The importance of rage

Jack Zipes argues that Hans Christian Andersen “used the fairy-tale form to sublimate fomenting anxieties, disturbing desires, and furious rage: the fairy tale became his compensation for feelings of misrecognition and lack. Andersen wrote to understand himself and to make himself understood, and he employed the figures of children and childhood as tropes to speak out against the abuse he felt – often in sympathy with children and, at the same time, to put the child in his proper ‘Christian’ place. In the process, he voiced fervent desires and disappointments that he sought to control and regulate” (p. 78). He quotes British child psychologist Adam Phillips, who says: “If rage renders us helpless, revenge gives us something to do. It organizes our disarray. It is one way of making the world, or one’s life, make sense. Revenge turns rupture into story” (p. 81).

Zipes elaborates:

Rage is important for us because it connects us to our infancy when we are confronted with primal disillusion, that is, when we are forced to realize that we are not omnipotent, that all our wishes and needs cannot be obtained through our own power, and that we are dependent on other people. The dominant tendency in the institutions of “civilized” society fosters behavior and thinking that lead toward cooperation, compliance, or amnesia. Growing up can be a numbing process. We are disposed toward minimizing pain and conflict, rationalizing humiliation, and accepting the injustices of life. It is often through humiliation and rage that we recall the sensual pleasures of our body in childhood that indicated our instinctual love of life. Returning to childhood through literate articulation, therefore, does not necessarily mean a nostalgic longing for a primal state of innocence, but an endeavor to keep alive curiosity, imagination, interests, and a pursuit of sensual pleasure. It is an attempt to cling to lost idealism and morality. To write about and for children is not necessarily, as many critics have maintained, an act of abuse, concealment of sexuality, or manipulation of children, but it can also be an act of resistance. It is thus the figure of the outraged, enraged, and humiliated child who articulates an adult author’s desire to engage society and to expose its contradictions. On the other hand, it is the punished, virtuous, and compromised child figure who articulates an adult author’s desire to be accepted by society to which he delegates the right to judge and evaluate him. Either way, it is true, the author is manipulative, and the morality of the rage can easily turn to immoral acts against children and their appetites.

Andersen could go both ways as a writer and individual. He could be compliant and rebellious. He could be polite and outrageous. He was also apparently bisexual and did not know how to deal effectively with his bisexuality. Perhaps the only unifying force in his character was his discontentment and sense of just rage. It is discontentment with himself and society that drove him to become such a keen revengeful writer who set moral standards and ideal goals to which everyone should aspire. Though he often served as an apologist for the principles of domination in his narratives, he also acted out his feelings of rage that he sought to keep alive in provocative stories. At times he turned his rage against upper-class society and children, and other times he turned it against himself as though he loathed himself for not allowing his inner urges to be expressed. This tension between hatred of superficial repressive society that constrained his urges and fear of his unfulfilled sexual desires, which he condemned as transgression, is at the basis of some of his most intriguing fairy tales in which he used children to test and play out his ideals and morals. In formulating rules of etiquette, behavior, and belief for his children figures, Andersen touched personal tensions closely wired to social tensions, and this touching may account for his wide appeal to young and adult readers, even today (pp. 81-82).

Hans Christian Andersen: The Misunderstood Storyteller



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