Explain the irony used in Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Little Match Girl”.
The story told by an omniscient narrator in “The Little Match Girl” revolves around a poor girl’s struggle for existence. But its thematic analysis makes it clear that the plot of the story is conveyed to us through irony.
The literary device of irony is here projected to expose the utter coldness of society to a little girl’s poverty and wretchedness. The final tragic ending of such naive girl is a grave matter of sorrow to readers. It is indirectly a shocking blow to the entire society for its sheer inability to protect a little girl from biting cold of severe wintry night.
The story begins against the background of the celebration of New Year’s Eve. But it is absolutely a bleak night for the little girl who is hard-pressed to go about selling match sticks. Through implicit use of irony, the writer is avidly compassionate to the girl.
That night the girl hardly sold any match stick; not a single penny was earned. She was afraid to go home in fear of her father who might scold her. It persistently heightened the girl’s plight. She was utterly oblivious of her appearance. The girl is the picture of misery in the narrator’s viewpoint. The writer is critical of the unthinking society submerged in pleasure. This is what the writer emphasizes – the exposure of the naked truth of our society’s callousness. Lights are constant reminder of life’s joviality and comfort. But darkness pervades the girl’s life – no comfort can ever penetrate there.
The dreamy girl resorted to momentary visionary gleams – the vision of things that remained unattainable for such lonesome girl. She is blessed by the writer with imaginative thinking expressed through the fairy-tale motif of the story. It is the structural irony that expresses the girl’s innermost desires which remained unfulfilled.
Far away from the crowd the girl lost herself in the luxury of illusion while the people of society enjoy in real life. Such images hasten the progress of the girl’s bitter journey in the world of reality. Again, the girl’s spiritual journey through vision is made possible through the inconsistency between reality and imagination. Such is the use of irony in the story.
Another instance of irony is when people say “she was evidently trying to warm herself”. Such point of view of onlookers is found unstudied and absurd because there was no one there to actually feel for her. Moreover, they had no eyes to see what glorious changes death brought to her life, what heavenly joy she felt in the company of her dear grandmother. With this irony the author takes a dig at the so-called civilized society where we don’t have the eyes to see through the plight of thousands of such hungry faces in our cities and towns even today.