When I was younger, one of my favorite books was The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Andersen. I used to force my parents to read it to me so much that I eventually memorized each word. As I started reading by myself, The Little Mermaid became something I occupied myself with. Looking back, I see that my younger self was captivated by Ariel’s innocence and perseverance. With a matured understanding of the different stereotypes books use to downplay certain people, I am now able to spot a number of stereotypical and insulting ideas within my favorite childhood book. In The Little Mermaid, women are pictured as objects, who are unable to have power and are submissive compared to the ‘dominant’ male.
The book enforces ideas that women should be acknowledged for their bodies rather than their intellect. When signing off her voice in trade of being a human being, Ursula convinces Ariel that her shapely figure is good enough to win the heart of the prince, and her voice will play no role in getting his attention. Ursula even says that she should never “underestimate the importance of body image” (Anderson 8). Ursula’s statements show that women are only appreciated for their appearance and figure, rather than their personality and their opinions. Furthermore, King Triton expects that his daughters should constantly care about their looks and remain submissive. All of his daughters, except Ariel, dress up in elegant attire and act mature. Ariel, on the other hand, is pictured as a rebel for collecting human objects. Ariel’s curiosity to explore the unknown is looked down upon by her family and kingdom. Instead, she is expected to dress properly and act like any other “typical” girl. The activities of both women and men also differ in the book. Girls are seen to be dressing up, picking flowers whereas men are pictured as playing with their dogs and working on ships.
Men throughout the book have all the power, whether under the sea or up above on land. King Triton, the sea king, rules over all the fish of the sea. His daughters, regardless of their royal status, have no role in the ruling of the kingdom alongside their father. The King’s advisor, a male crab named Sebastian, seems to have some power. He takes orders from the king and makes everything fit to whatever the king wants. Sebastian has more power than the daughters of the king, even with him not being related to the king. The king is pushing power away from women. Although having several daughters who are capable of ruling, neither of them is offered that opportunity. Prince Eric rules over his own kingdom in the same may - with no assistance from women. His advisor, much like Triton, is a male, Grimsby. Grimsby much like Sebastian follows through with the orders from the Prince and he even has an influence on the Prince’s decision by expressing his opinions on certain subjects. The women in the kingdom of Prince Eric are seen to be working in the kitchen and helping in stores rather than assisting the Prince with the ruling of the kingdom. Ursula is the only woman figure in the book who has power. Through the use of Ursula in the story, power can be seen as hazardous in the hands of a woman for Ursula is posed as the villain. The book pushes the idea that men should have power, rather than women.
In The Little Mermaid, women are displayed as submissive and worthless under the power of the dominant male. At the beginning of the book, King Triton has full control over Ariel’s actions. He keeps her under the sea, away from those from above. When finding her extensive collection of human objects, the King becomes infuriated and destroys all of her possessions. Ariel has no opportunities to make her own decisions because her father decides everything. Ariel, being a girl, is kept away from doing what she likes best which is to explore the unknown. She is kept away from doing what she likes best and finds interesting, Now if Ariel was a male, he would have the freedom to do what he finds enjoyable or interesting. The book exemplifies that women are to do what is expected of them rather than following what they desire. As a girl, her arguments are also not accounted for, rather her father’s opinions are stronger and therefore are enforced. Men in this book continue to ignore what women believe in, rather they only do what they have in mind. When finding Prince Eric, she is ready to leave everything to join him. When she meets Eric after getting legs she posed as half-naked, confused, and clueless of this new world she has entered, leaving her helpless in the hands of Prince Eric. This shows how submissive she is, for she is presented to a man she loves as helpless and weak. Prince Eric is rather seen as a dominant male by taking this poor girl who is clueless about this world. When Triton agrees to the marriage of Prince Eric and Ariel it feels like the exchange of the ownership of his daughter to his new son-in-law. Ariel is used as some sort of an object, exchanged from one man to another. This book shows men to be dominant over the submissive and weak women.
The different stereotypes The Little Mermaid uses throughout this book are inapt in a children’s book. The book introduces fallacious principles that should not be introduced at a young age. Through books such as this, girls begin to see themselves as objects that are pleasing to the eye, incapable of having power, and submissive to the dominant male. If children see themselves like this, there can be no interest in creativity and growth in a child’s mind. Rather girls begin to see themselves as useless, especially in a world where men are seen as dominant. The Little Mermaid and many other stories can keep girls from reaching their full potential in making a change in the world they live in. If this world needs to grow, it needs intellectual men and women who are not conformed to the standards of societies that are publicized through these stereotypical books.