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The Shirt-Collar
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The Shirt-Collar - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 7 min

There was once a fine gentleman who possessed among other things a boot-jack and a hair-brush; but he had also the finest shirt-collar in the world, and of this collar we are about to hear a story. The collar had become so old that he began to think about getting married; and one day he happened to find himself in the same washing-tub as a garter.

„Upon my word,“ said the shirt-collar, „I have never seen anything so slim and delicate, so neat and soft before. May I venture to ask your name?“

„I shall not tell you,“ replied the garter.

„Where do you reside when you are at home?“ asked the shirt-collar.

But the garter was naturally shy, and did not know how to answer such a question.

„I presume you are a girdle,“ said the shirt-collar, „a sort of under girdle. I see that you are useful, as well as ornamental, my little lady.“

„You must not speak to me,“ said the garter; „I do not think I have given you any encouragement to do so.“

„Oh, when any one is as beautiful as you are,“ said the shirt-collar, „is not that encouragement enough?“

„Get away; don’t come so near me,“ said the garter, „you appear to me quite like a man.“

„I am a fine gentleman certainly,“ said the shirt-collar, „I possess a boot-jack and a hair-brush.“ This was not true, for these things belonged to his master; but he was a boaster.

„Don’t come so near me,“ said the garter; „I am not accustomed to it.“

„Affectation!“ said the shirt-collar. Then they were taken out of the wash-tub, starched, and hung over a chair in the sunshine, and then laid on the ironing-board. And now came the glowing iron.

„Mistress widow,“ said the shirt-collar, „little mistress widow, I feel quite warm. I am changing, I am losing all my creases. You are burning a hole in me. Ugh! I propose to you.“

„You old rag,“ said the flat-iron, driving proudly over the collar, for she fancied herself a steam-engine, which rolls over the railway and draws carriages.

„You old rag!“ said she.

The edges of the shirt-collar were a little frayed, so the scissors were brought to cut them smooth.

„Oh!“ exclaimed the shirt-collar, „what a first-rate dancer you would make. You can stretch out your leg so well. I never saw anything so charming. I am sure no human being could do the same.“

„I should think not,“ replied the scissors.

„You ought to be a countess,“ said the shirt collar. „But all I possess consists of a fine gentleman, a boot-jack, and a comb. I wish I had an estate for your sake.“

„What! Is he going to propose to me?“ said the scissors, and she became so angry that she cut too sharply into the shirt collar, and it was obliged to be thrown by as useless.

„I shall be obliged to propose to the hair-brush,“ thought the shirt collar. So he remarked one day, „It is wonderful what beautiful hair you have, my little lady. Have you never thought of being engaged?“

„You might know I should think of it,“ answered the hair brush; „I am engaged to the boot-jack.“

„Engaged!“ cried the shirt collar, „now there is no one left to propose to;“ and then he pretended to despise all love-making.

A long time passed, and the shirt collar was taken in a bag to the paper-mill. Here was a large company of rags, the fine ones lying by themselves, separated from the coarser, as it ought to be. They had all many things to relate, especially the shirt collar, who was a terrible boaster.

„I have had an immense number of love affairs,“ said the shirt collar, „no one left me any peace. It is true I was a very fine gentleman; quite stuck up. I had a boot-jack and a brush that I never used. You should have seen me then, when I was turned down. I shall never forget my first love. She was a girdle, so charming, and fine, and soft, and she threw herself into a washing tub for my sake. There was a widow too, who was warmly in love with me, but I left her alone, and she became quite black. The next was a first-rate dancer. She gave me the wound from which I still suffer, she was so passionate. Even my own hair-brush was in love with me, and lost all her hair through neglected love. Yes, I have had great experience of this kind, but my greatest grief was for the garter, the girdle I meant to say, that jumped into the wash-tub. I have a great deal on my conscience, and it is really time I should be turned into white paper.“

And the shirt collar came to this at last. All the rags were made into white paper, and the shirt collar became the very identical piece of paper which we now see, and on which this story is printed. It happened as a punishment to him, for having boasted so shockingly of things which were not true. And this is a warning to us, to be careful how we act, for we may some day find ourselves in the rag-bag, to be turned into white paper, on which our whole history may be written, even its most secret actions. And it would not be pleasant to have to run about the world in the form of a piece of paper, telling everything we have done, like the boasting shirt collar.

Backgrounds to fairy tale „The shirt-collar“

„The Shirt-Collar“ is a humorous and satirical fairy tale by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1848. This lesser-known story presents a light-hearted departure from Andersen’s more serious and introspective works, showcasing his versatility as a writer.

The tale revolves around a proud and conceited shirt-collar who considers itself the most important and distinguished item in the wardrobe. It boasts about its fine linen fabric and superior craftsmanship, often exaggerating its qualities and accomplishments. The shirt-collar’s arrogance is exemplified by its pursuit of a garter, which it tries to court despite their differences in status and purpose.

In the course of the story, the shirt-collar faces a series of misadventures and humiliations, culminating in its transformation into a piece of scrap paper. This change forces the once-proud collar to reconsider its inflated sense of self-importance and reevaluate its place in the world.

The backgrounds of „The Shirt-Collar“ draw on Andersen’s keen observations of human behavior and social hierarchies. The story uses anthropomorphism to satirize human vanity, pride, and self-deception, presenting a humorous commentary on the folly of arrogance and the dangers of overestimating one’s own worth. The tale also serves as a reminder to remain humble and grounded in the face of success and privilege.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The shirt-collar“

„The Shirt-Collar“ by Hans Christian Andersen offers a light-hearted and satirical look at human behavior and social dynamics. Some key interpretations of the tale include:

Vanity and Pride: The shirt-collar serves as a symbol of vanity and pride, as it constantly boasts about its supposed importance and superiority. This theme illustrates the dangers of becoming consumed by self-importance and losing sight of one’s true worth.

Social Hierarchy and Status: The story explores the concept of social hierarchy, with the shirt-collar attempting to court a garter despite their differences in status and purpose. This theme comments on the arbitrary nature of social distinctions and the absurdity of pursuing relationships based on superficial criteria.

Humility and Self-Awareness: The shirt-collar’s misadventures and ultimate transformation into a piece of scrap paper force it to confront its arrogance and reevaluate its place in the world. This theme serves as a reminder of the importance of humility and self-awareness, emphasizing the need to remain grounded and maintain a realistic understanding of one’s own worth.

Anthropomorphism as a Satirical Tool: Andersen uses anthropomorphism to bring the shirt-collar and other inanimate objects to life, using their interactions and dialogue to satirize human behavior and attitudes. This creative approach allows readers to view familiar situations and dynamics from a fresh perspective, making the story’s commentary on human nature both humorous and thought-provoking.

The Importance of Adaptability: As the shirt-collar undergoes its transformation into a piece of scrap paper, it must learn to adapt to its new circumstances and let go of its former sense of self-importance. This theme highlights the importance of resilience and adaptability in the face of change and challenges.

While „The Shirt-Collar“ may be a lesser-known fairy tale, it provides a clever and engaging exploration of human nature, using humor and satire to convey important lessons about pride, humility, and the complexities of social relationships.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The shirt-collar“

Though „The Shirt-Collar“ may not be as well-known as some of Hans Christian Andersen’s other fairy tales, it has been adapted in various ways over the years. Some of these adaptations include:

Illustrated Books: Like many of Andersen’s stories, „The Shirt-Collar“ has been published as an illustrated book, with various artists providing their interpretations of the tale. These illustrated versions of the story offer a visual representation of the shirt-collar and the other characters, bringing Andersen’s humorous narrative to life.

Children’s Theater: „The Shirt-Collar“ has been adapted for children’s theater productions, often as part of a larger performance featuring multiple Andersen tales. The story’s humor and satirical themes make it an entertaining and engaging addition to any collection of short plays for children.

Puppet Shows: The anthropomorphic characters and whimsical nature of „The Shirt-Collar“ lend themselves well to puppet shows. Puppeteers can bring the story to life using various puppetry techniques, creating an engaging and interactive experience for audiences.

Animated Shorts: While a full-length animated film adaptation may not exist, „The Shirt-Collar“ has been adapted as animated shorts for television or online platforms. The story’s humor, simple plot, and memorable characters make it a suitable choice for a short animated adaptation.

Storytelling and Oral Performances: „The Shirt-Collar“ has been adapted for storytelling and oral performances, with performers recounting the story to audiences in a lively and engaging manner. This format allows for the story’s humor and satirical elements to shine, entertaining both children and adults alike.

Though specific examples of adaptations of „The Shirt-Collar“ may be limited compared to more famous works by Andersen, the story’s humor, themes, and memorable characters continue to inspire artists and creators across various media.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The shirt-collar“

„The Shirt-Collar“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a timeless fairy tale that has inspired numerous adaptations over the years. Here are a few notable adaptations of the story:

„The King’s Tailor“ by David Baldacci: This modern retelling of „The Shirt-Collar“ is part of a collection of fairy tale retellings by well-known authors. In this version, the story is set in contemporary times and follows the tale of a tailor who is tasked with creating a suit for the king. The tailor is able to use his creativity to transform a discarded shirt-collar into a beautiful tie that catches the king’s attention.

„The Dressmaker“ (2015 film): This Australian film is loosely based on „The Shirt-Collar“ and tells the story of a talented dressmaker who returns to her hometown and transforms the lives of the women she encounters. Like the mother in „The Shirt-Collar,“ the dressmaker uses her creativity to transform discarded materials into beautiful dresses that help her clients find love and happiness.

„Cinderella“ (1950 film): While not a direct adaptation of „The Shirt-Collar,“ the Disney classic „Cinderella“ shares many similarities with the story. Like the daughter in „The Shirt-Collar,“ Cinderella is a poor girl who is transformed by a beautiful dress and catches the attention of a prince. The transformation of Cinderella’s rags into a stunning ball gown is a nod to the transformative power of creativity that is central to „The Shirt-Collar.“

„The Empress’s New Clothes“ by Larry Weinberg: This adaptation of „The Shirt-Collar“ puts a twist on the original story by focusing on the idea of deception. In this version, a pair of con artists convince the empress to wear a set of invisible clothes that only the wise can see. The story highlights the idea that appearances can be deceiving and the importance of using one’s own judgment rather than blindly following the crowd.

These are just a few examples of the many adaptations and retellings of „The Shirt-Collar“ that exist. The enduring appeal of this classic fairy tale speaks to its universal themes and the way in which it continues to resonate with audiences across generations.

Summary of the plot

„The Shirt-Collar“ is a humorous and satirical fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. The story revolves around a conceited shirt-collar that believes itself to be the most important and distinguished item in the wardrobe. It boasts about its fine linen fabric and superior craftsmanship, often exaggerating its qualities and accomplishments.

In an attempt to elevate its social standing, the shirt-collar courts a garter, despite their differences in status and purpose. The garter, however, is uninterested in the shirt-collar’s advances and dismisses its claims of nobility and importance.

As the story progresses, the shirt-collar faces a series of misadventures and humiliations, including getting stained, torn, and ultimately turned into a piece of scrap paper. These experiences force the once-proud collar to reevaluate its inflated sense of self-importance and reconsider its place in the world.

„The Shirt-Collar“ uses anthropomorphism and humor to satirize human vanity, pride, and self-deception, offering a lighthearted commentary on the importance of humility and self-awareness.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The shirt-collar“

„The Shirt-Collar“ is a fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Born in Odense, Denmark, in 1805, Andersen was a prolific writer who penned numerous fairy tales, poems, novels, and plays. Although his work includes stories for both children and adults, he is best known for his fairy tales, which have been translated into more than 125 languages and are celebrated for their originality, imagination, and moral lessons.

Andersen’s fairy tales often contain elements of fantasy and explore themes such as love, kindness, morality, and the human condition. Some of his most famous stories include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“

„The Shirt-Collar“ is one of Andersen’s lesser-known stories, but it remains a classic example of his unique storytelling style, which combines humor, moral lessons, and enchanting narratives. Like many of his other tales, „The Shirt-Collar“ uses inanimate objects as characters to convey its message, employing a combination of fantasy and realism that invites readers to view the world from a different perspective. The story was first published in 1848 as part of a collection titled „New Fairy Tales.“

Interpretations to fairy tale „The shirt-collar“

„The Shirt-Collar“ can be interpreted in several ways, with some key themes including vanity, deceit, and the consequences of one’s actions. Here are three possible interpretations of the story:

Vanity and pride: The shirt-collar, though worn and frayed, sees itself as a fine and valuable object. It boasts about its ownership of a boot-jack and a hair-brush, which in reality belong to its master. The story illustrates the negative consequences of vanity and pride, as the collar’s arrogance eventually leads to its punishment of being turned into a piece of paper, on which its false claims are exposed.

Deceit and dishonesty: The shirt-collar exaggerates its love affairs and possessions in an attempt to impress others. By lying, the collar demonstrates the danger of dishonesty, as its false stories ultimately result in a humiliating and permanent record of its actions. The tale serves as a cautionary reminder to be truthful and genuine, rather than fabricating stories to impress others.

Consequences of one’s actions: The shirt-collar’s constant boasting and dishonesty lead to its ultimate fate of becoming a piece of paper with its entire history exposed. This outcome highlights the importance of considering the consequences of one’s actions, as they may come back to haunt us in unexpected ways. It encourages self-reflection and self-awareness, urging readers to be careful with their words and actions, as they might become a permanent and embarrassing record.

Summary of the plot

„The Shirt-Collar“ by Hans Christian Andersen tells the story of a boastful shirt-collar, who once belonged to a fine gentleman. The collar, growing old and considering marriage, encounters a garter in a washing tub and attempts to flirt with it. The garter, however, refuses to engage with the collar, which then proceeds to falsely brag about owning a boot-jack and a hair-brush.

After being washed, starched, and ironed, the shirt-collar continues its quest for a partner. First, it tries to charm the scissors, which leads to the collar being damaged and discarded as useless. Then, the shirt-collar proposes to the hair-brush, who reveals that she is already engaged to the boot-jack. Feeling rejected, the collar pretends to be indifferent about love.

Eventually, the shirt-collar finds itself in a paper mill, among other rags. It boasts about its past love affairs, claiming to have been involved with numerous items, including the garter, a widow, a dancer, and the hair-brush. In the end, the collar is turned into a piece of white paper, on which this story is written, as a punishment for its exaggerations and deceit.

The moral of the story serves as a cautionary tale, warning against arrogance and dishonesty, as one’s actions may be exposed and transformed into an embarrassing and permanent record.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
Translations DE, DE, EN, DA, ES, FR, IT, NL,
Readability Index by Björnsson25.5
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index83.9
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level5.1
Gunning Fog Index7.2
Coleman–Liau Index7.3
SMOG Index7.5
Automated Readability Index4.2
Character Count5.039
Letter Count3.774
Sentence Count67
Word Count962
Average Words per Sentence14,36
Words with more than 6 letters107
Percentage of long words11.1%
Number of Syllables1.232
Average Syllables per Word1,28
Words with three Syllables36
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.7%

Image sources: © Andrea Danti / Shutterstock

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