“The Little Mermaid” is a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Since it was made into an animated film by Disney, it is well-known and popular, but there may also be confusion in younger students’ minds between the two versions.
If you like the Disney version, you can make short work of your classroom decorating by using The Little Mermaid Ariel Life Size Cutout . Other fun touches for the classroom include The Little Mermaid Game and My Little Sandbox Mermaid and Friends. There’s a good picture book version of The Little Mermaid, and The Toymaker has printable mermaid puppets.
There are new books based on the live action version, too.
In Andersen’s story, the Little Mermaid is the youngest of six princesses in the parallel universe of the undersea kingdom. When they are old enough, mermaids get to go to the surface to see the land, and all the princesses are curious about it, but the Little Mermaid is the most curious of all. When she goes to the surface, she sees a prince, and falls in love with him. She saves his life (though he doesn’t realize it until the end), and decides that she wants to marry him. She goes to a witch in her watery world to ask to be made into a human being. The witch agrees, but tells the Little Mermaid that it will be terribly painful, and also that she will have to pay for it with her beautiful voice. In addition, she will only be able to remain human if the prince loves her and marries her. The morning after he marries someone else, she will become foam on the waves — essentially, she’ll die.
The Little Mermaid agrees. She becomes human, meets the prince, and charms him with her dancing and her expressive eyes, but he marries someone else. The Little Mermaid’s sisters arrive, having struck a deal with the sea witch, and try to get her to save herself by killing the prince. She has the choice of stabbing the prince and letting his blood wash over her legs, at which point she would return to her mermaid state, or allowing herself to die. She dies and goes to heaven.
Mary Engelbreit included this story in her Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection.
- In the Disney version, of course, she marries the prince and lives happily ever after. Get out the Venn Diagram and compare the two stories. You can print out figures of the Disney characters and use them as manipulatives for this step.
- The original story has lots of descriptive language. Analyze some of the descriptive paragraphs and challenge students to write further descriptions of the wonderful undersea kingdom.
- In mythology, mermaids are lovely creatures who lure sailors to their deaths with their beautiful singing. Read more about mermaids and compare Andersen’s Little Mermaid with the traditional stories.
- T.S.Eliot’s classic poem “The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock” uses mermaid imagery. Discuss how the mermaid is used in the poem and in the story. Note that coming of age and growing old are themes in the two works, and consider how the mermaids are used by the writers in their musings on growth and change. This is, by the way, a beautiful poem to read aloud. Connect with the Little Mermaid’s lovely voice by having students prepare sections as reading performances.
- Recent polls show that Americans no long consider self-sacrifice a virtue. The story of the Little Mermaid is in some ways about self-sacrifice. Was the mermaid right to give up her own life for that of the prince? If she could have lived and had him die instead, but without stabbing him herself, would that make a difference? This question may seem morbid, but many studies have shown that we tend to make a strong distinction between sins of commission and sins of omission, and it is an interesting ethical question.
- For older students, this essay on sacrifice compares the original story with the Disney version, suggesting that the two versions reflect different morals.
- The prince,when he realizes that the Little Mermaid was the one who saved his life, tells her that he knows that she, since she is so fond of him, will share his happiness that he is marrying someone else. Is this realistic of him? Had the Little Mermaid been able to speak, what might she have said to him in this scene? Have students role play or write the scene.
- A man we know dislikes the Disney Little Mermaid because she doesn’t express gratitude to Sebastian and the others who help her. If you’re looking at the Disney version, discuss this omission.
- Compare the Little Mermaid with other fairy tale heroines you’ve studied. She exhibits curiosity, boldness, and initiative, even if she doesn’t succeed in her plans. Her sisters, also, take the initiative to try and rescue her, though they don’t succeed. Does this make her more admirable than a heroine such as Cinderella or Rapunzel? Have students write persuasive essays on this question.
Science and Technology