A prolonged silence: Psychoanalysis in The Little Mermaid
Freud Lacan Fairy Tales Children’s Story Stories

Written by Dutch author Hans Christian Anderson in the nineteenth century, The Little Mermaid is another well-known fairy tale filled with Freudian concepts, particularly use of the id, ego and superego.


The sea, where Ariel begins her story, can be seen as the unconscious depths of her mind, or the id. She is able to swim, play and enjoy herself under the water with no fear of judgement. Thoughts of the world beyond remain a dream.

When she emerges above sea level, however, Ariel enters the realm of the ego, and must suppress her true thoughts and desires – more than simply repressed, she is literally silenced by the loss of her tongue.

The superego, her moral judgement, is what drives Ariel to rescue the drowning Prince, and stops her from harming him in exchange for her own life later in the story.

The eternal silence

The Sea Witch grants Ariel the legs she so desperately desires in order to walk on land, but these come at a heavy price – she must lose her tongue and her beautiful singing voice.

On the writings of French philosopher and libertine Marquis de Sade, Angela Carter said:

“To be the object of desire is to be defined in the passive case. To exist in the passive case is to die in the passive case that is, to be killed. This is the moral of the fairy tale about the perfect woman.” – Angela Carter

In The Little Mermaid, Ariel must lose her voice in order to become human and obtain the man she desires. To walk on land, the young mermaid has to surrender her speech, her words and the only thing which the man she is searching for recognises her by – her song.

In giving herself to him, she loses the ability to express her opinions, and simultaneously her very identity.

She dances for him, despite the excruciating pain it causes her, purely for his enjoyment. She is the classic ‘Angel in the House,’ submissive and subserviant. Silent and repressed, Ariel becomes a typical example of a Freudian case-study.

Pick up your copy of The Complete Hans Christian Anderson to read the original fairy tale.