Hidden Meaning in Songs: Poor Unfortunate Souls

4/20/2016 – I edited the post for clarification. This is meant as a look at the song Poor Unfortunate Souls and how it relates to real life comments and thoughts by some people. I did not mean it as a look at the character or story of the Little Mermaid as a whole or as an analysis of the Disney Princesses. 

Now I am a huge Disney fan and I do love the Disney movies, but honestly a lot of it has to do with the music and the songs. I know all the songs by heart and I can listen to a Disney soundtrack over and over again. Well recently I was listening to the song “Poor Unfortunate Souls” that was sung by Ursula when trying to convince Ariel that she has the solution to her problem. At the same time if you think about the song comes down to convincing Ariel to trade everything about who she is to get a man, which actually cuts close to real life situations that women find themselves in. 

Mermaid to Human

“The only way to get what you want is to become a human yourself” – Ursula

I mean the very start of the song is the fact that Ariel wants a guy, but because she is a mermaid she can’t be with him. At the same time if you think about this as a real life situation it comes across as someone that needs to change who they are in order to find love. That is a really horrible message and I know it is coming from Ursula who is supposed to be the villain; at the same time it is all too realistic of a message that you hear from people (and Hollywood). This then translates into the reason that many times that girls like something that is considered a “guy” thing that they are then blamed for faking it.

Leaving Family

“If I become human, I’ll never be with my father or sisters again.” -Ariel

“But you’ll have your man. Life’s full of tough choices, isn’t it?” – Ursula

This is the epitome of an abusive relationship. A woman gives up connection with all family and friends and her sole purpose in life becomes the man in her life. Nothing else is important, it is all about the guy that she is with. So not only are you changing everything about yourself, but you are giving up any connection to who you were before the guy. Now I know the idea when you marry someone is that they need to come first (on both sides), but that doesn’t mean that you give up all your other connections for that one person!

Losing Your Voice

“Yet on land it’s much preferred for ladies not to say a word

And after all dear, what is idle babble for?

Come on, they’re not all that impressed with conversation

True gentlemen avoid it when they can

But they dote and swoon and fawn

On a lady who’s withdrawn

It’s she who holds her tongue who gets a man” -Ursula

This is the line that felt particularly poignant to me because how many times are women told that they talk too much or that they should be eye candy, etc. Too often women are dismissed or silenced in so many ways to turn them into objects that are not actually supposed to have a voice. The idea that we have to give up our voice, one of the more powerful things that we have, just to find someone to love us is the most ridiculous concept I could ever hear. To hold back what we think to quiet our minds in order to just fit in somehow, even if fitting with a person or situation that tries to hold us back just to meet the expectation of society.

This song definitely took me to a weird place.

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7 responses to “Hidden Meaning in Songs: Poor Unfortunate Souls

  1. You should read the article I wrote last Christmas about the Little Mermaid on my main blog, which also links to a detailed analyses of the songs in the movie in second blog, Movies and Lyrics. It might make you reconsider both the character and this particular song.

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    • I really like your analysis of the Little Meemaid. Ariel is not a bad character because she is a teenager. Honestly this post came out from the fact that I was listening to this song with my daughter in the car and realizing that some of the lyrics as spoken by Ursula are things that you hear today. I know it is a movie and I know things are not that bad but the fact is people still talk about the woman being the one to stay home with the kids and women who speak up about potential issues often get shouted down. There are still groups that see women as things meant to be pretty and seem but not speaking in public. I love this song partly because the singer and it is a villain in the movie, but it does not mean there are not undertones to things real people have experienced. It is good that it is shown by a villain to connect the ideas to something bad.

      Now this is not meant to be a look at the larger trends in the Little Mermaid as a whole. The other songs have a lot of other subtext that I think fit your analysis of it being more about a father / daughter relationship.

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      • It’s about both. It always frustrates me when the whole “she changes herself for a man” thing is brought up concerning the little mermaid, when the movie itself basically says that you shouldn’t pretend to be what you aren’t but act exactly how you really are. Not having a voice, literally and figuratively, is what puts Ariel in hot water in the first place.

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        • I did not mean this as an analysis of the Little Mermaid as a whole. Just as a look at the song Poor Unfortunate Soul. I would need to watch Little Mermaid again if I was going to do appropriate analysis of that story.

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  2. Interesting look at this song! It’s funny how things like this can strike us completely differently when we revisit them as adults.

    I do have to disagree with you on Disney not having done a great job with their female characters. I mean it’s a valid opinion, but it’s judging Disney through the eyes of a recently vocal movement to eliminate the differences between men and women. And in fairness to them, as this vocalization has grown stronger, they have developed increasingly “strong” women – Mulan, Pocahontas, Brave, and Frozen come to mind immediately for me.

    I just remember growing up, there was nothing wrong with girls wanting to be pretty like Aurora or Ariel; as there was nothing wrong with boys wanting to be tough and brawny like a GI Joe.

    And there *is* strength to be found in even the older Disney princesses. You don’t have to be physically tough to be strong, and they often show courage, resilience, and compassion – all admirable traits.

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    • I think Disney has done a better job recently with creating role model characters and that you have to remember the context for which some of the Disney characters were created. It is also just a story. At the same time stories do have power and if trends exist where they are there always has to be a love interest for a female heroine that is kind of a problem. Again they have gotten a way from this recently and even played with it a bit in Frozen.

      This post is a reaction I had listening to Ursula song outside of any larger context. It. Is amazing that this song sung by a villain can be related to things that happen in real life. There are people who if you present the ideas from the song Poor Unfortunate Souls would think they are spot on. It was interesting listening to it as an adult and seeing that the song does not just come from nowhere.

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      • True, there doesn’t always have to be a love interest for a heroine or hero. But romance is interesting and makes for good entertainment, which is why, I venture to say, it’s so often included as a story element. =)

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