Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Ugly Duckling

The classic nineteenth century fairy tale The Ugly Duckling tells the story of a duckling who, when hatched along with his brothers and sisters, is ridiculed and ostracized because they perceive him as ugly. He wanders alone through the fall and winter, and suffers from fear, loneliness, and sadness. In the spring he flies away from the marsh and meets up with a group of swans, and realizes that he too has become a beautiful swan.

The story is familiar to most students and nicely raises philosophical questions about identity and the nature of the self, the meaning of beauty and ugliness, perception, and the experience of solitude. You can read the story with your child or students and ask them questions like whether the "ugly duckling" really was ugly and, if so, what made him ugly? Did he then stop being ugly at the end of the story? What does ugly mean? Would the "ugly duckling" still be ugly if someone thought he was beautiful? How do we decide what is beautiful and what is not? Did the duckling change over the course of the story? Was he still the same duckling? Do our identities change over time? Etc.

4 comments:

WCT said...

This is one of those "charming children's stories" that sends a subversive message: beauty is everything. Only when the ugly duckling transforms into the beautiful swan does he (let's face it: we are really talking *she* here, right?) become worthwhile, find acceptance. This story needs radicalization. Along with the Rainbow Fish, or the Communist Manifesto, as I like to reference it, this tale needs some serious deconstructing. Let children at it, I say.
-The philosophical Curmudgeon

Jana said...

So many children, and especially girls, get the message all the time that "beauty is everything." So deconstructing this story is especially important, I agree!

Rejis said...

This is one story which needs to be discussed not just among children but also with their parents and teachers.Beauty is such an interesting and intriguing word which can be reduced to a mere label without realizing the price tag it carries with it.It is for the community as such to rediscover the nuances of this story so that none of its children wander alone.I think this is one story which needs not to be just told but needs to be rediscovered.

J & E said...

WCT I find it interesting that living in a SE Asian country as an American has opened my eyes to what life is like living in community (a non-communist community) Sharing is the norm when you don't have the luxury for everyone to have their own. The kids here LOVE the Rainbow Fish story.