The Red Shoes

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Religious Symbolism in “The Red Shoes”
In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Red Shoes,” the color red appears on multiple occasions, each time symbolizing something different. The shifts in the meaning of the color can be related to the action in the story, and how Karen is feeling or being affected by her surroundings.

Karen’s “red and sore ankles” in the opening of the story are the result of wearing wooden shoes in the winter. This redness is symbolic of her poor family, and also of her playful nature. As is shown in the rest of the story, Karen is a carefree child, and the type of girl, who even though she is wearing heavy wooden shoes, would frolic and play, causing sore ankles.

When Karen’s mother dies, instead of wearing black shoes, customary in western culture, Karen wears her gaudy red shoes, despite the fact that it is a completely inappropriate color to wear on such a somber occasion. In this case, the red in the shoes symbolizes a lack of respect for the dead. The dead, especially the parents of children, deserve the respect of those in mourning, and yet Karen, with only red shoes to wear, decides to dishonor her dead mother by wearing them instead of going barefoot.

When the old lady adopts Karen, the red color of Karen’s shoes represents the sin of Pride. Karen is so enamored by her red shoes that “she thought it was because of her new red shoes that the old lady had taken a fancy to her.” (Andersen 289) This intense pride in her own self image is the result of her red shoes, and is so strong that even after they are burned, and she is given new clothes from her elderly benefactress, the red shoes have boosted her ego so much that even the mirrors seem to tell her “you are more than pretty, you are beautiful.” (Andersen 289)

The color red takes on a different meaning when the Queen arrives in town for a visit. Karen sees that the young princess...