The Little Mermaid, Edmund Dulac

“But if you take away my voice,” said the little mermaid, “what will I have left?”
“Your lovely figure,” said the witch, “your graceful movements, and your expressive eyes.”
–Hand Christian Anderson, The Little Mermaid


“That the little mermaid loses the ability to speak and sacrifices her voice for the promise of love has been read as the fatal bargain women make in Anderson’s culture and our own.  But the mermaid’s willingness to give up her voice is driven not only by her love for the prince but also by her desire to enter a richer and more enriching domain, one that will allow a greater range and play for her adventurous spirit.”
–Maria Tatar, Annotated Classic Fairy Tales

There are interpretations that suggest the little mermaid did not give up everything for love alone. The tale presents a rare heroine with investigative curiosity because she is fascinated by the unknown, the forbidden, and is intent on broadening her horizons from the beginning. She wants, above all, to explore the world and discover things that are beyond what she already knows. The world above, for her, holds a greater range of possibilities to exercise her adventurous spirit. This is demonstrated, in some versions, when the prince has a page boy’s costume made for the little mermaid so that she may ride on horseback and explore the land with him. This willingness to cross-dress shows signs of her willingness to transgress gender boundaries and take risks to be able to see the world. This also comments on Andersen’s interests in changes in identity.