Dissertation Title:

Hermeneutic Interpretation Of The Little Mermaid And Ponyo: Fairy Tales And Anorexia Nervosa


Angie Nicole Branham

Date, Time & Place:

April 19, 2015 at 1:00 pm
Studio, Lambert Road Campus


Anorexia nervosa has been viewed as a culturally “Western” and modern disorder. Few researchers have seen the pattern of starvation in women as a violent protest in opposition to the devaluation of the feminine principle. This demonstration is directed toward one’s self and acted out against the body. Today, we see anorexia as a struggle toward thinness and beauty. If we unbind the phenomenon of anorexia from the idea of merely becoming thinner, however, anorexia can be traced back to much earlier times, well before the Victorian era where many place the first case of anorexia. In fact, we can see anorexics in ancient times. The commonality of the cases throughout time and place is the goal of reaching perfection as defined by a patriarchal society.
Using alchemical hermeneutics as a research tool, this research will interpret two stories, Hans Christian Anderson’s (1837) The Little Mermaid and Hiyao Miyazaki’s (2008) film based on The Little Mermaid, Ponyo. The interpretations of these stories will center on feminine development and anorexia. The Little Mermaid will be viewed as a model to understanding the development of anorexia while Ponyo will serve as a reparative image of the old mermaid.
Anorexia in this study is viewed from the perspective of Jungian analyst, Marion Woodman. Woodman felt that unique combinations of specific affective themes and struggles within the psyche, called complexes, interact and transform into symptom patterns that become manifest through body. The interpretations of the films will illuminate complexes evident in each character and how each character’s cultural background influence the direction that each girl will take in their developmental journeys.
Because this dissertation sees anorexia in terms of failed individuation, this study will use Jungian analyst, Edward Edinger’s work Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy (1994) as a method of understanding the journeys of each character in terms of alchemy. Jungian analyst, Marie Louise von Franz’s work on interpreting fairy tales will be used to guide the interpretation of The Little Mermaid and Ponyo.


All oral defense attendees must shuttle to the Lambert Road Campus from the Best Western Hotel in Carpinteria. Parking on campus is not available.

  • Program/Track/Year: Clinical Psychology, Track A, 2008
  • Chair: Dr. Veronica Goodchild
  • Reader: Dr. Candace DePuy
  • External Reader: Dr. Betty Kovacs
  • Keywords: Anorexia Nervosa, Alchemical Hermeneutics, The Little Mermaid, Ponyo, Feminine Development, Patriarchy, Alchemy, Soul, Voice