The Little Mermaid: Themes & Analysis Video

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  • 0:03 The Little Mermaid Synopsis
  • 1:17 Alienation
  • 2:42 Unrequited Love
  • 3:25 Religion
  • 4:11 The Little Mermaid Analysis
  • 4:54 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jacob Belknap

Jake has taught English in middle and high school, has a degree in Literature, and has a master's degree in teaching.

This lesson explores Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale, 'The Little Mermaid.' The lesson also examines and analyzes key themes within the short story and discusses the its significance in relation to the author and the time of its writing.

'The Little Mermaid' Synopsis

Have you ever felt as if you were made for a different time or place? What would you give up to explore a new place? So it is for the youngest princess of the Sea King in Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale, 'The Little Mermaid.'

In this fairy tale, a short story with fantastic characters and events, the main character lives a royal life under the sea but constantly thinks of the world above. When she goes to the surface for the first time at fifteen, the land dwellers on a ship captivate her, especially the prince whom she saves from drowning. Finding the embodiment of her love and longing, she discovers a way to join her beloved on land and, despite the risks, pays a terrible price. She quickly befriends the prince. After the prince marries another woman, the story closes with the little mermaid throwing herself into the water, becoming seafoam, and discovering that she may earn a mortal soul through good deeds yet to come.

Fairy tales create worlds where animals can talk, trees can walk, and mermaids have homes as real as yours. Marina Warner said fairy tales are 'stories that try to find the truth and give us glimpses of greater things.' We shall explore these truths and greater things next.


Alienation will begin our exploration of theme, an important subject or recurring idea. Alienation, from 'alien' or being foreign, is when a character feels different from their peers. Think of it as they don't quite fit in with everyone else. Our mermaid feels alienation throughout this story. Wanting more than her world, she turns instead to the world above. Through her disconnection with her home, we can explore our own sense of disconnection in our lives.

Andersen layers in examples of alienation throughout the little mermaid's experiences above and below the water. The author shows this longing first in the garden plot of the little mermaid, which she chooses to style after the sun. She continually asks her grandmother questions about the strange things found on the surface. On her fifteenth birthday, every other sister visits the upper world, enjoys herself, then happily returns to life under the sea except for the youngest sister. When the little mermaid visits the surface for the first time, she is hooked by the differences.

Later when she makes the transition to land by losing her fin, she is still separate. She moves more gracefully than other people move. She cannot speak, limiting her interactions. This alienation is most felt in her disconnection from the prince; even though they are near, she is constantly misunderstood and can never make him realize it was she who saved him. Though she gave up so much, she is still distant.

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