In A Drop of Water there is an old man, a wizard, who takes a magnifying glass and looks at a drop of water from a ditch. He says many shrimp-like creatures in the droplet. To make them more discernible he magically tints them a pinkish color.
Another wizard comes along. The first one bets the second he cannot tell what it is they are looking at. The second wizard sees the now pink shrimp like creatures.
But they are not behaving well. They “knocked and pushed each other, bit each other, and drew one another about” (location 162). And one shrimp, who has a deformity, a little lump, “they pecked at it, and they dragged him about, and they ate him, all on account of the little lump” (location 168). And another, who “still as a little maid, who only wished for peace and quietness, but she must be brought out and they dragged her, and they pulled her, and they devoured her” (location 170).
The second wizard answers that he must be looking at a great city. The first wizard answers that it is ditch water.
Andersen gives an explicitly pessimistic description of society here. What the second wizard sees as a great city is really a place of great exploitation, where people metaphorically devour each other for no real reason, perhaps other than their cruelty. The second wizard sees better, that society is no better than ditch water.
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Click Here for a review of Han’s Christian Andersen’s The Story of a Mother
Click Here for a review of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Happy Family
Click Here for a letter from Hans Christian Andersen to Charles Dickens