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Title: Empowerment through suicide in “The little mermaid” and “Giselle ou les wilis”
Authors: Wong, Angelene Suet Fong
Keywords: DRNTU::Humanities::Literature::English
Issue Date: 2016
Abstract: This essay offers a study on the notion of empowerment through suicide in “The Little Mermaid” (1837) by Hans Christian Andersen and “Giselle ou les Wilis” (1841) by Théophile Gautier in collaboration with Jules-Henri Vernoy de Saint-Georges. “Giselle ou les Wilis” is the libretto on which the eponymous ballet that premiered that same year is based on. These texts are comparable because their fantastical realms metaphorise death as a transformative mode through which their female protagonists are empowered. The protagonists, namely, the little mermaid in Andersen’s text and Giselle in Gautier’s text, are presented in line with the “conventional romance formula of female sacrifice,” leaving much room to expand on their suicides as more than self-sacrifice, but as empowerment (de Armas Wilson 111). Significantly, there is a great focus on non-linguistic modes of communication in both texts. The little mermaid’s muteness parallels Giselle’s dancing as they are crucial to conveying their empowerment over their persecutors. In both texts, the female protagonists identify with different realms and social standings. The little mermaid is firstly characterised by her lack of humanness and aspires to be part of the human realm as a means to the spiritual realm. She also teeters between conformity to the merfolks’ beliefs and practices, and individual assertion. This individual assertion enables her to pursue her desire to enter the human realm, but estranges her from the undersea world. Poignantly, she fails to fully integrate into the human realm and remains estranged from both realms – in an uncomfortable in-between. Likewise, Giselle occupies an intermediate position as she straddles acceptance and separation from the other villagers. In death, she takes the form of a Wili but is differentiated by her compassion. The intermediate position thus underlies their fragmented identities. Moreover, if the little mermaid relinquishes her natural form in order to attract the prince and again a soul, Giselle is also a character who, in her mortal life, disavows her selfhood for her lover, as evident in her dependence on Loys for life. The little mermaid’s self-repression thus takes the physical form of self-harm in the removal of her tongue and splitting her tail, while Giselle’s repression is internal. This study will form the first part of the essay. The second part of the essay will explore how the repressed identity is reclaimed through suicide, a method through which the little mermaid and Giselle escape the people who have earlier repressed or persecuted them. Therefore while it is valid for Johansen to say that “The Little Mermaid” is “the crystallization of the theme of self-denial and self-sacrifice common to the religious and instinctual dimension of the tale,” his claim leaves room for another angle to be considered (240). On top self-denial and self-sacrifice, this essay seeks to uncover how suicide is a mode of empowerment. This will be explored with reference to H. B. Paull’s translation of “The Little Mermaid” and Cyril W. Beaumont’s translation of “Giselle ou les Wilis,” and notes on the staged production of “Giselle ou les Wilis.”
Rights: Nanyang Technological University
Fulltext Permission: restricted
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:HSS Student Reports (FYP/IA/PA/PI)

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