She Was Good for Nothing by Hans Christian Andersen
The theme of love is self-evident in the story and there is no disputing that the laundress loved the mayor’s brother. However due to the opinion of the mayor’s mother the laundress was not allowed to marry the brother. She believed that the laundress was not the equal of her son. This too is significant as the mayor’s mother appears to be basing her opinion based solely on the role the laundress has within the household. She is only a maid and this is something that the mayor’s mother is adamant is not sufficient to allow the laundress to marry her son. The fact that the laundress never forgets the son and that she told Eric she could never love him only strengthens the idea that the laundress was in love with the mayor’s brother. However she accepts the position she finds herself in and nonetheless marries Eric. Who most readers will suspect was a kind and caring man who had the best interests of the laundress and their son at heart.
Martha’s role in the story should not be underestimated. Though at first she may come across as no more than a gossip when she is talking to the laundress. She is supportive of the laundress and is there to help the laundress’ son. She also dispels any fears that the son may have about what type of woman his mother was. She knows that the laundress has lived a tough life and that circumstances have not been kind to her. Even if the mayor (Martha’s employer) is not prepared to recognise this when he condemns the laundress. However at the same time the reader cannot be overly critical of the mayor. He does after all ensure that the laundress’ son has a good home after the laundress has died. He does appear to be taking responsibility for the laundress’ son. Though this may not necessarily appease the reader or be seen as a matter that shines solidly on the mayor. Some critics may suggest that the mayor’s attitude throughout the story towards the laundress has been cold. He has judged her without considering the difficulties that the laundress may have incurred in life.
If anything the laundress has suffered hardship in life. She has lost the man she loves. Married a man she did not love and become dependent on alcohol to bury the hurt that she feels in life. She has also allowed for the mayor’s mother’s opinion of her to direct the course of her life. Knowing that she could not fully commit to Eric as another man held her heart. It may also be significant that the mayor’s brother never forgets about the laundress leaving money for the laundress and her son. He held her and the son in a special position in his heart. Possibly knowing the cruelties of life and what the laundress had to endure. He may also have never known about the conversation his mother had with the laundress when she was younger and may have felt abandoned by the laundress. Which may have resulted in the mayor’s brother feeling conflicted or confused. As a result he may have allowed for the laundress’s and Eric’s marriage to prosper never knowing he could have had the opportunity for real love. It is not necessarily surprising that the mayor’s brother never married. Having lost in love he may have felt that he could not love again.