The Red Shoes was written by Hans Christian Anderson and is about a poor motherless child who saved cloth scraps to make herself a pair of red shoes. She is later adopted by a rich elderly lady who buys her a whole new wardrobe and burns all her old clothes including her old red shoes.
Despite all the riches, she was now made to sit still, walk without skipping and not speak unless spoken to. A fire began to grow inside of her and she continued to yearn for her old red shoes.
When the time came for the young girl to be confirmed on the Day of Innocents, the old lady took her to buy some new shoes. Once in the shoemakers, the young girl saw the most beautiful, shiny red shoes. As the old lady’s eyesight was so poor, the young girl was able to pass them off as regular black shoes and they were bought for her.
Once at church the red shoes caused such a stir to the point the old lady found out the true colour of the shoes and shouted angrily “Never ever wear those shoes again!”
However the following Sunday the young girl wore them again much to the dismay of everyone.
Upon leaving she encountered an injured soldier who exclaimed “What beautiful dancing shoes!” His words made the girl do a few twists and twirls right away but once she started she simply couldn’t stop.
The girl, the old woman and her coachman tried and tried to take the shoes off but they simply could not.
So the girl continued to dance and dance and dance. She danced into a churchyard where a spirit would not allow her to enter any further and pronounced to her:
“You shall dance in your red shoes until you become like a wraith, like a ghost, until your skin hangs from your bones, until there is nothing left of you. You shall dance door to door through all the villages and you will strike each door three times and when people peer out they will see you and fear for themselves. Dance red shoes, dance”
The girl becomes so desperate that she begs an executioner to chop of her feet. He did and she never ever wished for red shoes again.
The psychological truth and the meaning of The Red Shoes for me, is that a woman’s meaningful life can be threatened, robbed or seduced away unless she holds on to it and is not tempted by or falls into an obsession of ‘feel betters’ or ‘love me pleases’
When a woman is spiritually, mentally or physically starved she will take any substitute offered, including those which do absolutely nothing for her as well as life-threatening and destructive ones.
It is an outright famine of the soul that causes the woman to choose something she knows hurts her and will cause her to dance madly out of control and ultimately into the path of the executioner.
As we see in the story, the loss of the handmade red shoes represents the loss of a womans self-designed life and what she knows is good for her soul and the taking on of a too-tame life.
Many women give up the red shoes and agree to become too cleaned up, too nice, too compliant with someone else’s view on the world and how they think she should behave.
The problem with ‘being good’ to the extreme is that it does not resolve the underlying issue and it will rise time and again like a giant tidal wave.
In ‘being good’ a woman closes her eyes to everything damaging and distorted around her. Her attempts to accept this abnormal state will further injure her natural instincts to react, to point out, change and/or make an impact on what is not right.
This will eventually lead to the loss of accurate perception, which leads to excess, which then leads to the loss of the feet. The feet which represent the platform of which we stand, our basis for being, our instinctual nature that supports our freedom.
She will become a starved soul.
The Red Shoes shows us how a deterioration begins and what state we come to if we make no intervention.
Let there be no mistake, when a woman makes an effort to intervene and fight her demon, it is one of the most worthy battles known both archetypally and in reality.
Even though she may hit ground-zero via destructive choices, famine or any of the rest, remember the bottom is where the living roots of the psyche. It is there where the woman’s wild underpinnings are. At the bottom is the best soil to sow and then to grow.
Overkill through excess or excessive behaviours is acted out by women who are starved for a meaningful life and a life that makes sense to them. When a woman is starved for a long period of time she will begin a rampage of either alcohol, drugs, food, promiscuity, control, pregnancy, fitness, education, orderliness to name but a few.
The woman may experience this time and time again, she will plan her escape yet believe the cost of doing so is too high. She will be ill-prepared and the memory of the excesses will seem so desirable, relieving and pleasurable.
So, when the woman who has danced out of control, who has lost her feet and understands that bereft state at the end of the fairytale, has a very special and invaluable wisdom. They are proof that even injured instincts and previously starved souls can heal.
Personally, I have danced the dance with my shiny red shoes on. I have had my feet removed, my soul starved and mistrusted my own own instincts. I have healed then tried the shoes on again; a different style, the same style and I’ve even had a few different styles at the same time.
I need to understand and accept that for the rest of my life I must be aware of the red shoes and do everything in my power not to try them on again.
Reference: Women Who Run With the Wolves: Clarissa Pinkola Estes.