Some of the most difficult times in our lives are the times we are transitioning from one version of ourself to another. During these times we struggle to overcome obstacles and depending on the path chosen, our self discovery shall be either successful or tragic.
In writing fiction, the author must understand the importance of the narrative and character arcs which parallel the narrative arcs of our own life stories, as well as the importance of character goals and development.
In Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling” the protagonist- the ugly duckling, rustles his feathers, toward the story’s conclusion, curving his now slender neck, as he cried out joyfully from the depth of his heart “ I never dreamed of such happiness as this, while I was an ugly duckling.” This demonstration of a character’s successful self discovery warms the reader’s heart while instilling universal hope for other ugly beings looking for acceptance.
Some critics might say this idea to correlate happiness with physical beauty could be destructive to one’s self esteem, yet it is important to recognize that not only does beauty come in different forms, but it often lurks within us- ready to be discovered if we are determined and wise enough to search for it.
Peel the layers further and we find the author’s lesson here is to accept ourselves despite how others treat us or how we perceive ourself in their eyes. The reflection we see should not be the one placed there by someone else.
In The Ugly Duckling and other tales that share a similar theme, the main character remains determined, in one way or another, to find out where he belongs and by the time the reader reaches the downward slope of his character arc, he understands the author’s lesson- “to never give up”.
Sure- accepting individual differences can be challenging for some, evident in the news lately, which is the reason writers create stories centered around this idea, but in the end it is what lays in our own hearts that distinguish us from feeling and looking either ugly or beautiful.
In the novel; YOUR FIRST NOVEL, published author Laura Whitcomb and top agent Ann Rittenberg provide the following advice: “Your protagonist or hero should be a character your readers will connect with, someone they can cheer for, worry about, and love”.
Likewise, readers fall in love with Hans Christian Anderson’s ugly duckling as he searches for acceptance -simply because the ugly duckling could be any one of us. His own struggle to accept himself is so often the same challenge with which individuals struggle so often.
Rittenberg and Whitcomb add “ The protagonist needs to open your reader’s heart while the antagonist needs to frighten or infuriate him”.
The personal transformation and distorted self image of the ugly duckling opens our heart to him and the hope that he finds someone who will finally accept him while the antagonists are not only those he encounters who reject him, but his own self rejection and his inability to recognize his own self worth.
“At last the large egg broke, and a young one crept forth crying “ peep, peep”. The duckling was very large and ugly.” Although readers feel despair at the image this description delivers, it is the duckling’s own determination that, in the end, helps to reveal the beauty that had been present all along.
Accepting ourself is the first step toward accepting others. Once we acknowledge that our true self is worthy, those around us shall recognize that worth also. Anderson’s ugly duckling teaches all of us to search for our own goodness, and “to never give up” until the beauty inside fully emerges, making itself known to everyone.
After all, the most beautiful of all is the individual who never gives up until the self image upon which he regards reflects the beauty inside radiating outward.