The child as Cupid

Jack Zipes offers this fascinating analysis on Hans Christian Andersen’s early fairy tale, “The Naughty Boy” (1836):

Andersen attaches great importance to the figure of the child as Cupid, who is a menace to society and yet is so necessary for the reproduction of the species and can never be forgotten. The irony of the narrative brings out what Andersen wanted and feared most: pursuit of his powerful appetites and enjoyment of his erotic drives. Andersen associates children with these appetites and drives, and throughout all his fairy tales and stories, he places them in situations in which they must learn restraint. To act upon one’s desires without the guidance of God is a sin and must be punished. Cupid is indeed naughty and should not be followed. Love should be sacred and chaste. Above all, Andersen implied in most of his fairy tales that the child should not love himself or herself, that is, should not indulge its desires, but should instead conform to Andersen’s ideal of the virtuous Christian child. Andersen is surprisingly rigid in the demands he places upon his child figures. He is compassionate when the children in his tales are downtrodden and turn to God for guidance. He is severe and punitive when they pursue their dreams that involve sensual and sexual exploration. Whoever places himself or herself in God’s hands and acts according to Andersen’s own ideal moral principles of proper Christian behavior will be rewarded. Whoever seeks carnal knowledge and wants to explore his or her own sensual desires is dangerous and must be controlled or punished (p. 85).

– Hans Christian Andersen: A Misunderstood Storyteller


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