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Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Ugly Duckling

The earliest childhood story I can remember my mother reading to me was an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling.  It was one of those little books with imaginative and fascinating hand-drawn pictures.  It showed the plight of the little bird as a misfit in a group of ducklings—not looking the same and thought ugly.  It was only with maturity that the true identity of the ugly duckling became apparent to others, but most especially to the ugly duckling himself.  He was not a malformed duck after all, but a swan—eventually with a beauty far surpassing his detractors.  As a child, I greatly empathized with the ugly duckling that was misunderstood and ridiculed simply for being himself.  The judgment heaped upon the assumed duckling turned out to be uninformed and unfair.  The “duckling” in the end was triumphantly vindicated.  Now I must ask myself, on what basis did I identify so strongly with the ugly duckling?  Did I actually see myself that misunderstood and unappreciated or did my feelings represent an admirable compassion for someone so victimized even though I myself felt far more fortunate?  That for me is an open question I cannot answer satisfactorily today—my childhood state of mind now being a remote mystery.  Perhaps at this stage I secretly long for the fresh, sensitive childhood ability to empathize with the unfortunate—a capacity that has been largely traded-in for the complacent and purblind prejudices of adulthood.  Is The Ugly Duckling primarily a story for children or for callous and jaded adults? 

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