The Fir-Tree by Hans Christian Andersen: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

As the fir tree learns in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale 'The Fir Tree', we miss out when we focus on what we don't have instead of enjoying what we do. Find out this fir tree's story and its meaning.

Anxious to Grow

Can you remember a time you heard a child say they wished they were grown up? The fir tree in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale ''The Fir Tree'' knows exactly how these kids feel. Even though the fir tree lives in a place where the ''warm sun'' and ''fresh air'' make its corner of the forest an ideal location, the little tree cannot see the positives. Instead, it's preoccupied with wishing it could be like the taller trees growing around it, so tall its ''crown would overlook the wide world around.''

Just like a child, the fir tree grows quite a bit in a few years' time. But it's still not enough for the fir tree. When men come and chop down the tallest trees, the fir tree wonders what happens to the cut wood. A stork tells the fir tree he's pretty sure those cut trees become the ''stately'' masts on ships that sail across the ocean. This just adds to the fir tree's discontent, and it wishes even harder that it was ''tall enough to go on the sea.''

The Fir Tree's Turn

The jealousy the fir tree felt over its fellow trees sailing on the ocean is nothing compared to what it feels when even more trees are cut down at Christmastime. Where do these trees go? Sparrows say they've seen such trees given ''honor and glory'' placed ''in the middle of a warm room, and adorned with all sorts of beautiful things - honey cakes, gilded apples, playthings, and many hundreds of wax tapers.'' Well, that sounds even better than sailing on the ocean! After all, why would the trees be decorated so beautifully if something even better didn't happen afterwards?

The fir tree doesn't have to wait too much longer to find out what it feels like to be one of the chosen trees. The next Christmas the fir tree is chosen first. Being cut down and then going on a bumpy journey isn't exact fun, but the fir tree starts to feel better once it's set up in a house. Even though the weight of the beautiful ornaments hurts the tree's branches, and the fire from the lit candles scares it, the fir is excited to see what comes next.

The fir tree gets chopped down to become a Christmas tree.
Fir tree

Telling Stories

What comes next, after the family breaks the tree's branches pulling down the candies and foods hung there, is storytime. The fir tree is just as excited as the children to listen to the story of ''Humpty Dumpty.'' The story ends far too soon, but the fir tree is looking forward to the next day, when it hopes to hear even more stories. But the next day the servants, instead of bringing more decorations as the tree expects, take the fir tree up to the attic and leave it ''in a dark corner where no daylight shone.'' The fir tree figures the people are just waiting for the weather to get better so they can replant it.

At first, the tree has some company from the curious mice in the attic. They like to hear stories about the beautiful forest where the tree grew up, and they like when the fir tree tells the story of ''Humpty Dumpty.'' But after a while the tree runs out of stories and the mice leave it alone. With the mice gone, the fir tree is more aware of how lonely and dark it is in the attic and it longs to be outside again.

Soon it gets its wish and the people take it out to the garden, where Spring is at work among the growing grass and blooming flowers. The joy the fir tree feels at being outside in the sunshine again fades when the fir realizes that even though it still has the golden star on it from Christmas, its branches are ''withered and yellow.'' The tree looks around and thinks, ''had I but enjoyed myself while I could have done so! but now it is too late.'' And it is indeed too late, and the fir tree is soon chopped up and used as firewood.

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