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Hans Christian Andersen’ Works Analysis


The term ‘author’ can be used to refer to someone who “…….originates or gives existence (or life) to something” (Hodges 2002). In the context of literature, an author can be described as an individual who originates or gives existence to a piece of text. This is for example a story, a song, a poem, and other forms of texts. An author should be distinguished from a publisher and an editor. A publisher is a person who publishes and markets the works of the author. For example, Hans Christian Andersen can be described as an author in children’s literature. Many people are familiar with the works of this author. In this essay, I am going to critically analyze his work from an intertextuality perspective.

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Let me mention something about authorship within the context of children’s literature. As far as children’s literature is concerned, I will define an author as a person who is involved in the creation or production of texts aimed at children. A children literature’s author may be a child or an adult. This means that an adult creating texts meant for children is a children literature’s author just like a child who is writing for his fellow children. Andersen is an adult author who writes for children readers.

In this essay, I will criticize Hans Christian Andersen (herein referred to as Andersen), a famous children literature author who lived between 1805 and 1875 (Dalager 2006). This Danish author was selected for this essay given the fact that his stories remain relevant today decades after his death. Intertextuality theory assumes that the meaning of a given text is influenced a great deal by other texts by the same author or by different authors (Worton & Still 2002). The author of a given text may have borrowed concepts from another text to create the current one. A reader may also borrow from other texts to create meaning of a text that they are currently reading (Worton & Still 2002).

I am going to critically analyze how Andersen’s work has been influenced by other texts either by the same author or by other authors. In a nutshell, I am going to look at the relationship between Andersen’s works and other texts and how the relationship affects meaning in Andersen’s works. To this end, I am going to select four texts by Andersen which I will use as a reference. However, I must point out at this juncture that the selected works will only be used as a point of reference. I will not restrict myself to the four texts; I will refer to other texts by this author where necessary. These texts are The Ugly Duckling (1844), Thumbelina (1835), Snow Queen (1845), and The Little Mermaid (1836). I will refer to the original versions of these texts and not the adapted or revised versions.

I will look at various aspects of Andersen’s works in this essay. These include the location of intertextuality in the texts, intertextuality, and power relations among others. The aim here is to show how texts by this author are influenced by other texts from the same author or other authors.

A Critical Analysis of Andersen from an Intertextuality Perspective

Hans Christian Andersen: A Children’s Literature Icon

This man is perhaps one of the most popular authors of his time. He is known for his fairy tales, poems, and other children’s stories. Some of his stories include The Snow Queen, The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling among others (Zipes 2005). It is noted that most of his stories have been translated into more than 150 languages worldwide (Zipes 2005).

Before his death, the author was regarded as a treasure by the Danish government. He was receiving a stipend from the government as a result of this honor. His passion for children was expressed in the instructions he gave a music composer before he died. He told the composer to come up with a child-friendly piece since most of the people who will come to his wake will be children (Wullschlager 2005).

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Intertextuality as a Literary Criticism Theory

Intertextuality literary criticism theory takes into consideration the influence of other texts on a given piece of work. The term ‘intertextuality’ was coined by Kristeva in the early 1960s (Zipes 2005). On her part, Kristeva was drawing from the ideas of other scholars before her such as Ferdinand de Saussure and Bakhtin.

According to Genette (1997), intertextuality theory assumes that the meaning of a given text is built on other discourses and texts before it. When analyzing any form of text in literature, intertextuality provides that the given text cannot be taken in isolation. The text is woven into other texts, making it a thread in a large piece of fabric.

Irwin (2004) is of the view that a text cannot exist as a hermetic, neither can it be taken as a closed system. Instead, the text is part of an open system that interacts with other systems in the environment. The system is affected by subsystems and systems around it. On its part, the system affects other subsystems and systems in the environment within which it exists.

So why is a text influenced by other texts by the same author or other authors? Lemke (1992) is of the view that there are two reasons for this. The first reason has to do with the writer or author of the text. Lemke (1992) argues that the author is “……the reader of texts before he is a creator of texts” (p. 34). This being the case, any text inevitably makes references to other texts either directly or indirectly. For example, this essay that I am writing is full intertextuality indicators. I first read a collection of texts before I wrote this paper. The texts I read included the various stories by Andersen, stories on Andersen’s life, class notes on literary criticism including intertextuality, and other theories such as narratology and feminism. This being the case, you will note that this paper is full of references to these other texts that I have read. The meaning of this text is influenced a great deal by the other texts that I have read. This is because I was a ‘reader of texts’ before I became a ‘writer of texts’.

The second reason why the meaning of a given text is analyzed within the context of other texts has to do with the reader. According to Hartman (1992), an individual can only access a text-only via a reading process. When reading the text, the reader brings on board other texts that they have read in the past. For example, the reader may compare what they are reading with what they read in the past within the same field or in other fields.

Intertextuality and the Child Reader

It is important to consider how intertextuality applies to the child reader. This is given the fact that the child brings his or her experience with other texts into the picture when they are reading a given text. I believe that the child who is reading a given story by Christian Andersen is also likely to have read other stories by the same author or other authors in society (Hartman 1992).

Meek (2001) is of the view that a child can make a comparison between two or more different texts. This is not different from the comparison made by an adult when reading or interacting with a given form of art. The only difference between the child and the adult as far as a comparative analysis of texts is concerned is the fact that the latter may be more analytical than the former (Meek 2001).

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I believe that a child uses the knowledge learned in class when interpreting and creating meaning out of the text they are reading. For example, the child will decipher the meaning of the words used in a text by either looking them up in a dictionary or recalling what they have learned in class or elsewhere regarding the word. It is my opinion that this is intertextuality taking place. The child reader is using one text (for example the dictionary) to decipher the meaning of another text (for example a fairy tale by Andersen).

My interaction with young learners has also made me realize that children can compare different texts as far as different aspects of those texts are concerned. For example, the child will try to compare a character from one story with characters in other stories by the same author or by a different author (Meek 2001). For example, the child can make a comparison between Thumbelina and Cinderella as far as the main characters in the two fairy tales are concerned.

Summary of the Four Stories by Andersen

Thumbelina (1835)

This story was part of Andersen’s Fairy Tales Told for Children collection (Crone & Frank 2005). In the original version of this story, Andersen tells the story of a tiny girl referred to as Thumbelina and her adventures involving creatures interested to marry her. The tiny girl successfully avoids the advances of these creatures until she finally falls in love with a flower-fairy prince who then marries her. The story was first published in Danish and it was only in the year 1846 that it was translated into English.

Andersen begins the story by introducing a peasant’s wife who was unable to bore children of her own. The woman wishes to have a girl child of her own. A fairy woman gives the woman a barleycorn and in return gets food. The woman plants the corn and a tulip-like flower emerges [see picture #1]. Nestled among the petals of the flower is a tiny girl whom the woman names Thumbelina because of her extremely tiny stature. The woman tends to the thumb-sized girl “with a lot of love” (Crone & Frank 2005: p.23). She builds for her a very tiny cradle made of a walnut shell. The girl floats on the water all day long as the woman carries out other chores around the house.

One day, Thumbelina is stolen by an ugly toad who wants her to become the bride of her even uglier son. The girl is rescued from the ugly toad by a friendly fish and she escapes on a floating lily leaf. It is while floating down the river that Thumbelina encounters a multitude of creatures interested in marrying her. These include a stag-beetle, a mole among others. Thumbelina rejects all of these animals given that she is unable to fall in love with any of them. It is only after a very long time that she comes across a tiny flower-fairy. She instantly falls in love and the two get married.

The Ugly Duckling (1843)

The original version of the story opens with a mother duck sitting on her eggs waiting for them to hatch (Wullschlager 2005). It appears that the mother duck is impatient since the eggs are taking long to hatch and she is getting lonely. Finally, the eggs hatch, and the mother duck sighs relief. However, she realizes that one of the eggs has not hatched yet. She is discouraged by her colleagues to abandon the egg but she persists, insisting that she cannot abandon it. Finally, a very ugly duckling emerges from the egg [see picture #2]. The mother duck suspects that it is the young of a turkey. She takes her brood to the river to see whether the supposed turkey hatchling will be able to swim. To her amazement, the ugly duckling swims just as well as the rest of the brood. It is confirmed that he is indeed a duckling and not a turkey.

When he is taken to the farmhouse, it is noted that the ugly duckling is subjected to a lot of ridicule by all the other animals. He is picked on by the rest of the animals and “……no one wants his company” (Wullschlager 2005: p.67). He finally flees the farmhouse to try and make friends elsewhere. An adventure of some sort follows. The duckling visits many places but due to his ugly nature, he is not welcome in any of those places. After a long time, the ugly duckling is transformed into a beautiful swan and he flies away with the rest of the birds, finally getting a home.

The Little Mermaid (1836)

In this fairy tale, Andersen tells the story of a young mermaid who was willing to forsake her life under the sea for the love of a human prince that she once met while visiting the water surface (Tatar 2002). The mermaid is the last born in a family of six daughters. This is the custom in the land and all the other five elder sisters had visited the surface after they turned 15.

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When she visits the surface, the mermaid rescues a human prince who almost drowned when the vessel he was traveling in got destroyed in the sea. She falls in love with this prince but unfortunately, she cannot marry him since he is human. With the help of a Sea Witch, the little mermaid can transform herself into a beautiful girl and she visits the surface of the water to chat with the human prince [see picture #3]. However, she is warned that should the human prince fail to marry her, she will die of heartbreak and sorrow. As it turns out, the prince is forced by his father to marry a princess from the neighboring kingdom. The little mermaid’s fate is thus sealed. However, her sisters come to her rescue (Tatar 2002). They give her a sword which will help her transform back into a mermaid. But this can only happen if she murders the prince with that sword and lets his blood drip on her feet. However, she is unable to do this because of the love she has for the prince. As a result of this, she dies the following morning. Thus, instead of becoming sea foam as it happens with other mermaids, the little mermaid becomes a spirit. She is told that she was given the spirit because of her pious deeds and her restraint especially when she was required to murder the prince (Wullschlager 2005).

The Snow Queen (1845)

According to Wullschlager (2005), this is one of Andersen’s longest stories. It is another fairy tale that revolves around good and evil and as usual, good triumphs over evil. The main characters in this story are two little children, Kai and Gerda (a boy and a girl). Apart from being one of his longest stories, it is also regarded as one of his best pieces of literature.

The story is told in seven narratives and each of the seven narratives, the two little children feature prominently. According to Wullschlager (2005), the story starts with an evil troll who is making a magic mirror. The troll is a devil himself and together with his students, they enjoy taking the evil mirror around the world and distorting the vision of those who get to look through that magic mirror [see picture #4]. The magic mirror can magnify the bad and ugly attributes of what is reflected in it. On the other hand, the mirror diminishes the positive and beautiful attributes of that which is reflected in it.

One day, the devil and his pupils decided to carry the mirror to heaven. However, the mirror shakes and falls to earth. It disintegrates into billions of pieces that scatter all over the world. The shards of glass are blown around and they get into the hearts and eyes of those who come into contact with them (Wullschlager 2005). When this happens, the victim’s vision gets distorted and they can only see the ugly and bad things around them.

The little boy named Kay becomes a victim of the glass splinters. The Evil Queen can take him away at this state. He is held in the Snow Queen’s palace and is rescued by the girl. After the rescue, both of them return to the village only to realize that they are no longer children; they are grown-ups now.

Critical Analysis of Andersen from Intertextuality Theory Perspective

Locations of Intertextuality in Andersen’s Texts

Appleyard (1991) and Bettelheim (1991) are of the view that a child’s story is influenced by other stories written by the same author or by other stories by different authors. This is something that I agree with. This is especially so if one considers locations of intertextuality in given texts. Here, I will consider locations of intertextuality in some of Andersen’s children’s stories.

As the name ‘location of intertextuality’ implies, the term is an indication of where intertextuality is evident as far as the text under consideration is concerned (Haberer 2007). There are various locations of intertextuality in a given text (Allen 2000).

Intertextuality Located in the Person

According to Bearne & Watson (2000) and Doonan (1993), the children are expected to make sense of the story that they are reading or that is being read out to them. In the process of interacting with the story (or any other form of children’s literature), it is noted that the child brings into the interaction “…….the experience they had with other texts either by the same author or by a different author” (Fish 1980: 34). It is further noted that the child will use this experience to create meaning for the current text they are reading and to help them understand it (Hollindale 1988).

The case is no different when one is reading Andersen’s texts. As I was reading the fairy tales above, I realized that I was referring to other works touching on children’s literature generally and fairy tales in particular. In my research for this paper, I realized that fairy tales are set in a fantasy world and the characters are depicted as either being so evil or so good as to appear pious. I was having this in mind as I read Andersen’s works. For example, when I read about the Snow Queen and how “…….she captured Kay and told him he will be released only after spelling the word ‘eternity’ using the snowflakes…” (Wullschlager 2005: pp. 34), I automatically realized that she is the evil character who is needed in a fairy tale. On the other hand, as I read about the little girl and how “…..her purity and innocence defeated the trickery of the Snow Queen” (Wullschlager 2005: pp. 37), I automatically realized that she was the good character who was to fight the evil as needed in a fairy tale. This form of intertextuality whereby the reader compares the text with other texts is what is referred to as intertextuality located within the person (Lemke 1992)).

Intertextuality Located in the Task

Children may be required to review a storybook or any other form of text written for children (Hollindale 1997). When this happens, McCloud (1994) is of the view that the children are required to draw from multiple texts for them to understand the text they are reviewing. To do this, the children may try to compare the book with other books in the same genre to try and create meaning out of it. This use of multiple texts is what is referred to as intertextuality located in the task (Genette 1997).

When one is reading Andersen’s texts, there is the need to draw from multiple texts drawn from other fields (Arizpe & Styles 2003). For example, when I was reading the four stories analyzed earlier in this paper, I was drawing from the concepts of intertextuality theory that I had read earlier and my understanding of children’s literature. This is how I realized that Andersen’s texts contain intertextuality located in the task I was performing (Zipes 2005).

Intertextuality and Power Relations: A Case Study of Andersen’s Works

Intertextual Boundaries

The first form of power relation determines how far a text can be related, compared, or influenced by other texts (Hodges 2002). For example, I cannot compare a children’s fairy tale with a rap song that is meant for the American youth. The two are not related at all (or if they are related, the relationship is inconsequential). But I can consider intertextuality between a children’s fairy tale written by Andersen with that written by another author (Worton & Still 2002).

When it comes to Andersen’s texts, it appears that there are boundaries as far as intertextuality found in his texts is concerned. I realized that I cannot compare Andersen’s writings with just any other text or piece of art in society (Nordquist 2011).

Intertextuality and Participation Rights

It is noted that it is not every child who can make a connection between one text or one children’s story and another (Spufford 2002). Collins & Graham (2001) notes that a child who has not comprehended a given task cannot adequately make comparisons between it and another text (Doonan 1993). To this end, I realized that power relation as far as intertextuality is concerned determines who gets to make comparisons between one text and another, when the comparison is to be made, how it is to be made, and the social impact that such a comparison portends (Hartman 1992).

I came to realize that not everyone can determine intertextuality in Andersen’s texts. One cannot intertextuality the texts (Allen 2000) if they have not read the same. I also realized that a child or an adult who has read other fairy tales can effectively intertextuality Andersen’s works (Irwin 2004).

The Connection Between Different Texts by Andersen

Andersen’s texts are no different when it comes to the connection between one text and the other. There are some aspects of the texts which are similar from one story to the other. This makes me believe that as much as Andersen’s texts are influenced by other texts by other authors, they are also influenced a great deal by other texts written by the same author. This means that one can interpret a given text written by Andersen by referring to another text by the same author.

Themes and Morals in the Texts

Almost all stories by Andersen are replete with morals which the author wishes to impart to the young reader. I can explain this by referring to the four stories I analyzed earlier. In the Ugly Duckling, I think that the author is trying to show that persistence and perseverance pays. The ugly duckling is mistreated by other animals on the farm and the wild but he does not give up hope of making friends one day. This happens when he transforms into a beautiful swan and every bird wants to be associated with him (Salisbury 2004). The same theme is evident in The Snow Queen where the little girl perseveres and wins over the evil of the Snow Queen. I believe Andersen wants to tell the children never to give up in the face of challenges that may appear insurmountable.

Another theme that seems to permeate Andersen’s texts is that of transformation. Like in other fairy tales written by other authors, there seems to be one form of transformation or another in most of Andersen’s texts. Take for example how the ugly duckling transforms into a beautiful swan. Another example is the transformation of the little mermaid to enable her to survive on land.

Relevant Social and Historical Issues in Andersen’s Works

It is noted that Andersen’s texts are replete with social and historical issues. This is given the fact that just like any other work of art, the texts are affected and at the same reflect the current social situation in such a society.

I realized that most of Andersen’s texts are influenced by other similar texts in society at the time of writing (Salisbury 2004). For example, his fairy stories for children are full of characters and storylines that are to be found in fairy tales that were written at his time. This is for example a pious character defeating an evil character and such other similarities. The stories also reflect the geographical features of the country from where Andersen was writing. Denmark has many marshes and animals living in such marshes. This is reflected in many stories written by Andersen. For example, The Ugly Duckling is set in a marshland full of swans. The same happens in Thumbelina (Crone & Frank 2005).

Implications for Practice


In this section, I am going to assess the implications of the critical analysis that I carried out above for adults sharing Andersen’s texts with children in a school setting or at home. To this end, I will determine how the intertextuality theory I used above can affect the way adults share Andersen’s texts with children.

Implications for Adults

Implications for Adults in a Home Setting

Adults at home can use the concepts of intertextuality theory to select stories that are to be read by children or those that are to be read for the children at home. It is my opinion that many adults at home have been using intertextuality concepts unconsciously (Lemke 1992). This happens when a parent walks into a local library or bookstore to pick a book for their child. When they are looking for the book, they try to compare their content with what they know about the comprehension level of their children. For example, a parent will not pick a book meant for high school students and take it home to their kindergarten son. They are aware of the fact that the child will not comprehend the book (Fish 1980). This is given the fact that the content of the book is not like that of other children’s books. The parent is aware of this. They look at the book and try to compare it with other books meant for children and see whether their child can understand it. This is intertextuality at work.

It is also noted that a parent will select a book that is suitable for their children as far as morals are concerned. For instance, a parent will select Snow Queen by Andersen for their child as opposed to picking a romantic novel for that child. A romantic novel will not provide the child with the morals that the parent is hoping for. Whether this is true or not, it is another scenario where intertextuality is put to work. A parent who selects a story by Andersen for their child instead of a horror story is applying intertextuality concepts either explicitly or implicitly.

Implications for Adults in a School or Educational Setting

It is also noted that teachers have been using intertextuality concepts in their classroom implicitly. Culler (2000) notes that a teacher may ask the learner to relate one text to another and find out the similarities and differences between the same. This is for example when a learner is required to compare two poems in terms of structure, themes, and such other attributes. In such a case, the teacher and the learner will utilise concepts of intertextuality theory either explicitly or implicitly.

A teacher who is aware of the ubiquitous nature of intertextuality in the classroom setting can analyze the various processes that are taking place within the classroom (Hodges 2002). This is, for example, the reading processes, writing, and instructional practices, and other such activities (Nordquist 2011). The teacher can use intertextuality techniques to select reading materials that are appropriate for their class. For example, the teacher cannot select a rap song video to teach kindergarten children how to behave in society. This is especially so if the video depicts undesirable acts such as violence and sex. This is intertextuality working.


In this essay, I critically analyzed Andersen and some of his works using intertextuality literary criticism theory. The analysis aimed to analyze how various concepts of intertextuality theory apply to Andersen and some of his works. I started by justifying my selection of Andersen for this essay considering that he is a Danish author from the 19th century. I stated that the reason why I selected this author is the fact that his influence goes beyond the boundaries of his home country Denmark to the rest of the world. It is noted that some of his stories have been translated into more than 150 languages around the world. Even though he lived more than 200 years ago, he is still relevant today as far as children’s literature is concerned.

As I have already stated, I used various concepts of intertextuality theory to analyze this author. These included the locations of intertextuality where I located intertextuality in various aspects of his texts. Some intertextuality was to be found in the texts themselves, others in the reader while others were to be found in the task of analyzing his texts.

I also noted the intertextuality of power relations as far as Andersen is concerned. I noted that there are two discernible intertextuality power relations in his texts. The first power relation had to do with the fact that his writings cannot be juxtaposed to just any other work of art in society. For example, a comparison cannot be made between his texts and a rap song in America. I noted the second power relation which had to do with participation. I noted that not every person can intertextuality Andersen’s works. One must have read the writings to adequately compare them with others.

In conclusion, I provided the implications that intertextuality theory has on adults sharing children’s literature with their children either at home or at school. I noted that teachers as well as parents have been using intertextuality concepts to select stories for children in school and at home.


References for Children Literature

Appleyard, JA 1991, Becoming a reader: The experience of fiction from childhood to adulthood, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

Arizpe, E & Styles, M 2003, Children reading pictures: Interpreting visual texts, London, Routledge.

Bearne, E & Watson, V 2000, Where texts and children meet, London, Routledge.

Bettelheim, B 1991, The uses of enchantment, London: Penguin.

Collins, FM & Graham, J 2001, Historical fiction for children: Capturing the past, London, Fulton.

Culler, J 2000, Literary theory: A very short introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Doonan, J 1993, Looking at pictures in picture books, Stroud, Thimble Press.

Fish, S 1980, Is there a text in this class?: The authority of interpretive communities, London, Harvard University Press.

Hollindale, P 1997, Signs of childness in children’s books, Stroud, Thimble Press.

Hollindale, P 1988, Ideology and the children’s book, Stroud, Thimble Press.

McCloud, S 1994, Understanding comics: The invisible art, London, HarperCollins.

Meek, MS 2001, Children’s literature and national identity, Stoke on Trent, Trentham.

Salisbury, M 2004, Illustrating children’s books: Creating pictures for publication, London, A&C Black.

Spufford, F 2002, The child that books built: A memoir of childhood and reading, London, Faber & Faber.

References for Andersen Stories

Crone, FD & Frank, J 2005, The stories of Hans Christian Andersen, London, Duke University Press.

Dalager, S 2006, Journey in blue: Historical, biographical novel about H.C Andersen, London, McArthur & Co.

Tatar, M 2008, The annotated Hans Christian Andersen, London, Norton & Company.

Wullschlager, J 2005, Hans Christian Andersen: The life of a storyteller, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Zipes, J 2005, Hans Christian Andersen: The misunderstood storyteller, New York, Routledge.

References for Intertextuality Theory

Allen, G 2000, Intertextuality, London: Routledge.

Genette, G 1997, Palimpsests: Literature in the second degree, Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press.

Haberer, K 2007, Research in intertextuality, London: Routledge.

Hartman, D 1992, Intertextuality and educational research, Linguistics and Education, 4: 295-312.

Hodges, A 2002, The war on terror narrative: Discourse and intertextuality in the construction and contestation of socio-political reality, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Irwin, W 2004, Against intertextuality, Philosophy and Literature, 28(2): 227-242.

Lemke, J 1992, Intertextuality and educational research, Linguistics and Education, 4:257-268.

Nordquist, R 2011, Intertextuality. Web.

Worton, M & Still, J 2002, Intertextuality: Theories and practice, Manchester, Manchester University Press.

Links for Pictures

Picture #1: Thumbelina.

Picture #2: The Ugly Duckling.

Picture #3: The Little Mermaid.

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