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  • Writer's pictureLauren

The Red Shoes

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

An overtly Christian story of pride,

and mercy, The Red Shoes takes as its subject an orphaned child (important to note that the first sentence is focused on her appearance, even as a small child, as ‘pretty and delicate’, everything a female should be!) from a deceased mother so poor as to be in the workhouse. She is often unclothed and unshod, and, in an act of kindness an old shoemaker’s wife makes her a pair of fabric shoes (with offcuts presumably). But, rather than simply being grateful for the gesture, the girl forgets her place in the social hierarchy. She is adopted by a wealthy old lady who happens upon her on the day of her mother’s funeral and simply leans out of her carriage and asks the clergyman to adopt her out. The girl has no autonomy or right to determine her own future, being farmed out to avoid being a financial burden on the local parish, and has had barely five minutes to mourn her mother before being expected to show gratitude to the stranger whose benevolence she is relying on to ensure she does not starve or come to harm.

Her reaction to the glamour of higher society is met with damnation from Anderson, who brands her as proud and haughty for covering the shoes of a princess. At this stage, she is both coveting beauty, and refusing to know her place in the hierarchy, mortal sins in the eyes of the past incarnations of christianity, and morals which continue to inform the subjugation

of women today. She even goes so far as to request violence from an executioner (chopping off her feet) to atone for her sin of...well, I’m not sure...and the conclusion is ambiguous: did her request for mercy result in a hallucination? Or in a death?

In the rewrite of The Red Shoes (written as a blackout poem using Anderson’s original text), dancing takes on a different association: freedom, resilience and autonomy. The recurring image of the coffin allows the little girl (Karen) to reconstruct that scenario that first determined the expectations, that of class, gender and religion, thrust upon her.


The Red Shoes


Strips sewed together

For a poor girl


On the day her mother was buried

On her bare feet

To walk behind the coffin.

A large carriage, an adoption -

The clumsy shoes were burnt.

People said she was pretty

And she shone

As if she were

And the organ pealed forth

Its solemn tones.

But she thought only of the red shoes

And how

She wished

Her feet would go on dancing

But when the shoes

Would not let her do as she wished,

She was frightened

And tried to pull them off

But they clung

Grown to her feet.

Forsaken by all the world

She danced by

A coffin

And cut off the heads

Of wicked people.

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