Psychological Analysis of the Story “Heidi, the Girl of the Alps” by Johanna Spyri – Adaptation and Resilience

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Heidi is an orphan little girl, she is five years old and has been raised by her aunt, Dete. Dete considers she took care of the little girl long enough and now it’s time her grandfather also stepped in. The grandfather lives somewhere up the mountains and Dete takes the little girl to her grandfather’s place. The little girl adapts pretty well to her grandfather’s place, she makes friends with Peter, the goat watcher, whom she starts following everyday when he grazes the goats. She is also fond of Peter’s mother and grandmother, whom she often visits.

Time passes by until one day Dete comes and takes the little girl in order to send her over to a rich family in Frankfurt. They were looking for a little girl who would spend time with their ill daughter, Clara. Clara cannot walk, she uses a wheelchair. Heidi is taken by force from her grandfather’s and is not allowed to say good-bye to Peter’s grandmother. She is promised she could come back any time she missed the place.

For a while, the little girl tries to adapt to her new city life, and, with her spontaneity manages to cheer Clara up, while ending up in all sorts of funny situations. She learns how to read with the help of Mrs. Sesemann, Clara’s grandmother. Clara’s grandmother is a loving and caring woman who understand what Heidi is going through and helps her overcome some reading problems. Another nice character is Clara’s doctor, a warm and caring gentleman Heidi is going to become fond of quite quickly. He is the one who suggests Heidi be sent back to her grandfather’s, understanding the little girl’s sadness and longing.

In the last part of the story, Heidi receives the visit of the Doctor, Clara and grandmother Sesemann up in the mountains, where Clara manages to stand up on her own feet.

This is a very touching story which depicts the way Heidi, the little orphan girl, manages to cope with her primary fears and the anxiety of a parentless child who has been moved from one place to another for her upbringing. The theme in this story is abandonment and the way it is managed by each party.

Abandonment is our first fear. It is a primary fear – a universal fear in the human experience. As babies, we cry in our cribs, terrified when mother leaves the room, for fear she may never come back. Abandonment is the fear that we are going to be left all alone for ever, with no one there to protect us and satisfy our urgent needs. For the new born, maintaining the attachment to the primary caregiver is necessary for the actual survival. Any threat or disturbance of this relationship triggers this primary fear, a fear incarnated in our brain.” („The journey from abandonment to healing, Susan Anderson, C.S.W.)

Heidi is an orphan and, in turns, she is raised by several persons. While being sent from one place to another, nobody cares to ask her whether she wants that or not or to let her say good-bye to the persons she grew to be fond of.

She may feel abandoned by her parents who died, then by Dete who sends her to live with her grandfather when she turns five. Heidi grows to love her grandfather, but he doesn’t seem to have any word in Dete’s decision to send her to Frankfurt. Heidi is now abandoned by the grandfather by the fact he allows Dete to take her away from him.

The person who is able to see her suffering and understand what she is going through is the Doctor, who helps her come back to her grandfather in the mountains, whom she missed dearly. He seems to play a repairing part in little Heidi’s life. The same is true for grandmother Sesemann who treats her with kindness and understanding.

Up in the mountains, Heidi makes friends with Peter, who is also an orphan whose father died, while in Frankfurt she makes friends with Clara, an orphan, as well, whose mother died. Although her father is still alive, Clara is left to be taken care of by other persons, as well. Mr. Sesemann travels a lot for business. Therefore, Clara may feel abandoned, too, by her mother who died and by her father who travels so much. Her emotional support is ensured by grandmother Sesemann and the Doctor.

Heidi introjects the message that she „must be grateful” (a message she receives from Dete), with the price of letting go of her own needs. In order not to sadden her “benefactors” from Frankfurt, she never tells them how much she misses her grandfather and she somatizes becoming a sleepwalker.

She tends to play the role of Rescuer. Although only a child of five, she is concerned with Peter’s grandmother’s health, with her house (she asks her grandfather to mend the grandmother’s house), and she is preoccupied that Peter’s grandmother should have fresh bread at all times.

“This is a story about adaptation and resilience. Resilience „is a strategy of fighting unhappiness that helps us grab moments of pleasure from life, despite the whispering of the phantoms from the depths of our memory”. (“Phantoms’ Whispering”, Boris Cyrulnik).

“…resilience is the trait of a person who lived or is living a traumatizing event or a chronic adversity and who proves the skill of a good adaptability” (Assisted Resilience Treaty, coord. Serban Ionescu)

The little girl’s resilience consists of her capacity of opening up to people, of relating to the ones surrounding her and of making herself likeable. Although an orphan missing both her parents, Heidi manages to be happy together with her grandfather and friends.

At the same time, Heidi’s resilience is a catalyst for her grandfather’s healing process, as well as for her friend’s Clara. Grandfather is able to come back among people and start socializing again after the death of Heidi’s parents, and Clara is able to stand up on her own feet and walk. 




“Heidi, the Girl of the Alps”, Johanna Spyri, Ion Creangă Publishing House, 1987

„TA Today, A New Introduction into Transactional Analysis”, Ian Stewart, Vann Joines, Mirton Publishing House, 2004

“Phantoms’ Whispering”, Boris Cyrulnik, Curtea Veche Publishing House, 2005

„Assisted Resilience Treaty”, under the coordination of Șerban Ionescu, Trei Publishing House, 2013

„The Journey from Abandonment to Healing”, Susan Anderson, C.S.W., Berkley Books, New York, 2000


AuthorGabriela Popescu

Article published in No.13 of the Newsletter  of the Romanian Association of Transactional Analysis, November 2014


(I loved the story when I was a kid and this article is my own interpretation of the story.)


psychologist Brasov, psychotherapist Brasov