The Little Match Girl

Hans Christian Anderson, himself, grew up poor and was the son of a shoemaker. He lost his father when he was just eleven years old.  The 19th Century was a tough time economically and many families struggled financially. Anderson wrote many stories, but The Little Match girl, published in 1845, might be one that he most closely related to.

The little girl in the story has lost her grandmother who is the only one that really loved her. There are no intimations of her mother and only that her father will be angry with her for not selling any matches. We can assume that she was raised by her father and grandmother and given the times that maybe her mother died long ago. The story of a very poor child is commonplace in the 19th Century.  Child labour is also common during this time.

Growing up poor, Anderson’s portrayal of the little girl without shoes walking the snow covered streets seems more tangible. The image Anderson gives us is a little girl sitting all alone in a corner between two houses that are joined together. She is freezing and would like to go home, but she cannot go home having not sold any matches. She has her legs tightly against her body and her knees by her chin to keep herself warm and she intermittently strikes a match to warm her bare feet that have turned blue. We see a little girl that is struggling to stay alive and in her final hours she tries to keep herself warm with her pocket full of matches as she hallucinates about the warmth of a stove; a Christmas feast; and a Christmas tree.

Her final hallucination is of her grandmother. She sees the spirit of her grandmother and this can be seen as her grandmother’s spirit coming to take the child to the afterlife. The little girl does not want the image of her grandmother to disappear so she strikes all the matches she has to keep her grandmother near, but in the cold of the morning the little girl is found frozen to death. It is a tragic end to an already tragic life of this little girl.

The story shows the beauty and innocence of the child and her hopes and dreams of a better life. This theme is present in many stories of this time in history. Even though, this story is short it was still very beautiful.

~Jennifer Ward

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