The story The Princess and the Pea (Danish: Prinsessen paa Ærten, directly translated as The Princess on the Pea) was first published in 1835 by Hans Christian Andersen, who claimed to have heard it in his childhood. But we find earlier versions of this story in other literature. Peter and Iona Peter Opie, compilers of what is still the definitive edition of the best stories, Classic Fairy Tales, mentioned a notable Indian predecessor to Andersen's story, in the 12th century. The book Kathāsaritsāgara by Somadeva (11th century), in which three brothers compete for the title of the most fastidious, and the winner (if that is the right word) is the one who claims to be a 'sensitive sleeper'. This brother spends the night sleeping on seven mattresses, but when morning comes, he is found dead, with a twisted red mark on the side of his body. When his bed was examined, a single hair was found at the bottom of the mattress - probably the cause of his fatal wound.
Peter and Iona also note that The Princess and the Pea was translated into English by a man with the unfortunate name - Charles Boner, to whom the idea of a princess - sensitive as she was - being able to feel a pea under twenty mattresses was quite far-fetched. So Boner duly changed, not the number of mattresses, but the number of peas, raising it to three, a magical number that often appears in fairy tales, for example, The Story of the Three Bears or Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, The Three Musketeers, A Christmas Carol, etc.
But what does it all mean? This question is made more relevant by the existence of the story, in a slightly different form, before Andersen's The Princess and the Pea from the 19th century. A story that goes back to India nearly a thousand years ago (and that's only the earliest we know of: many fairy tales have a touch of oral culture about them, and oral literature is notoriously good at getting lost over the centuries.
One of the explanations is that the story talks about the importance of good marriage of a prince with a woman of royal blood who came from a good 'path'. Before paternity or DNA tests, and in an age when it was just as easy for kings - in other words, fathers of princesses - to die in battle as it was to have a daughter, establishing your bride-to-be's credentials in the blue-blood department was probably a tough job. Some other 'test' should have been invented. Of course, this does not explain the male figure in the Indian story, who is neither royal nor female, so this cannot be a complete explanation (or perhaps any explanation) of The Princess on the Pea. Perhaps, therefore, the fable is instead intended to mock those who occupy a comfortable position in society, whether royal or aristocratic and their excessive sensitivity to small details that the great unwashed (i.e. the rest of us) don't even have time to notice, let alone bother with. This would explain the exaggeration in both, not only in terms of the lightness of the object detected (a pea, a hair) but also in the number of mattresses (twenty, seven).
JRR Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings, said: "Myths and fairy tales must, like all art, reflect and contain in the solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error), but not explicitly, not in the known form of the primary 'real' world." '. The moral of the story is the lesson the reader learns from the experiences and mistakes of the characters. A fairy tale is a story that often includes royalty, some aspect of the supernatural, and a moral.
In The Princess and the Pea by Hans Christian Andersen, the prince searches far and wide for the right princess without success. When one unexpectedly appears, the queen becomes suspicious of her position and tests her by placing a pea under twenty mattresses to see if she is sensitive enough to truly be of royal blood.
It's easy to summarize The Princess and the Pea: a prince wants to marry a princess, but he wants to make sure she's a real princess and not one of the dozens of royal suitors that seem to inhabit the kingdom. He embarks on an extensive quest to find his royal bride, but he can't be completely sure that any of the women he meets are real princesses. This pickiness when it comes to courtship looks set to end in eternal bachelorhood, until one day, on a dark and stormy night, a young woman arrives at his castle, asking to take shelter inside until the storm passes. The woman claims to be a princess, so the prince's mother takes a pea and puts it under twenty mattresses in the bed where the princess will spend the night.
In the morning, her hosts ask the young princess if she slept well, and she tells them that she had a bad night because there was something hard under her in the bed, and her body was black and blue until morning. She barely managed to sleep the whole night. The prince and his mother take this as proof that this young woman is a real princess, for only someone of truly royal blood could be so gentle and sensitive as to be disturbed by a pea hidden under twenty mattresses. The prince and princess are duly married, the pea is displayed in the museum and that's the end of this strange little story. Let's examine literary elements, symbols and motifs, and the moral of this story.
Setting: the prince's castle, the princess's room
Point of view and Narrator: third-person with an omniscient narration
Tone and Mood: playful, silly
Style: chatty, casual
Moral of the Story
The Princess and the Pea is one of the shortest classic fairy tales. It also manages to be both one of the simplest and one of the most confusing. It's simple because its plot is so simple, but it's almost too simple. What can we say about this tale of a royal hypersensitivity to bed-dwelling vegetables? Does the fairy tale (if it is strictly a fairy tale at all) have any discernible moral?
Hans Christian Andersen's 'The Princess and the Pea' teaches the reader not to judge people based on their appearance, as seen when the scruffy-looking princess passes a test orchestrated by the queen. Below you'll learn moral lessons presented in an analysis of the classic fairy tale.
Perhaps the most obvious moral is that looks are deceiving. When the princess appears at the city gates in the middle of a storm, she looks anything but regal. The narrator describes how "The water ran down from her hair and clothes; it ran down into the toes of her shoes and out again at the heels. And yet she said that she was a real princess.''This is not exactly the elegance we usually associate with royalty.
Naturally, the queen is suspicious and wants some form of proof that this stranger is the 'real princess' she claims to be. After passing the test that she can feel a pea under a huge amount of bedclothes, it is confirmed that the girl is telling the truth. The queen learns a valuable lesson and gets a new daughter-in-law.
Another lesson from this story is how small things can make a big difference. You can only imagine how comfortable the princess's bed was with all those sheets piled up. Yet one hard little pea under that padding is enough to destroy her comfort!
Symbols and Metaphors
The pea - The pea is a symbol of our truest selves. Despite the layers of social acceptability, the princess passes the test because she feels so intensely. She cares and is authentic. She is not afraid to face his own problems and discomforts.
As a seed, the pea is the symbol of something new, new beginnings, and births
The prince and the princess - the prince in this story symbolizes action, while the princess symbolizes wisdom that can be brought to action
The Queen - she is a symbol of ideas and myths. They assist the action by letting the princess in and setting up a test.
The castle - a symbol for one soul, a place where we fortify ourselves. After failing at finding a real princess, the prince goes back to his fortress fortifying himself in insecurity.