It is a fairy tale about a tin soldier's love and duty. The brave little tin soldier is not like the others: he only has one leg. Despite this, he faces the dangers and obstacles that try to keep him away from his home and love.
Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Steadfast Tin Soldier was first published in 1838 in the first edition of the second collection of stories titled Fairy Tales Told to Children, which also includes Thumbelina, The Princess and The Pea, The Little Mermaid, The Little Match Girl, The Emperor's New Clothes, The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, The Nightingale, and many others. It marks an important turning point in Andersen's literary work, because, for the first time, he hasn't used other literary sources or folklore when writing his tales, but relied entirely on his own imagination and literary erudition.
The fairy tale is written entirely in the spirit of late romanticism, aware of its "romanticism" and slightly teasing readers with romantic elements. The romantic decay of souls, the unattainability of the ideal of love in life ,and the possibility of achieving love only in death - all served with a cold, ironic exaggeration. Of course, all these nuances are understandable to the adult reader, but thanks to the many animated versions, this fairy tale is one of the children's favorites. Experts in developmental psychology are still debating and have not yet reached an agreement on how Fairy Tales Told to Children affects the child's psyche and shapes (cognitive and ethical) skills in young readers.
The theme of the fairy tale is the complete dependence of man on the vicissitudes of fate, and the problem is the meaning of human life, human faith, loyalty, and perseverance. At the same time, the narrator managed to place all the main questions about the meaning of life in a small space of fairy-tale text.
The plot of the fairy tale is entirely based on the image of the main - romantic - hero who from birth "is not like everyone else" (all tin soldiers have two legs, but only our main character has one) and, of course, "is the most interesting of all", thus the story of the fate of a one-legged tin soldier.
The soldier understands all the events in his life through the prism of one feeling - love for the ballerina. Moreover, throughout the fairy tale neither the soldier nor the ballerina utters a single word (neither to each other nor to other characters at all), nor have they made a single movement. It seems to the soldier himself that their limitation is that the toys are especially durable. He is loyal to the chosen service to serve the child as a toy and on that basis, he believes that he shares the same destiny with the ballerina which is why their destiny is intertwined and bound.
In this tale, we see the classic composition of a romantic short story and we get a clear idea of the scene and the main characters. We learn how his feelings towards the ballerina are connected and how the forces of evil will obviously prevent this beautiful love. There are also elements of action - when a soldier falls from a window onto the street where the boys from the street put him in a paper boat and what follows is his "odyssey" - many adventures.
Then, as in the plot of the ancient parable of Polycrates (popular in the first half of the 19th century in Friedrich Schiller's retold ballad), a fish that accidentally swallows a tin soldier ends up in the kitchen of its owners. The soldier returns to his home, to his little owner, and is pleased to note that his beloved, during his absence, has remained in the same position.
But there is an unexpected climax - the boy throws the soldier into the furnace, and then the draft lifts the paper ballerina and takes it straight to the furnace towards the tin soldier where she burns immediately. The unfolding is seen in one phrase when the maid cleaning the ashes from the stove finds a little tin heart, while the ballerina's heart is burned.
Their tragic destiny has only external signs of romantic love, followed by a tragic outcome.
The main characteristic of the artistic originality of this literary fairy tale is precisely its literature. For the first time, by renouncing his work without any specific source of fairytale action, Andersen paradoxically did not reduce but increased the dependence of the adult reader's understanding of the text on his (reader's) literary erudition. It is therefore impossible to appreciate and feel the romantic irony of a fairy tale associated with the adventures of tin soldiers without knowing the relevant passages from Homer and Herodotus. And to understand why the ballerina "fluttered" to the soldiers in the furnace "like a sylph", you must know that sylphs in Celtic and German mythology are etheric beings who only seem to look like a woman and personify the element of air.
At the same time, simple personification is by no means the main artistic detail in this story. All images, without exception complex symbols, are often ironically thought out and have a double or even triple bottom.
With his one-legged tin soldier, Andersen pays tribute to veterans returning from the war to their homes so damaged that they cannot find work in civilian life. The loss of limbs is also one of the symbols that appear in the fairy tale The Red Shoes published in the same collection.
The relative permanence of the materials that make up the physical or psychological "body" of many of Andersen's characters comes in other stories. In The Steadfast Tin Soldier, the tin of a soldier signifies his longing for the ballerina, while she herself, like just paper, represents an ephemeral illusion and burns to ashes. The story was accepted around the world and translated into several languages as well used as an inspiration for ballet plays, mostly for the New York City Ballet, choreographed by George Balanchine in 1975.
Unhappy love is a common theme in Andersen's stories and the kind of suffering he was too familiar with within his life. In this case, a tin soldier and a paper ballerina exchange loving glances from a distance.
Genre: fairy tale
Setting: unspecified, once upon a time
Point of view and Narrator: third-person and omniscient narration
Tone and Mood: emotional, suspense
Style: ironical, using metaphors and symbols
Protagonist and Antagonist: The main protagonist is a tin soldier, while the main antagonist is the boy and goblin keeping the tin soldier and ballerina apart
Major Conflict: The major conflict in the story is that the tin soldier wants to marry the paper ballerina but the boy is keeping them apart.
Climax: the boy throws the tin soldier into the furnace
Ending: the draft lifts the paper ballerina and takes it straight to the furnace towards the tin soldier where she burns immediately
Symbols and Metaphors
The gust of wind - plays a symbolic role as in life unpredictability, first takes the tin soldier away from his love, and then brings his love (ballerina) to him.
A little tin heart - symbolizes his faithfulness toward the ballerina even in the face of death.
The fact that the main character is a soldier - during childhood and play, children see soldiers as idols, a symbolism of bravery, so the little soldier toy represents bravery. He's not just steady and still in the physical sense, he's unflappable in all dangerous situations, even when melting.
The soldier can be also viewed as a symbol of the author's feelings of inadequacy with women, his stagnant acceptance of bourgeois class, or his feeling of estrangement as an artist and an outsider.
One-leggedness - the little tin soldier falls in love with the ballerina because he misunderstood that she's just like him (based on the fact that the ballerina is also standing on one leg) and that they share something in common - one leggedness.
The fish - the fish is the power water element and, like the biblical Jonah, the tin soldier found himself inside the fish's womb, In this case, it was not a whale, but an unknown fish, from which, luckily he managed to find his way back to the same toys and children.
The sylph - to understand why the ballerina "fluttered" to the soldiers in the furnace "like a sylph", you must know that sylphs in Celtic and German mythology are etheric beings who only seem to look like a woman and personify the element of air. So, this is what the author had in mind when creating this character. He wanted to create something that can easily disappear.