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Literature / The Emperor's New Clothes

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The Emperor's New Clothes is a short story by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1837, about a vain, selfish Emperor who gets swindled by two weavers. The weavers tell him they can make the finest, most beautiful clothing, which is also engendered with magical properties meaning that the foolish or incompetent among his people would be unable to see it. The Emperor thinks that this will help him find out who in his court is unworthy of their position, and asks for them to make clothing for him.

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Afraid that he might not see the clothes, he at first sends his advisors and ministers to see it. They obviously cannot see these non-existent clothes, but the swindlers describe them so intricately that they are fooled, and eventually even the Emperor himself goes to see them and wear them. Afraid to be dubbed unworthy of his job, he too agrees that he can see them. The swindlers leave with their payment of gold and fine materials, and the charade continues until the emperor parades around in his new clothes, and a naive child points out that the emperor is naked.


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"The Emperor's New Clothes" provides examples of:

  • Abilene Paradox: "Pluralistic indifference" and collective pride is what drives everybody to keep saying there is an invisible fabric until there is no turning back. Had any of them actually spoken up, the con would have died early.
  • Adaptational Heroism: In the "Naked King" play by Eugeny Shwartz, that borrows plot elements from several of Andersen's stories, including this one, the "con-men" are the heroes, there to rescue the princess one of them is in love with from being forced into marrying the king, who's a naziesque tyrant and an all-around idiot. Their main goal is to publically humiliate the king, incite a riot and abscond with the princess. Pocketing the payment for the clothes is just a nice side-bonus to set the newly wed up for life.
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  • Adaptational Modesty: The original version had the emperor appear naked, but some tellings (namely the illustrated ones) have him in his underwear instead.
  • An Aesop: Andersen was well known for these. This was a lesson not only about honesty, being that the truth will come out sooner or later, but also about what is called "pluralistic ignorance" — in which people go along with something just because they assume other people agree.
  • Appeal to Flattery: Used by the swindlers.
  • Applicability: Human nature being what it is, the story has been invoked on many, many occasions when a large group of people is going along with a leader or a plan or an ideology that has some obvious flaws.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: The child asks, "Why is the emperor naked?"
  • Blatant Lies: Only stupid or incompetent people can't see the clothing. Turns out, they're the only ones who can.
  • Bowdlerisation: As the original version has the emperor fully naked, some versions give him underwear as a form of censorship.
  • Brutal Honesty: The kid who insists there are no clothes even when he's being shushed by others.
  • Children Are Innocent: Which is why people realize the child is right.
  • Con Man: The "weavers" who swindle the Emperor.
  • The Dandy: The Emperor is obsessed with clothes.
  • The Emperor: General Failure incarnate, as is established even before the two swindlers arrive. All he thinks about is his clothes when he ought to be taking care of his country.
  • Embarrassed by a Child: The child's observation leads to everyone realizing that the Emperor in fact has no clothes. Pointedly, nobody is willing to notice it until the child points it out.
  • Fairy Tale: One of the all-time classics.
  • From the Mouths of Babes: The child insisting that the Emperor has no clothes is the moment when the ruse ends—not being incompetent, nor knowledgeable enough to be truly considered 'stupid' by the crowd, they take his innocent Brutal Honesty as proof.
  • Fully-Clothed Nudity: A lot of adaptations (especially ones intended for children) opt to show the Emperor in Goofy Print Underwear or the like, rather than going full frontal. (The ones that don't will probably give him a Scenery Censor.)
  • Have a Gay Old Time: One translation states that life in the city was "always gay."
  • Humiliation Conga: As comeuppance for his vanity, the Emperor finds himself parading naked as the whole kingdom realizes he was duped by a scam.
  • Karma Houdini: In almost all versions the swindlers get clear away with the money and the fine cloths from the Emperor and are never seen again. Some versions even depict them as being the heroes of the story for exposing an arrogant Emperor's blind vanity and forcing him to get a clue. Subverted in the chapter of Anime Sekai No Dowa, in which a rabbit appears and makes them fall from the horse they were riding, and they almost fall to a cliff. They survive, but they lost all the gold and silk.
  • Kid Has a Point: The kid at the ending is the one who dares pointing that the emperor is actually naked.
  • Naked People Are Funny: The reason the Emperor's comeuppance is so amusing.
  • The Reveal: "But he has nothing on!"
  • Secret Test of Character: The Emperor wants to use the clothing to weed out incompetent and stupid people. Little does he guess the very same test is being applied to him....
  • The Show Must Go On: As one translation says, "The Emperor writhed, for he knew it was true, but he thought 'The procession must continue now.'" In all translations, the procession continues.
  • Stealth Insult: Only the foolish can't see the clothes. Now, think of whom the weavers are plying their trade to.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: The child who exposes the scam. He is, after all, only a child and how can a child be unfit for their occupation?
  • Vapor Wear: The Emperor has been led to believe his clothes are just this, and that only "worthy" folk can see actual clothes.
  • Visible to Believers: Double Subverted. There really were no clothes but those who believed the swindlers' lies pretended to see them.

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