What Elsa Represents
Numerous theories have been advanced as to what Elsa in Frozen represents, metaphorically, by her powers.
The most persuasive interpretation, and the one that Frozen's songwriting team have advanced in interviews, is that of Elsa as representing an exceptionally talented artist, grappling with and struggling to unleash her creative powers.
However, in her tragic isolation and alienation from the world, she would most specifically represent a Romantic artist, as described in this post.
Elsa’s artistic abilities express themselves in numerous ways in the film: as a singer, of course, but also as an architect, as a “sculptor of ice and snow” (as Idina Menzel once referred to her), as a painter (given the variety of colors that she creates in her ice), and even as an orchestra conductor, given that the motions with which she controls her magic resemble those of a conductor like Herbert von Karajan leading the Berlin Philharmonic.
Another association, closely related to that of Elsa as an artist, is that of Elsa representing the Nietzschean ideal of the Übermensch (see here and here), the great individual whose genius sets them above humanity, concomitantly incurring the resentment of the mob and causing them to be misunderstood; yet who, with their talents, can bestow great gifts of beauty and knowledge upon mankind, in Promethean fashion.
French child psychologists have also invoked Elsa’s storyline as an analogy for advanced children or gifted children (see here), who are often isolated from other youths, who lack worthy peers due to their superior intellect, and who are often introverted and sensitive by nature, yet who have a wealth of creativity and imagination just waiting to be unleashed, rather as Elsa finally unleashes her powers.
In addition to those associations, which present Elsa as representing exceptional individuals who surpass the common run of humanity, Elsa has also been related to various identity issues.
Her “Let It Go” anthem has been likened, among other things, to a coming-of-age metaphor, a tale of individuation, of a young girl — witness her gleeful, childlike expressions at the beginning of the song — blossoming into a desirable young woman.
Indeed, Elsa’s plight has been associated with that of women in general, particularly how modern society seeks to confine women to androgynous “career” paths promoted by feminism, from which Elsa breaks free in her dress-change scene, when she embraces her traditional femininity, her essential womanhood.
More broadly, Elsa’s character depicts the plight of individuals of an introverted nature, living in a world in which extroversion is applauded and introversion is misrepresented. Elsa’s story illustrates the conflicts that introverted individuals face when they need private time to themselves (feeling uncomfortable as they do in social situations) and are wrongly deemed “cold” as a result; yet who also do long for close, one-on-one connections, which they can seldom form.
Elsa has also been described as embodying, in a more tragic way, the plight of individuals burdened with various pathologies.
Communicable illnesses figure prominently in this interpretation, with how Elsa warns others to stay away from her for their own good. The idea that she might inadvertently harm someone, through an aspect of herself (a communicable disease of some sort) that she cannot control, bolsters this reading. This relates to how she wears gloves and wants everyone to stay away from her, for their own safety
Afflictions such as deafness also find a parallel in Elsa’s plight; indeed, the suffering that Ludwig van Beethoven endured due to his deafness (the shame of being deprived of hearing, the social ostracization that resulted from this, and his attempt to keep his affliction secret) seems uncannily similar to the ordeal that Elsa endures.
Themes of mental illness have also been advanced, from autism to anxiety to panic attacks to many others, the most acute of which can indeed lead the tragically afflicted individual to be sequestered and kept away from others, and can also cause them to lash out, unwillingly, on loved ones.
And finally, from the point of view of ideology, Elsa’s plight can be seen as representing that of individuals whose beliefs or values fly in the face of those of modern society, beliefs that must be kept secret, for fear of an individual being socially ostracized, losing employment, possibly even being criminally prosecuted.
Along these lines, Elsa could represent a paleoconservative in a society dominated by Cultural Marxism, or an ethno-nationalist in a world that is imposing multiculturalism and diversity, or a traditional Christian in a world promoting secularism.
In certain professions, being identified as holding such beliefs could cost a person their job. In certain social circles, being exposed as holding such beliefs could make a person a social outcast. And in certain European nations today, being exposed as holding such beliefs could be punishable by fines and imprisonment, just as dissidents in every era of human history have been stigmatized.
Elsa pushing away her sister, then, could be a metaphor for how a person who holds such iconoclastic beliefs wouldn’t want their family linked to themselves, for fear of having them condemned via guilt by association.
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In creating Elsa, Disney formulated a storyline that is richly applicable to dozens of different alienations and iconoclasms, any one of which can lead to social stigma, but which can also yield rich creative fruit and be a light unto the world. It is not reducible to just one, and never should be, but applies across many circumstances and conditions.
By making Elsa’s metaphorical significance so fluid, she is widely relatable to many individuals in a host of different ways.
(My own extended review of Frozen appears [here].)