This short story by Danish poet and author, Hans Christian Anderson is one of the most heart wrenching and dark fairy tales in literature. The holiday season cannot be complete without revisiting this classic fairy tale.
It is the night before New year with people bustling around the streets hastily and snow falling fiercely. A poor girl struggles through the thick layer of snow with bare feet and rags and a bundle of matches she has been trying very hard to sell throughout the day. The story centers around her, a little match seller. In contrast to her pitiable condition, the city is beaming with glittering fairy lights, Christmas trees, well dressed people with gifts wrapped in shiny paper, their ringing laughter and the smell of delicious feasts wafting through the windows of decked up homes. Afraid to go home without a penny, she huddles up between two houses and lights a match, hoping to warm her fingers in the least. Her hypothermia reaches a perilous state and she begins to hallucinate. She goes on lighting matches and imagines warm stoves, sumptuous food, and Christmas trees. One of the matches she strikes reveals her grandmother who had passed away. Wanting to keep her beloved grandma from fading away with the grey embers of the dying match, she lights the entire bundle and her grandma takes her fondly into her arms and they are united, away from the cold, pain, hunger and sorrow. It is only when morning comes that people notice the girl who is no more, but with a sweet smile on her pale face.
No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother on New Year ’s Day.”
Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match-Girl is dreary and grim, even grimmer than the Brothers’ Grimm’s fairy tales. It shares a certain melancholy and talks about the consequences of merely existing.
The power of the mind is a powerful theme in this story. The little girl had a wonderful imagination that guarded her from the harsh reality. She is an example of stark poverty, without anything but not without “hope”, proving that sometimes the greatest lessons are learnt from children.
Anderson came from a poor family and well understood the struggles of the needy that covered the greater part of the society. He paints a dismal, yet vivid picture of life for the poor in the 1840s, when begging was illegal. Writers such as Charles Dickens too had written stories with similar themes with the purpose of bringing social consciousness to people.
The little match girl is a symbol of the countless nameless people who suffer and die in poverty every year but go unnoticed. It is not only a sad holiday story, but a reality check to all of us to be grateful for all that we have and generous towards those who are in need, not just on festive seasons but throughout the year. Another beautiful message this story carries is to have child-like hope even in the direst circumstances, because HOPE perseveres.
My rating for this story – 5/5