The Ugly Duckling

The classic nineteenth century fairy tale The Ugly Duckling tells the story of a duckling who, when hatched along with his brothers and sisters, is ridiculed and ostracized because they perceive him as ugly. He wanders alone through the fall and winter, and suffers from fear, loneliness, and sadness. In the spring he flies away from the marsh and meets up with a group of swans, and realizes that he too has become a beautiful swan.

The story is familiar to most students and nicely raises philosophical questions about identity and the nature of the self, the meaning of beauty and ugliness, perception, and the experience of solitude. You can read the story with your child or students and ask them questions like whether the “ugly duckling” really was ugly and, if so, what made him ugly? Did he then stop being ugly at the end of the story? What does ugly mean? Would the “ugly duckling” still be ugly if someone thought he was beautiful? How do we decide what is beautiful and what is not? Did the duckling change over the course of the story? Was he still the same duckling? Do our identities change over time? Etc.