In Christian symbolism, two connotations among others associated with the colour red are Christ’s sufferings and the Holy Spirit. When Karen puts on the shoes this could mean that she will follow in the footsteps of the Master and that she is the figura of the story. Her decision to put on the shoes, her “dearest possession” as the story shows, indicates that she is not ready to sacrifice anything to be able to receive love.
This exemplifies a possible rather straightforward one-to-one relationship between the literary text and the Scriptures. In 1 Cor. 13, Paul contrasts knowledge and other gifts with a form of free and unconditional love, presenting the latter as the only way to divine grace.
This has made the section a pivotal expression in the Bible and Christian tradition of the notion of [agape], a persisting unselfish love, love that is not of the ego and for ego purposes but that it is a surrender to the Self.
Knowledge in any form is interpreted by Paul as partial and imperfect in contrast with the “perfect” that will prevail in the name of love. All Karen’s actions are taken for her own selfish reasons, with no ability to sacrifice any wish nor desire for another or a higher purpose.
As long as we see things “in parts”, not as whole, as agape, everything will be distorted and unrevealed. Only agape will reveal the truth of being. Knowing or not knowing this truth is symbolically linked to a significant difference between the child and the adult. “When I was a child,” Paul writes, “I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”
However, with the redemption of humanity we will see it all clearly. But before seeing things again, revealed, and in this sense Psyche is revelation, we see them distorted “through a glass, darkly.” Another fairy tale where Andersen uses the Red Shoes symbolism is in The Snow Queen. There it is Gerda, the heroine of the fairy tale, who is willing to give up her red shoes to have Kay back, her love. A comparison of the use of symbols could be made between Andersen and the Biblical text, with Kay seeing perfection in the form of a single snow flake through the magnifying glass that distorts things beyond divine proportions, or with the “partial” pieces of ice in the game of ice-cold reason, each bearing one single letter impossible to place with another in a meaningful pattern through the means of knowledge.
As a corollary, the opacity of the mirror in Paul’s writing may inform Andersen’s use of the distorted mirror as a symbol of the Fall of Man. According to Paul, when love finally prevails we will see things “face to face.” In Andersen’s text it is possible to see this Pauline figure of speech in the guise of Kay and Gerda, looking at each other through their little peepholes, one “bright, friendly eye” meeting the other through each “frost-coated glass”. The regained love between the adult couple in the final story is in one sense Kay and Gerda seeing each other again, like children and face to face through the once icy but now transparent glass. In another and parallel sense it is the symbol of resurrection. When Gerda kisses Kay and he awakes from his bewitched and frozen sleep, it is the dead being awakened on the Last Day by God’s eternal love.
The Red Shoes heroine, Karen, is unable to give love to anyone nor anything. She only serves her own ego. Pain and sorrow of her foster mother, her death, nothing seems to break her cold heart. Even after having the legs amputated, she goes to church to be ‘seen’, not to simply pray for the soul of her foster mother. Karen does not want to realize what the Red Shoes are, how was that her foster mother bought her love. And she is unable to sacrifice them, to cut what bound her to them. She is the anti-heroine, she is anti-Gerda. In the end, grace comes as death. She could not achieve it during her life. Only in the end, when she accepts and surrender to a power other than her ego, greater than herself, does she receives grace from the hand of the angel.
Grace comes as death of Karen, of the Karen’s red shoes-ego.