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"The Little Mermaid" by Hans Christian Andersen: Setting

Danielle Zoeller, Jacob Belknap
  • Author
    Danielle Zoeller

    Dani Zoeller is a freelance writer and has taught 5th-8th grade Language Arts for 11 years. She has a Bachelor’s degree in English from Illinois State University and a Master’s degree in English from Northen Illinois University.

  • 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.

Learn about the Little Mermaid's setting. Discover the geographical setting of the Danish fairy tale, and understand the setting's significance on the characters and plot. Updated: 12/01/2021

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"The Little Mermaid" Fairy Tale

"The Little Mermaid," by the Danish fairy tale writer Hans Christian Andersen, tells the story of the sea King's daughter, the little mermaid. The youngest of six, the little mermaid is very curious about what is at the surface of the water. Having to wait for a long time to see, her grandmother takes pity on her and brings her and her sisters to the surface. The little mermaid spots the boat of a handsome Prince, who reminds her of the marble statue in her garden. When the water gets rough, the party experiences a shipwreck, but the little mermaid is able to save the handsome Prince. At this point, she becomes obsessed with him, often going to the surface to see him, but never actually getting to be on land with him. Over time, she becomes desperate enough to visit the sea witch so that she may be granted legs. The legs come at a terrible price, however, and she loses the ability to speak and be with her family. On her new legs, she painfully enjoys her time with the Prince, but inevitably loses him when he marries another. When she faces one last opportunity to return home and live (arranged by her family, if she kills the Prince), she cannot go through with it. She throws herself into the water to become sea foam. It is at this time that she is able to become a "daughter of the air" to eventually earn an eternal soul like her beloved Prince.


A statue of the little mermaid gazing at the young Prince

The Little Mermaid Statue


"The Little Mermaid" Setting

The story of "The Little Mermaid" takes in the mid-1800s, predominantly, in three different locations: the underwater kingdom, the Prince's palace, and the sea witch's dwelling. The little mermaid travels between these three places throughout the story. In the underwater kingdom, the little mermaid dreams of one day being with the beautiful Prince in his palace. In the sea witch's dwelling, the little mermaid sacrifices her voice and her life with her family to gain the ability to walk on land.

Where Does "The Little Mermaid" Take Place?

The little mermaid's journey takes place in the underwater kingdom where her family lives, the Prince's palace, and the sea witch's dwelling where she goes seeking help to make her way to the surface. Andersen describes these three settings to either compliment or oppose one another, depending on the situation surrounding the setting.

The Underwater Kingdom in "The Little Mermaid"

Andersen states while humans may believe that nothing lies on the sea floor, they are mistaken, for the sea King's palace, and the home of the little mermaid, sit on the floor. Made of coral and amber windows, the palace also includes a roof made from mussel shells that shine their beautiful pearls as the water washes over them. There are also flowers along the walls, and each of the sea King's daughters (the Princesses) has her own little garden plot to cultivate as she wishes.

The little mermaid, the youngest daughter, has flowers the color of a sunrise and a beautiful marble statue of a handsome man in her garden. After she eventually catches a glimpse of the Prince, who lives above in the palace, this statue begins to remind her of him. Over time, this statue builds the little mermaid's internal conflict surrounding her beloved Prince. After saving him, she longs to be near him, but she often does not see him. It is this longing and constant reminder of him that eventually drive her to seek out the sea witch.

After agreeing to the sea witch's terms and coming to the surface, the little mermaid gets to experience many new aspects of living above the water. These new experiences, like riding on horseback and climbing mountains, make her feet sore and bloody because of the sea witch's spell. It is with these sore feet that she climbs down the marble steps to soak her feet in the sea, even seeing her sisters rise to the surface. In many ways, the Prince's palace is very similar to the underwater palace the little mermaid comes from. These similarities help the reader better understand what life is like for the little mermaid.

The Sea Witch's Dwelling in "The Little Mermaid"

In "The Little Mermaid" fairy tale, the sea witch's dwelling is everything the underwater kingdom is not. There are no garden beds or statues of beautiful humans. Past dangerous whirlpools is the entrance to the terrible place. Here, flowers and other normal sea plants, like grasses, cannot grow. Nothing exists on this sea bottom but an odd forest of plants that appear to be part animal, part plant. In every way, this space is supposed to feel dangerous and unnatural to the reader. Even the home of the sea witch itself is made from the bones of sailors lost at sea.

The Stark Difference Between the Underwater Kingdom and the Sea Witch's Dwelling

These two spaces exist totally apart from one another, drastically contrasting each other. While the sea King's palace is beautiful and made from the very life that surrounds it, the sea witch must create her lair from whatever dying and decaying former life falls down to her. For example, while the sea King's castle is made from coral, a natural part of the ocean floor, the sea witch's dwelling has walls of human bones that have fallen down to her depths after shipwrecks. The terror of this place, and the fact that the little mermaid is willing to face it, shows her intense desire to be with the Prince. She will venture to a place as dangerous and gruesome as this one to be with the one she thinks she may love.

The Prince's Palace in "The Little Mermaid"


A palace at Walt Disney World.

The Palace


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Frequently Asked Questions

What city is The Little Mermaid from?

In Denmark, there is a little mermaid statue that is meant to represent the heritage of the story. Since Hans Christian Andersen was Danish, it is widely theorized that the fairy tale was set around Denmark.

When and where does The Little Mermaid take place?

Though the text does not explicitly state when the story takes place, the fairy tale is set, generally, in three settings. These three settings include the underwater kingdom, the Prince's palace, and the sea witch's dwelling. These three settings compliment and oppose one another throughout the story.

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