Comment on the use of symbolism in Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Little Match Girl”.
Symbolism is one predominant feature of Hans Christian Andersen’s writing. In his short story “The Little Match Girl” many a symbol is scattered here and there. Use of symbolism mainly centres round the major motifs of the story; Uppermost among them are strewn together from the very beginning of the story up to the point of climax.
Symbolism has always been a favourite device with short story to bring conciseness to the development of plot and character in the limited scope of short story and to indicate to some deeper meaning through it.
We must shed light on the very first sentence of the story:
“It was bitterly cold, snow was falling and darkness was gathering, for it was the last evening of the old year – it was New Year’s Eve”.
Such abrupt beginning is, on one hand, a symbolic projection of the girl’s bleak existence leading to the arrival of eternal nightfall in her life and on the other hand it is a new beginning in the girl’s life in the abode of blissful eternity.
In the second paragraph the writer emphasizes the poor girl’s utter wretchedness by putting stress on the initial letter of ‘b’ in the two consecutive words: ‘bareheaded and barefoot’.
The girl’s “naked feet which were red and blue with the cold” is representative of the nakedness of the so-called civilized society where the poor girl is deprived of her basic rights.
Her hair got entangled with snowflakes which are nothing but trials and tribulations in her life.
Lights shining in every window and smell of roast goose in the street symbolically present the comfort of the rich which the little girl is denied of and which she desires to have.
She felt colder and colder – it is again the repetition of initial ‘c’ letter through which the writer suggests boring, monotonous poverty of the girl.
The match sticks seem to be the only companion of the lonely girl. The flashing of match stick sustains her warmth. It is also a brief moment of enjoyment when she felt that she was sitting under the most beautiful Christmas tree. Upon flashing another match stick she felt the presence of her loving grandmother. It is a constant effort on the part of the girl to get transported into a dreamland and forget the harsh reality of her day to day existence. So, the light of the match sticks here symbolises hope, comfort and accomplishment.
The girl’s death in the story is not an ordinary death. But, it is the beginning of a new journey. Her “rosy cheeks and smiling lips” say it all. Death was the new life for her. She didn’t get love and care of her father in her earthly life. That is why she longed to be with her dear old grandmother. The new year brings glorious changes to the girl’s life which others have no eyes to see.
Throughout the story the little match girl is unnamed because it is not the plight of any single individual or any particular society but the community of wretched humanity all over the world. It transcends beyond the boundaries of time and space.
The match in the story is symbolic of the warmth that the girl wanted from the people
– The match symbolises warmth, safety and comfort.
– Her long golden hair symbolises purity, youth and innocence of the girl.
– The New Year symbolises the beginning of a new life (after death) for the girl. The last evening of the old year was the last evening of her miserable life.