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The Ugly Duckling

By Hans Christian Andersen (Adapted by Jerry Pinkney)


The Ugly Duckling looked very different from his siblings who made great fun of him and treated him horribly because he didn't look like them. He searched for a place where he was accepted for who he was. That place was not with the ducks, nor hens, nor geese, nor the old woman and her cat and hen. He wished the he was beautiful like the swans he saw flying in the sky and had friends who didn't tease him. By spring, he was fully grown and tried to join a flock of swans. The young swans didn't tease him as all the other creatures had, but they treated him like one of them. He was surprised that such beautiful creatures would want to be with him. But then he saw his reflection and saw that he too was a beautiful swan. He had finally found his home with the swans and was at peace from all the mocking and ridicule he had endured in the past.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Melanie Stuart

The Ugly Duckling is discriminated against by members of his family because he does not look like them. He is constantly teased, bullied, and even physically harmed by the ducks and the members of any other group of animals he tries to find a home with, like the hen and cat. Even humans are mean to him. His situation is much like that of a child being bullied by a classmate in the playground. The bullied child is verbally and/or physically abused for what are perceived by the bully to be unacceptable differences such as wearing different types of clothing, having a different way of thinking, or simply for looking physically different. This constitutes a form of wrongful discrimination. While some forms of discrimination may be unintentional, the form that it takes in the story, as is the case with the schoolyard bully, is conscious and intentional. Discrimination is a form of prejudice, which includes feelings of hostility, antipathy, or indifference, as well as belief in the inferior morals, intellect, or skills of the targeted person or group of people. The story lays out a case of persistent, aggressive prejudice in a way that makes the harm of such discrimination very clear.

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

  1. Why did the other animals call the Ugly Duckling ugly? What did they mean when they called him ugly? Does looking different make someone ugly?
  2. Why would someone tease/bully/make fun of people who look different from them?
  3. Is there any situation in which it is acceptable to judge someone by their appearance? (Beauty pageant, fashion contest, job interview...) What makes these different from the case of the Ugly Duckling?
  4. Do you have to look like the people around you to fit in with them?
  5. Why did the Ugly Duckling have to find birds that looked like him to know and be comfortable with who he was?
  6. Does the way someone looks on the outside determine who they are?

This book module deals with multiculturalism and ethics, specifically friendship. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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