Today’s blog post will be about the story “The Ugly Duckling” by Hans Christian Andersen. You might have hear about him, he is pretty famous for his fairy tales! If you haven’t heard of him, you will get a chance to know more about him further down the article.
Before I start I think I should mention that If you are here from the Youtube video (link) I will be repeating some things, yet there will also be some new information in here for you!
Alright let’s start with a brief synopsis of The Ugly Duckling, one day a mother Duck was waiting for her eggs to hatch. They all did except the biggest one which remained unhatched. When it finally did hatch it was different than the other ducklings and the mom thought he was not her own.
The more people saw the large Duckling the more it was ridiculed by the other ducks. Soon even the large ducks sisters and brothers as well started calling it ugly and other such names. The mother duck as is written in the original tale “Wanted him to leave”.
The Story continues with him meeting different animals who all also think him ugly. He decides to leave his home and is now also very self deprecating in his speech towards himself.
One of the people he meets is a dog and short of eating him he leaves. The duckling thinks it’s because he is too ugly to be eaten.
He keeps facing trials and is always rejected because he is either ugly or can’t do what a normal duck can. In Autumn he sees these lovely birds with big graceful necks and wishes he could be so pretty but soon they are gone and then short after it’s winter. He starts swimming non stop to keep the water from freezing around him but it’s no use. The water is almost completely frozen when a peasant from the nearby village takes his wooden shoes and breaks the ice, picks up the duckling and brings him home to his wife. Unfortunately he had brought it home thinking it dead. But of course he wasn’t and when he came to he made a big mess before escaping into the hard winter.
Winter was harsh and cold for the duckling but he survived. He decides now that it’s warm that he will go see the royal birds. He thinks they will kill him for he thinks he is that ugly but at this point he is a bit suicidal and rather be killed by them than keep living like he had.
He bends his head and asks to be killed and then see’s his reflection and that he has become a swan. The children, of the village say he is the nicest one, the nature around him bows to his beauty and the other swans as well and he is the happiest swan around.
As one of the most famous quotes goes like this “It doesn’t matter about being born in a duckyard, as long as you are hatched from a swan’s egg” —The Ugly Duckling
So there is the story of the ugly duckling. For this blog post and the Youtube video I re-read this story and wow, it was not what I expected. I had this image of it being an inspiring story but in reality it really is really quite sad.
When we hear about the ugly duckling we think of people who are the underdogs and then defeat all odds and prove others wrong. While this story does have some great messages (which I will go over soon!) it is also a dark story. The self deprecation this poor duck feels to himself breaks my heart a little. It’s something we see a lot in society, for example with bullying. When someone young or even old is told again and again they’re not good enough eventually most start believing it.
Something I will mention about this story before I start saying the great things we can take from it is something many people have commented on. Some people see the story as being centered on solely looks. While it is true that the story talks again and again about being ugly and hated and then beautiful and loved, I think we can take another interpretation from this story which is more positive. Did Andersen write this story with the thought that looks means everything? I don’t know and I think it will be hard for anyone to rightly know. However like in all things we can acknowledge the possible negative thoughts that accompany something and then focus on the good thoughts, which will make positive waves and not reinforce the bad thoughts.
So to recap, society does put a big importance on looks (it’s a facts)and some people will see this as a story that shows that looks are everything, but I hope most people know there is more to life than looks and will look at the positive lesson of this piece rather than the possible bad lessons.
Now that that’s out of the way let’s focus on the good.
This story of the Ugly Duckling can teach us a lot in terms of good lessons. A first thing I found this story to have taught me is the fact that it’s what’s on the inside that counts. As I mentioned when talking about outwards appearances, there’s more to a person than how they look and this story is a great example of this. The Ugly Duckling goes through many trials in this short story. Yet every time he get’s back up, when people are mean to him he doesn’t hold it against them, yes he puts the blame on himself which is not much better but it does shows how kind he is and how he is beautiful and strong he is even though the characters in the story don’t see it. These traits and more in the story show how beauty can be something found inside of us as well as something which can be perceived from the outside.
A second positive message from this story is the fact that it gives us hope that one day we will find our place. It tells us not to give up because one day we will find our swan family and be happy. This can be taken to be shallow again or it can be taken that we all have a place were we belong. It might be hard to find it and it might take a while. The place we belong to might not resemble swans at all to anyone but ourselves but I do believe that like in the Ugly Duckling we all have the opportunity to find our happy place and like in the Ugly Duckling it’s usually closer than we first thought.
There are other good messages we can find but for now I want to move on from the positive messages in the story itself. I want to now argue that while this story is a great one, the way society and modern culture has appropriated it is almost more powerful than the story itself. When we read the story of the Ugly Duckling we see the good lessons I mentioned and more but it is an older story. In modern day society many people have never read the story but still feel an attachment when someone mentions the words ugly duckling. It’s because the story has become part of our culture. I can’t say it’s like this all over the world but from experience in North America it’s definitely there.
It’s mostly used to describe someone’s life. People will use the expression “I will tell you my Ugly Duckling story” usually it means the story of how someone has overcome all odds and became who they are today. Of course there is also the people who use it in a more distasteful by making montages of people think are ugly or showing before and after pictures of people who used to be “ugly” according to them and are now “pretty”. An example can be found on this article on Bored Panda in which they show before and after pictures. It can be inspiring for some who don’t like how they look but mostly I think it’s not sending a good message which I have touched on already (We are all beautiful in our own way!).
When the Ugly Duckling story is used in a better way it can really make an impact even if we have never read the story, since most have heard enough of it to get the jist. One of my favorite uses in modern culture is the scene in the animated movie Lilo and Stitch where the little Alien Stitch starts to feel like he wants a family and he also starts to feel like he is out of place. Like the Ugly Duckling Stitch was and was brought up to believe things that set him apart from everyone around him, he is also thought to be a dog and everyone sneers at him because he doesn’t look like a regular dog, which or course he isn’t just like the Ugly Duckling isn’t a duck. (See the clip below) If you start looking around you you can see that the Ugly Duckling themes are all around us and are used in our society over and over again. The amount of use it’s getting could be because of how much society prizes beauty in our modern day and how much we need some reassurance of our inner beauty. We have social media, Instagram and all these platforms and media’s telling us how to look. The people rejecting this idea that there is only one way to be beautiful uses the historical short story of the Ugly Duckling to help make people feel an emotional connection to the message that we all have our own unique beauty. I like to think that the people using this story for good surpass the ones who use this story for negative influence.
There is so much more to the story of the Ugly Duckling, how does the Author play a part in how the story was written? Is his life related to the Ugly Duckling? Which other inspiring people have an inspiring Ugly Duckling story? What are my experiences with this story? Do I have an Ugly Duckling Story? Go see the video below for all those answers!
Video coming soon!
I want to leave you with a famous quote from Margaret Wolfe Hungerford “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. This I think is the main thing to take from the story of the Ugly Duckling. This means to be that Beauty is not just the societies ideal of beauty that are constructed and taught to us from a young age. Beauty is different all over the world, all cultures have different beauty norms (see image below and check out the article that goes with it here). So take comfort in the tale of the Ugly duckling and find your inner beauty.
Until next time be part share those stories to help empower yourself and other and together let’s make a Powered Crowd for positive change!