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Comment on the use of imagery in the story “The Little Match Girl”?

QuestionsComment on the use of imagery in the story “The Little Match Girl”?
Tweety asked 2 years ago

What are the imageries used in the story “The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen?

1 Answers
Sujoy Saha Staff answered 2 years ago

The Little Match Girl is a fine fusion of several literary devices; among them imagery and symbolism are beautifully exhibited. The prominent use of visual imageries along with others plays an important role in making the fairy tale motif of the story a success.

The very first sentence of the story is very prominent an example of visual imagery:

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.

The above-mentioned line is a descriptive statement on the bitter cold of a wintry night. On reading it we can conceive in our mind’s eye a picturesque presentation of the last evening of the old year.

In the next paragraph there is a description of a poor little girl walking “bareheaded and barefoot”; the writer uses alliteration emphasizing utter impoverished state of the girl. But it is no less striking a visual imagery through which the narrator appeals directly to our attention at the very outset of the plot.

Another example of visual imagery is found in the third paragraph:

She crept along, shivering and hungry, the picture of misery, poor little thing!

This exclamatory sentence presents to what extent a lonesome girl is going on clumsily, starved and shivering in cold. It draws our impassioned sympathy and we feel her utter penury. All this is quite an artist’s unerring use of canvas. Such crystal-clear prose is, over here, a specimen of straightforward presentation of imagery.

The narrator also presents perfect use of visual imageries embedded in the visions of the girl where she comes across the warm stove, the lovely roast goose and the great glorious Christmas tree.

Thus, with the help of imagery the girl’s inner aspiration is made concrete. There is also a touch of modernist magic realism in the girl’s visionary encounter with her grandmother whom she loves most. Subtle touch of magical realism is thus presented where the girl experiences the company of the departed soul of her grandmother.

She took the little girl in her arms and flew with her high up.

One more great visual imagery is created towards the end of the story where —

in the cold dawn, in the corner formed by the two houses, sat the little girl with rosy cheeks and smiling lips, dead … still holding the matches

Almost all the paragraphs contain an imagery through which essence of the plot is conveyed to our sensory organs. There is a use of olfactory imagery when the author says:

There was a glorious smell of roast goose in the street.

Again, the writer combines visual and olfactory imagery when the girl

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experiences her second vision:

It was covered with beautiful china and in the centre of it stood a roast goose, stuffed with prunes and apples, steaming deliciously.

The flutter of excitement comes to her when she “pulled one out-sc-r-ratch”. It is an auditory imagery with emphasis on onomatopoeia as a literary device. With the flashing of every match stick the girl envisions the manifestation of her inner desire and aspiration.

Again, a tactile imagery is evident when the girl puts her hand over the flame in her imagination to take the warmth:

It had a warm, bright flame like a tiny candle when she held her hand over it …

The phrases like “shivering and hungry” and “the cold dawn” are other examples of tactile imageries in the story.

The use of various imageries in the story is not a mere artistic luxury. But those have helped the author highlight the theme of his story by creating a sharp contrast between the stern reality of wretchedness of the girl and the imaginary wonderful world that she longs to belong to.


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