The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson
The Story line / Plot Summary
The story “The Little Match Girl” is set against the backdrop of a New Year’s Eve. It was a very cold winter evening with snow and frost. When everyone was busy in celebrating the festive day with candles, Christmas trees and delicious dishes, a poor little girl was wandering on the streets trying to sell her matches. She was barefoot and bareheaded. Though she had the shoes of her mother, she lost them on the way. Her scanty clothes were not enough to make her warm.
The girl was sure to be beaten by her father as she could not earn a single penny the whole day. So she decided not to go home and sat down on the ground on a corner created by two houses. While sitting there she lit a match to warm herself. To her surprise, she saw a great iron stove with bright brass knob in the bright flame of the match. The stove vanished when the flame went out.
The girl lit three more matches one after another and saw the visions of a roasted goose on the table, a beautiful Christmas tree and her grandmother whole loved her most. By then the girl realized that she would lose the vision of her grandmother when the match would go out. But she wanted her to stay there so much that she quickly lit all the rest of the matches to make sure the light stayed on. In the bright light of the matches her granny looked more beautiful than ever before. She took her in her arms and flew high up the sky to the God.
At the dawn of the new year, people discovered that the girl had frozen to death, still holding the matches in her hand. They were talking about how the girl had tried to warm herself. But they did not know what beautiful visions she had seen and into what “heavenly joy and gladness of a new year” she had entered with her “dear old grandmother”.
The Little Match Girl: A Commentary
The short story “The Little Match Girl” is all about the poverty, hunger and helplessness of a little girl who is sent to sell matches when she is supposed to stay at home or at school. When all the world seems to be celebrating the New Year’s Eve, the girl is deprived of the joy. But the readers are caught in the riddle whether it is sheer poverty of the family, or the cruelty of a father to his daughter; may be both.
Whatever the case may be, the author has shown us how sometimes death can be better than life on earth. The poor girl got nothing here in this life. All the visions she had in the light of the matches only reflected her unfulfilled wishes and dreams. She also wished to enjoy some delicious food, to sit under a beautiful Christmas tree, and to have the company of her dear old grandmother. But it was not to be in her earthly life. She could only get those after death, in the Heaven. That is why the writer says —
But no one knew what beautiful visions she had seen and in what a blaze of glory she had entered with her dear old grandmother into the heavenly joy and gladness of a new year.
So the New Year’s Eve is a symbol for the beginning of a new life (after death) of the girl in heaven. The last evening of the old year was the last evening of the girl’s miserable life. The new year brings glorious changes to the girl’s life which others have no eyes to see.
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. So, in its appeal, this story transcends all ages and cultures. Even the girl is unnamed; the place and year of the story is untold. These might be deliberate attempt from the writer to keep the story universal in its appeal.
About the title of the story “The Little Match Girl”, it is very straightforward and represents the protagonist of the story, the poor little girl. As, the story deals with the miserable life of the girl, her dreams and wishes and how she got rid of the cruelty of this world to reach the heaven, the title is thematically appropriate.
In its plot and setting the story has a simple approach. The author narrates the story in third person narrative where dialogues are rather scanty. This has been a one-way narration with no flashbacks and no twists. But the story is rich in its use of irony, imagery and symbols, emphasizing the need for compassion for those who are less privileged than us.