The Happy Family is really about a family of snails. The snails live in the overgrown garden of a manor house, which has been planted with many burdock trees because the white snails like them and the humans living in the manor house consider the snails a delicacy.
There are only two of the white nails still living in the garden. They love each other and are happy, knowing that they have a special place, for the entire forest of burdock trees has been planted for their benefit. The white snails know they are special when “they were boiled, and then they became black, and were then placed on a silver dish” (location 180). They do not know what happens after they are put on the silver plates.
The two white snails find a more common garden snail, and take him to raise as their own. As time passes, the white snails decide that there common snail son needs a mate.
They first ask the ants to see if they know of a worthy mate for the snail. The ants reply that they do. She has a palace of her own with many servants. The snails know immediately that the ants are talking about the ant queen and reject her out of hand, for they feel an ant hill is no place for a snail, who’s high position is confirmed by the fact that the whole burdock forest has been planted for them, and who eventually end up on silver plates.
The snails next ask the gnats to find an appropriate mate for their adopted son. The gnats reply that there is another common snail living only a few human paces away. The other snail arrives, they are married and the older white snails draw back into their shells for the last time, but not before giving the young couple the entire burdock forest, and declaring, “if they lived honestly and decently, and increased and multiplied, they and their children would once in the course of time come to the manor-house, be boiled black, and laid on silver dishes” (location 210).
The young snails ruled over the forest and had many offspring, but the humans never appeared, and they were never taken to the manor-house, so they conclude that the manor-house has been abandoned. But the rain falls for their sake and the son shines for their sake and they are very happy.
The Happy Family has clear allusions to the Genesis story from the Bible. The world is created for the snails, but when they don’t get what they believe they deserve (being boiled and put on a silver platter), they doubt that the people (God) are still there in the manor-house. Yet they continue to be provided for, despite their doubt.
Click Here for a short biography of Hans Christian Andersen
Click Here for a review of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Old House
Click Here for a review of Hans Christian Andersen’s A Drop of Water
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 review of Hans Christian Andersen’s Story of a Mother
Click Here for a letter from Hans Christian Andersen to Charles Dickens
Andersen, Hans Christian. A Christmas Greeting. New York: James Miller, year???.