This edition was edited by Jordan Green (2018 Honors Program Graduate) and Dr. Matt Wranovix (Honors Program Director)
A children’s story? Really?
You may be surprised by this year’s choice for an Honors Program Common Read. Many of you will be familiar with Disney’s film “The Little Mermaid” from 1989 and have already dismissed the story on which that film is based as childish. But before you come to that conclusion we’d like to ask you to do three things. First, go back to the cover image on the landing page – that is the final page of the author’s handwritten manuscript (image available on Wikipedia). Clearly this was a text over which he labored carefully and passionately. What about a children’s story could have consumed him so?
Second, consider the author’s biography. Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author famous for his fairy tales. He wrote “The Little Mermaid” in 1837, possibly while suffering from the rejection of Edvard Collin, a male love-interest. Edvard married a woman, Henrietta, but Andersen would nevertheless be buried in the Collin’s family plot upon his death in 1875. Third, and finally, consider the story’s main conceit – the loss of the mermaid’s voice. What could that mean? Might Andersen have been interested in the plight of those who cannot speak?
Sometimes social norms can work to silence individuals. In the realm of sexual identity there is a term for this called heteronormativity. In broad terms, it deals with the idea of heterosexuality as the normal, natural expression of sexuality in society. Historically, we have seen instances of non-hetero behavior in many places. Yet often it is glossed over or repressed altogether in normal discussion. The most infamous product of heteronormativity is ‘the closet,’ a metaphorical place where sexual and gender non-conforming individuals have felt compelled to hide parts of their identity. This is an injustice to our society because it hurts those who fall somewhere on the LGBTQ+ spectrum, whether it be in context of their sexuality, or their gender.
What do you think? Is this story truly about the way in which social norms can ‘silence’ individuals? Was Andersen really telling us about himself in this story? How did the Disney film adaptation change the story? Think about (and comment on!) all these topics and more as you read. For instructions on how to leave comments in the text, see the next page.