The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Laura Foist

Laura has a Masters of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition and has taught college Science.

Hans Christian Andersen wrote many fairy tales, including 'The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep'. In this lesson we will summarize and analyze this story.

The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep

As a child did you ever take typical household objects and humanize them? Hans Christian Andersen tells several stories about typical household objects that have been humanized or personified. In 'The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep' we have a cupboard and some china figurines which have been personified. Through the story, we almost get the feeling that the children are actually playing with these objects, and one of the objects ends up getting broken.

In this story, there is a cupboard with some elaborate designs carved into it, including a satyr (half man-half goat). The children have named this satyr 'Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat's-legs', which is quite the mouthful! The angle of this satyr made it appear as though he were always staring down at this beautiful china figurine, the shepherdess. Next to the shepherdess was a chimney sweep, also made of china. There was a third china figurine, the Chinaman. This figurine could actually bob his head. And it was imagined that he was the grandfather of the shepherdess.

The Shepherdess and Chimney Sweep ran off together
Shepherdess and chimney sweep

So the story begins with Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat's-legs asking the Chinaman for the shepherdess' hand in marriage. Since the Chinaman could nod his head, he nodded it in response, giving Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat's-legs permission to marry the shepherdess. But the shepherdess didn't want to marry Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat's-legs, so she asked the chimney sweep to run off with her.

Together they run off, with the Chinaman running after them. But then the shepherdess becomes frightened and wants to go home, so the chimney sweep takes her home again. But then they see that the Chinaman has fallen while coming after them and that he is now broken into several pieces! But it ends up okay because the Chinaman simply needs a rivet and is repaired. Except he can no longer bob his head, so when Major general-field-sergeant-commander Billy-goat's-legs again asks for the shepherdess' hand in marriage he cannot bob his head in agreement. The shepherdess and the chimney sweep are then able to live happily ever after.

Analysis

This is an interesting personification of household objects because they can interact with humans. This adds to the feeling that the children are play acting this story with these figurines, resulting in one of them breaking. First of all the story clearly states that it is the children who name the satyr. This wasn't a name that he came up with, nor any of the other household objects, the children came up with this name.

Second, it is a very child-like story, the children take the fragile figurines to play with but then feel bad and return them, only to realize that one has been broken.

Third, the chimney sweep comforts the shepherdess about the Chinaman's fall by saying 'If they cement his back, and put a good rivet in it, he will be as good as new'. This 'they' is obviously the humans, or the adults, who can repair the Chinaman.

So one way to look at this is a children's story told by children, an extravagant tale told to explain how they broke one of the figurines.

Hans Christian Andersen felt that stories for children should be fun and imaginative, not focused on a scary moral message
Hans Christian Andersen

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