The Ugly Duckling was not physically beautiful enough to be accepted into the community of ducks. He was too big, and his feathers too gray. He was too awkward. The Ugly Duckling was not only rejected by his mother and his siblings but also by members of the wider farm community. They pecked, mocked and jostled him. They bullied him. The Ugly Duckling then survived the isolation which followed his decision to flee the cruelty and terror of the duckyard. He lived through the annual duck shoot, a face to face encounter with a dog, and a period of captivity during which he was expected to lay eggs and was abused by the cat and chicken with whom he shared the house, because he could not. The Ugly Duckling endured a freezing winter and would have frozen to death had he not been rescued by a farmer. The safe haven he thought he had found turned into a living nightmare because he was so traumatized that he mistook the playful affection of children for intended harm. He spent the rest of the winter alone, miserable and cold, but we all now how the story ends.
In Anderson's story, the Ugly Duckling is only accepted when his appearance changes: when he exchanges the gray down of a gosling for the beautiful white feathers of a swan. People who are different in some way from what society regards as "normal" have always been, and still are, ostracized. Bullied.Some people decide that the only way to be accepted is to conform, so they change themselves. Shouldn't people be accepted for who they are? Shouldn't the Ugly Duckling have been accepted despite his appearance and clumsiness? Of course, I hear you say and yet we find ourselves, as a society, once again caught in the 'in between". Stuck in the middle of "what should be" and "what actually is." This is the tension with which we struggle all of our days here on earth.
Over one hundred and fifty years after The Ugly Duckling was written its themes still resonate with readers but that should not surprise us. Human nature has not changed, nor will it. Millions of dollars have been spent by the government and various other organizations to wage war against bullying. The federal government recently launched a new internet based initiative called Bullying.No Way! All our schools have anti bullying programs. Much time and effort and money has been poured into the attempt to educate the little devils who bully the Ugly Ducklings but it goes on. It continues because there is a huge difference between knowing that something is wrong, and actually not doing it.