The Story of a Mother (Kay Nielsen) (detail) (300)

This fairy tale is used as a psychological allegory to explain the work of mourning. A mother must watch her son die. Her quest is a literal quest of her grief over his passing. Her goal is to save him Death’s grasp, always believing he will delivered. There are also literal representations of her grief that are generally considered figures of speech.

The beginning stage of grief is denial. The mother is in denial that her child could possibly be taken from her. This begins her quest to save him. She travels to Death himself and pleads with him. She believes that her faith is strong enough undo the will of God. It is here that Death informs her that he only takes God instructs.

This begins the second stage of grief: anger. The mother becomes angry Death. Her belief was so strong that God would save her son. She’s angry that she took such a journey to save her son when he was beyond saving. This is can also be seen as a blind belief with nothing to back her belief.

Now she begins to bargain with Death to save her son. She threatens to rip flowers from Death’s garden. These flowers represent souls that are not yet ready to be plucked from life. By pulling one of these flowers, she risks hurting another mother.

For a brief moment, the mother is depressed. She wants to so badly to have her son with her. She clings to the stem of the flower for a moment. But when she realizes the pain she feels, she cannot pluck the flower and ruin the life of another soul and it’s mother. Here is her acceptance of the the passing of her child.

In her quest to get her son back from Death the mother’s mental pain is translated to physical pain as she moves through the forest and is scraped by the thorns of the bushes.

Andersen takes figures of speech and uses them literally. And images of exemplify her pain and grief. In Danish, as well as English, there is a saying about crying one’s eyes out. This simply means to cry profusely. In this tale, the mother literally cries her eyes out and sacrifices them to the lake.

She also sacrifices her black hair for white hair to the lady in the greenhouse to reach Death.

The end of the fairy tale is not what you would expect, but the mother’s quest is successful. Through her journey of mourning, she manages to let go of her son. and her loss.


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