This article explores representations of femininity and disability in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “Thumbelina” (1835) and select examples of his paper art. In this article, I argue that, on one level, the fairy tale and Andersen’s own paper cuttings uphold feminine and ableist norms. However, on another level, these literary and visual forms simultaneously work to destabilise social prejudices and challenge bodily normativity. I explore how characters and themes associated with the fairy tale and paper art can be (re)read in strength-based ways. In the story, Thumbelina experiences the world through her smallness, and key themes including accessibility, physical ability, social stigma, and the environment overlap with disability concerns. However, through “Thumbelina”, Andersen also presents glimpses of female empowerment and a positive sense of disabled community, thereby challenging – but not always offering a solution to – damaging nineteenth-century gendered and bodily norms. Existing scholars have investigated disability and gender in other popular fairy tales such as “The Little Mermaid” (1837) and “The Ugly Duckling” (1843) (Yenika-Agbaw, 2011; Barounis, 2016; Yamato, 2017). However, work that combines critical analysis of Andersen’s fairy tales with visual forms is yet to be undertaken. In particular, I argue that interdisciplinary approaches account more fully for the artistic, gendered, literary, political, and social contexts associated with disability. By offering one of the first explorations into literary representations of disability, gender, and visual forms together, this paper bridges gaps in Children’s Literature and Literary Disability Studies and points to future directions in both fields, suggesting that a combined analysis of the textual and visual may inform and develop future research into representations of gender and disability in fairy-tale forms.
Helm, Hannah J.
"“She was no taller than your thumb. So she was called Thumbelina”: Gender, Disability, and Visual Forms in Hans Christian Andersen’s “Thumbelina” (1835),"
Journal of Gender, Ethnic, and Cross-Cultural Studies: Vol. 2:
1, Article 6.
Available at: https://epublications.marquette.edu/jgecp/vol2/iss1/6