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The Red Shoes

by Hans Christian Anderson

Hans Christian Anderson’s classic, “The Red Shoes” is a cautionary tale of pride and idolatry, of true repentance and mercy. Anderson’s morality tales often featured physically perfect people with imperfect souls.

Young Karen is pretty, but also very vain. Forced to go shoeless during the summers, she is pitied by the local shoemaker’s wife, who makes her a pair of shoes from red cloth. Karen becomes enamored of her new shoes, so much so that she wears them to her mother’s funeral. Walking behind her mother’s coffin, the pretty child catches the eye of a lonely dowager who offers her a home. Karen mistakenly attributes her turn of fortune to the red shoes, but in truth, the elderly woman hates the shoes and has them burned.

On another occasion, Karen sees another pair of red shoes, these beautiful and Moroccan and worn by the Queen’s daughter, the little princess. So when Karen is offered another opportunity to own a pair of red shoes by the wealthy shoemaker of the town, she eagerly accepts his offer, even though she knows the elderly dowager does not want her to own red shoes. The beautiful new shoes become the girl's obsession, even in the face of truly worshipping God, which she had no desire to do, either during her confirmation and later at communion.

Because of her idolatry and vanity, she is cursed, first by a strange old soldier who demands the shoes to dance, and afterward by an avenging angel, who tells her she will dance forever because of her idolatry.

Oddly, the young girl finds mercy from the local executioner, who chops off her feet at her plea. Still not humbled enough, she is tormented by the disembodied shoes until she eventually shows true repentance. Only then does she received forgiveness.

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