince. Another interesting allusion to puberty and a girl’s transition into womanhood is the reason for the little mermaid needing physical legs. In the story, tails are considered “ugly” to human and the little mermaid won’t be considered beautiful until she has her “legs” – a metaphor that a woman’s physical beauty is developed during her transition into womanhood, and that the little mermaid won’t become beautiful until she’s gone from girl to woman. In puberty, we find transformation – a theme within the story that is clearly reflected in the story’s imagery. A common image used in the story is the flower, especially common in its use to describe the little mermaid and her sisters. The flower undergoes a physical transformation from bud to flower, and its use in conjunction with the mermaids in the story is a clear reference to themes of puberty and maturation explored in the story. Another image of physical transformation I thought was notable was the mermaids’ transition from ocean to the surface world on their 15th birthdays. The imagery of the mermaids going from underwater to the surface above water plays on the idea of rebirth and, thus, physical transformation. Finally, the repeated imagery of the sun & moon is symbolic of the entrance of masculine energy into the little mermaid’s world. In literature, the moon is often associated with the feminine energy and the ocean[5][6], while the sun is often associated with masculine energy & land[7] the two having a kind of yin and yang relationship. Up until her 15th birthday, the little mermaid is confined to the ocean – the feminine – and knows nothing of the sun. On her 15th birthday, she is able to go above-water and experience the sun & the surface world for the first time, symbolic of the entrance of masculine energy into the little mermaid’s world as she begins her pubescent transformation.


[1]“Hans Christian Andersen – Biography.” Fairy Tales Collection: A Collection of the World’s      Fairy Tales. Accessed April 27, 2018.


[2]Wojtczak, Helena. “WOMEN’S STATUS IN MID 19TH-CENTURY ENGLAND A BRIEF    OVERVIEW.” English Women’s History. Accessed April 27, 2018.        (http://www.hastingspress.co.uk/history/overview.html)

[3]Geison, Gerald L. “The Protoplasmic Theory of Life and the Vitalist-Mechanist Debate.” Isis   60, no. 3 (1969): 273-92.

[4]“History of Sirens.” Real Mermaids. Accessed May 01, 2018. http://www.realmermaids.net/mermaid-history/siren-history/.

[5]“Connection between Woman and the Moon.” Freedom Technology. Accessed May 01, 2018. https://www.freedomtek.org/en/moon/the_woman_and_the_moon.php.

[6]Protas, Allison. “Moon.” Moon. Accessed May 01, 2018. http://umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/M/moon.html.

[7]Protas, Allison. “Sun.” Sun. Accessed May 01, 2018. http://www.umich.edu/~umfandsf/symbolismproject/symbolism.html/S/sun.html.


Episode 11 – The Lady of Gollerus

Primary Tasks:

  • Oral and Publishing History- Spencer Green
  • Cultural and Historical Contexts- Reid Dolyniuk
  • Major Archetypes- Zach Schrage



  • Zach Schrage
  • Reid Dolyniuk
  • Spencer Green


Story Info:

  • Publishing and Oral History:
    • “The Lady of Gollerus” is an Irish tale from Thomas Crofton Croker book, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland, vol. 2. We found this tale on D.L. Ashliman website, pitt.edu, undertale type 4080 which is categorized as “Water Spirit Legends: Stories about mermaids, nixies, and other supernatural creatures who live in the water.” This particular version was published in 1834 in London, England by John Murray, however the original book was published in 1825.
    • There is not too much information regarding the oral history of this collection of tales, although according to Google Books, the tales were gathered from Irish peasants and storytellers. With this information we are led to believe that there was a strong oral history in Ireland well into the nineteenth century.
  • Story Summary: This is a story about a lonely fisherman named Dick who one day, while out fishing for work, encounters a merrow, a specific type of mermaid, out at sea. He thinks she is very beautiful and her voice is a contributing factor. When he approaches her, he snatches her magical cap that allows her to traverse under water, before she can dive back in and escape. Dick soon offers her an invitation to live with him as his wife which she accepts, starting a new life with Dick. These two have a happy life but this is only after Dick convinced the priest to break his code with a little bit of gold. The merrow and Dick eventually have three children together, two boys and a girl. One day Dick leaves to go on a long term fishing trip which entices the merrow to snoop around the house. She comes across her magical cap and is rushed with memories regarding her past and more importantly, her family. With the opportunity to make her own choice, she weighs the options between staying with her family on land or returning to her family in the sea.


Major Archetypes:

  • Characters
    • Charming Price (in a sense): Dick takes the role as the charming prince in this mermaid tale, but rather than the mermaid coming to him, Dick goes to her and charms her into being his wife.
    • The Beautiful Damsel: The merrow is the damsel of the story, but she is not a damsel in distress; she assumes the important female role of the tale while being independent.
  • The Calm Before the Storm: Everything in the world is calm at the beginning of the story. The ocean is smooth, and Dick is just smoking and fishing before the plot begins when he sees and steals from the merrow.
  • The Number Three: The number three is popular in fairy tales. It is usually used in fairy tales to make a comparison among certain aspects in the story, such as characters, as seen with the three bears in the Goldilocks tale or the pigs in “The Three Little Pigs.” In this tale, three is displayed in the number of kids that the merrow and Dick have as well as the amount of adult characters that have dialog. Whether there is a significance to this or not, the use of the number three is very prominent. This may lead us to conclude that there is a comparison between the kids and, similarly, the adults.
  • Setting
    • Kingdom
      • The story does not explicitly depict a kingdom, however it alludes to a kingdom being the home of the merrow, since she is the daughter of the sea king.
    • Ocean vs Land
      • Typical of mermaid fairy tales, there is the setting of the ocean in contrast to the land. This tale focuses more on the life on land than the life in the sea.
  • Family Bond: This tale displays a love for family members by the merrow when she speaks to the ocean to tell her family goodbye and later when she finds her Cohuleen Druith causing her to return to her family, not without experiencing sorrow for leaving her husband and children. The missing of family members alters the story heavily as in other tales.
  • Women’s Choices and Desires (or lack thereof)
    • The story revolves around a man who manipulates a young woman, though for semi-good intentions.
      • Dick “abducts” the merrow from her home, the ocean, when he takes away her power to return to the sea, forcing her to marry him and live with him on land. In mermaid tales it is normal for a man to steal or force the mermaid to give up its magical essence, whether it be skin for selkies or a hat for merrows, binding them to land.
  • The Maturation of Women: Within the story the merrow goes from being a young girl to a strong wife and mother with her own brood of children. The story plays as a timeline for the life of the merrow.
  • Marriage: There is the marriage of the damsel to the “prince”. This seals the damsel’s fate with the prince and locks her into the story. Dick marries the merrow, even though he is not a prince, following the template of two important opposite sex characters getting married.
  • The Happy Family: The family that Dick and the merrow have together follow this archetype that is seen in other fairy tales, like “The Twelve Brothers.”


Cultural and Historical Background:

  • Location Information
    • Smerwick Harbor is at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula in southwest Ireland.
    • Gallerous is a small village on the eastern side of the harbor.
  • Time Period
    • The time period this story was written in is the early nineteenth century (1825).
  • Religion (http://www.irishhistorian.com/IrishHistoryTimeline.html)
    • The Catholic Association was established in Dublin in 1823.
      • There are strict views on marriage represented with the priest’s unwillingness to marry Dick to the merrow.
      • There is an explicit mention of Christianity.
  • Fishermen (http://www.angelfire.com/mn/marion/fishing.html)
    • Nineteenth century Irish fisheries were underfunded which led to a decline in work for fishermen and therefore a decline in fish. This coupled with the potato famine that was occuring at the time resulted in a diminishing population and financial struggle for those who survived.
  • Famine (http://www.irishhistorian.com/IrishHistoryTimeline.html)
    • The 1816 potato crop failure caused famine and tough times for all, especially those with little money/wealth.
      • This explains Dick’s fascination with the merrow’s status and money as well as the priest’s change of heart in marrying Dick to the merrow once he was offered money. Neither of these men were necessarily greedy, they were just struggling to feed themselves and live comfortably during the time of the famine.
  • Class System (http://www.libraryireland.com/Brehon-Laws/Classification-Society.php)
    • There were six distinct classes in nineteenth-century Ireland, beginning with royalty and ending with those who were non-free.
      • We think Dick would be considered part of the fourth class as he was a free, property owner who had little possessions.
      • The merrow may not technically fit into a social class since she is not fully human, however if she were assigned a class distinction, she would be in the first class as she the daughter of the sea king.
  • Marriage and Gender Roles
    • Marriage prior to the 1850s was important for women, because it declared their personhood.
      • Women’s roles were to be wives, mothers, and domestic workers while men’s roles were to work in order to provide for their family.
        • This story is interesting in that it focuses more on the man’s need for the woman, rather than the typical reverse situation as seen when Dick regards himself as useless without a wife. Also, though Dick works, he does not make much money as a fisherman, yet the merrow has lots of money, so she almost takes the role as the provider as well.


Perform the Story:


Prominent Archetypes Not Included:

  • No prize or reward at the end of the story: There is no golden goose in this story, because all the two main characters want is to be happy.
  • No quest: The story has no plan; things just happen. There is no quest to marry the merrow since she willingly agreed to Dick’s proposal.
  • No important king or queen: The only king mentioned is the father of the merrow but he has no significance besides having wealth and representing family.
  • No real hero: There is no daring hero in the story, making this tale more dramatic than full of action.
  • No helpers to the main characters: There are no active animal helpers seen in the story like in “Snow White.” There is reference of fish that help the merrow, but it’s never seen in the story.
  • No real sacrifice: The merrow gives up being with her family, but that isn’t stressed as a huge sacrifice. She didn’t have to give up her voice or her hair or be in pain just to be human; maybe she sacrificed her power to live both on land and in the ocean?
  • Voicelessness: Unlike most mermaid tales, the merrow in this story speaks and is actually the main reason why Dick loves her so much; he loves her before she reveals that she is the king of the waves’ daughter.



  • Cohuleen Druith: This represents the merrow’s freedom as well as who she truly is. It’s the representation of her past.
  • The Child Echo: The reference of a child’s echo of Dick’s own voice refers to how childless Dick is. This ties together his speech on the need for a women with the idea of children to follow.
  • The Land and the Ocean: These both represent a different state of mind for the merrow. The life on land represents a false life that she was convinced to be apart of. She is hiding the fact that she is a merrow. The ocean is her true world and her true self. Thus why she returns at the end of the story, because she can’t escape who she really is. She cannot stand being away from her home and is even willing to abandon her family to get there.
  • Priest: The priest represents logic and the natural state of things. But like any natural thing, it can be influenced by money. This means throwing logic out the window whenever money is involved.
  • The Strand: The strand is the beach, it represents the border between the two worlds, land and sea.
  • Colors:
    • Green hair- The pigment hair of the merrow must be the first physical trait recognized when finding a merrow, or any other human like sea creature. This is associated with growth, renewal, harmony, and fertility, illustrating the merrow and Dick’s new life with a new family.
  • Numbers: There were three kids (two boys and one girl) and three adults (the merrow, the priest, and Dick).
  • Male Expectation: This speech at the beginning of the story is a symbol of what’s expected of a man at the time which is to find a wife. It also foreshadows the rest of the story.



  • The moral of a man picking a good wife: The man has the freedom to pick any wife he wants and Dick picks a merrow. Could the moral of the story be to pick a good and loyal woman? With the consequences being that you’ll live a lonely miserable life for the rest of existence. Or is the moral more religious, dont marry demons if you don’t want bad luck. This comes from the denial of the priest at the first attempt to marry the merrow.
  • A lesson for women being loyal to men: The merrow abandons the family and never comes back, thus she receives shame from it. Is the moral of the story for young girls saying that when you take on the duties of being a caring wife and mother you need to carry out your duties, or your “family” will suffer.
  • The consequence of dealings with the unholy: Could this story be a simple moral of continue to go to church and do not deal with demons. Such as the merrow. That dealings with anything inhuman will result in bad luck.
  • Don’t disagree with the reverend: The moral being never to disagree and fight the reverend. Because going against the reverends word= bad luck. The reverend is the moral high ground in this story.  He represents what is good and right in the world and how things should be done.
  • The corruption of sins: The reverend as mentioned above is supposed to be the moral high ground and a guiding light to those that are lost. In the beginning he tries to advise Dick clearly, rejecting all  justifications of why it is a good idea. It isn’t until Dick offers the priest or reverend money does he change his mind. He has been corrupted by not only need but a desire to make himself better with the funds. When the reverend accepts and does the sinful deed of marrying the two,things start to go downhill.


Close Readings With Guiding Questions:

  • Do I like the work?
    • Zach: I really like The Lady of Gollerus, its a happy and a sad story that ends simply.
    • Spencer: Yes, I like the work, because it is different than typical mermaid stories.
    • Reid: I like the story too, it was well written in the fact that it made me feel both happy and sad when the characters were. I personally think that that is a sign of a compelling story. When it pulls the reader into it and makes them emphasize with the characters.
  • What words stand out?
    • Zach: Merrow- This word has not been mentioned in our discussions of mermaids. It’s a cross between a Mermaid and a Selkie.
    • Spencer: cohuleen druith→ allows the merrow to change form from human to mermaid/selkie; wife/darling/man→ marriage; speak→ the merrow is able to talk and uses her voice; fish→ the merrow is sometimes referred to as a fish, pointing out her differences to humans
    • Reid: Merrow- we have learned about mermaids and selkies, but these are new. They are somewhere in between.
  • What feelings does it give me?
    • Zach: This story gives me a feeling of satisfaction because the story ends with a draw between the two main characters.
    • Spencer: The story makes me feel indifferent about whether the merrow has a good relationship with her husband or not. They enjoy each other’s company, and even though she willingly agrees to marry Dick, she was almost forced to marry him since he stole her means of returning to her family in the ocean. She clearly loved her family that created with Dick, but that was not enough to keep her from going back home to the sea. Perhaps if Dick had not stolen her cap, she would not have settled for marrying him?
    • Reid: In these types of stories I always feel conflicted. Like yes, Dick was a good man and loved her righteously but she was only there because she had nowhere else to go once he stole her cap. I honestly don’t think she would have stayed there unless for that.
  • Do I identify with any of the people represented?
    • Zach: I identify with the man because I too will never understand women.
    • Spencer: I identify with the merrow in terms of her sibling bond and missing her family while she was away from them.
    • Reid; I identify with the merrow because she struggles with her life even when nothing is really wrong. It shows that you don’t have to be perfectly content all the time.
  • Is there anything about how it’s written that stands out?
    • Zach: The story is written more simply than the other mermaid tales we have written. The story ends not in tragedy or happiness but in contempt.
    • Spencer: Other than the existence of merrows and magical caps, the story seems realistic compared to most fairy tales. Even the priest points out that humans should not marry fish, which I think in any other fairy tale would not be questioned.
    • Reid: I think it’s interesting how the priest changes his mind once money is brought up. That choice plays a direct role in the following events of the story. It brings in the what if game, something that always brings different ideas and situations to light.
  • What is the work about?
    • Zach: The work is about a man who marries a merrow off of the sea. They become wed but she eventually abandons her land family to return to the sea leaving the man behind.
    • Spencer: The work is about a lonely man who finds a beautiful merrow who he steals her cap from (the source of her power to switch from land to sea). These two end up getting married and having children, and even though they are contempt with their marriage and lives, the merrow returns to the sea to be with her family once she found her cap, leaving Dick to care for their three children.
    • Reid: The story is about a man who sees a merrow and steals her cap so that she will become his wife. They are happy for a while until she finds her hat and after a moral dilemma leaves her children and husband on land for her family of the sea.
  • What else is the work about?
    • Zach: The work is also about the taking of a mermaid from her home and converting her on land. Also about how you can’t take the sea out of the merrow.
    • Spencer: There is a slight social commentary on women’s choices and desires, but without many unfortunate sacrifices. For better or for worse the merrow was able to make her own choice in the end.
    • Reid: This story in the end is all about women reclaiming their agency in all situations not only bad ones. It is the fact that life comes at you and you can’t control it you just gotta roll with it and claim it.