Lessons from the Little Match Girl
The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson is classified as a Grimm Fairy Tale. “Many grimm fairy tales were originally written or narrated for adults, as folk tales representative of various cultures” (Helium 1). Hans Christian Anderson based many of his stories off of his mother’s hardships as a child. The Little Match Girl is to be considered the same. “Once, she was sent out of the house to beg and, when she could not do it, she sat for a whole day under a bridge and cried (Marley 2).
This story is said to have taken place in a town around the early 20th Century. The story consists of a small girl no older than eleven, sent out to sell matches, which during that time was considered a form of begging. It is the dead of winter and she has little to keep her warm. Her ill fitting shoes had been taken from her, and with the fear of going home only to be beaten for her unsuccessful sales, she curls up in the cold. As she is struggling to keep warm all she can contemplate is the thought of lighting one small match. Then, as she does so, she is filled with feelings of warmth and safety as she sits beneath a large iron stove.
She continues to light matches and get extraordinary visions, each one better than before. Throughout this paper we will discuss the meaning behind some of the things Anderson portrayed in his short story, such as meanings behind each of the four visions and symbols within the lines of the paper. During the early 20th century many people paid no mind to the poor “[since] begging was illegal during Andersen’s time the poor would make matches and sell them on the street as a front for their actual begging” (Heiner). Child abuse was also common during this time. “Not only is the child cold and hungry, she is also abused at home, increasing the pathos and stark reality of the story” (Heiner).
As the girl lights her first match, she sees a vision of a large warm iron stove. Hallucinations are one of the symptoms of severe hypothermia (Ward), which indicates that the match girl is slowly drifting away. But, as the stove disappears she is coming back into consciousness. All that is left are the gray/black remains of a burnt-out match. “Like black, gray is used as a color of mourning as well as a color of formality” (Bear, Howard).
This shows that before the little girl has reached her fate the signs of mourning are already presenting themselves. During the Second vision Hans Christian Anderson wrote of a magical New Years Eve Feast that any poor hungry child would be overjoyed to partake in, he said “where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of Apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when–the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind.
” During this time the poor could only dream of partaking in such an extravagant meal. Salaries were small and for some, times were very hard. “[This second vision] of the goose dancing with knife and fork in its breast may be horrifying to some sensibilities but cartoonish to others. Andersen’s intent is unclear (Heiner). This vision addresses how hungry the small girl truly is, and if she doesn’t freeze she shall surely starve. The Third Vision of the night, only to be seen after the striking of another match, is a magnificent Christmas tree.
It is brightly light and beautifully decorated. It was the sort of tree only to be found in a very wealthy home. The story talks of bright (gaily) colored pictures looking down on her (Anderson). As the colors and lights rise, and the tree disappears, the stars become visible, and it seems as though the lights from the tree have become the stars. The little girl then sees a star fall and claims “Someone is just dead!” “For her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God” (Anderson). “A Creole superstition states: ‘Shooting-stars are souls escaping from purgatory: if you can make a good wish three times before the star disappears, the wish will be granted'” (Heiner).
This is almost as if the three visions before were wishes, but it is also thought, as for the timing of the short story that it either be the young girl’s soul ascending into heaven, or yet the cause for the final vision. The small girl drew another match, and there her loving grandmother stood before her in the dark of the night, with no reservations, only kindness. “Andersen also had a grandmother who doted on him, whom he remembered fondly in his memoirs and honors in this tale” (Heiner). The little girl knew that if the match were to run out her grandmother would disappear just like all her other wonderful visions, so in turn she struck the entire rest of the bundle on the wall. “Many near-death experiences around the world, regardless of religious belief, involve the visitation of dead loved-ones, usually family members and close friends” (Heiner).
As this happens, we now realize how truly close the small child is to freezing to death. The little girl pleads with her grandmother to take her back to heaven so “she took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety–they were with God” (Anderson). Nearly 1,876 patients were treated in American hospitals for hypothermia in 2010/11 (Hypothermia deaths double over five years). This hits close to home with The Little Match Girl, seeing as how she froze to death on an icy New Years Eve. The next morning the townspeople find the girl frozen in a corner, matches in hand, smile on her face, and all they can think of is how she must have tried to warm herself. Not one person stops and thinks of the beautiful splendor the girl saw.
Hans Christian Anderson believed this was a happy ending in his book. To relinquish the suffering of a little girl only to be joined with her one true relative and God, but many people don’t understand why a fairy tale would have such a sad ending. “Despite Andersen’s obvious intentions, many translators and publishers of the tale have balked against this ending, occasionally offering a “happier” ending with the young girl being rescued by a family, to be fed and warmed on New Year’s Eve with the implication that all would be well with her in the coming year” (Heiner). “Much of Anderson’s writing in The Little Match Girl is told in metaphors and with poetic license. One of the tools he used in Match Girl is to contrast everything from class structure to the contrast of emotions” (Barbagallo). At this time of the season in the story it is hard to think of a child dying, but it is a reality that has been present for quite some time.
Those who have it all usually ignore those who beg for just one penny. Anderson’s story serves a good purpose just as Heidi Heiner says, “reminding people to be charitable and help the poor during the holidays, and hopefully year round, to keep young children from suffering with poverty and death.” This isn’t much of a fairytale, more so a “folk tale for adults. These tales were often told orally during the times when the peasants could not read. They passed them down through the generations, and the folk tales were eventually illustrated and sold as fairytales for children.
Nowadays we would consider many of them unsuitable for very small children” (Helium 2). In conclusion, Anderson’s short tale is not only a sad holiday story reminding us to give during the season, but a reality check. We all wish for things during the holidays, but for those that have nothing it is more of an actuality. Times may get hard but in remembrance of this small tale, you must be grateful for what you have. After showing the meanings behind each of the four visions within the story and a few symbols throughout the paper, the true meaning behind it all can only be assumed by each individual to read the passage.
To each his own definition of caring and good, but only through your own eyes can you truly see the meaning behind it all. Works Cited Anderson, Hans C. “The Little Match Girl.” The Literature Network. N.
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