History of creation
The story “The Little Match Girl” was written in 1844 when Andersen was staying at Augustenborg Castle on the island of Als. It was a story composed as an accompaniment to an engraving by Johann Lundby. The sacred story was published in 1845.
Literary direction and genre
The genre of the holy story implies a miraculous transformation of the hero, his achievement on Christmas day, when miracles and happiness occur. But The Girl with Matches is one of the saddest works of the writer. The heroine is dying, there is no hope for the transformation of her life, but this is from the point of view of the layman. And the narrator is a Christian, a romantic, for him the end of the tale is happy.
For romance, the ideal is unattainable. All the visions that pass before the eyes of a freezing girl are a beautiful world, which she dreamed of all her life, but she could only achieve after death.
Subject, main idea and problems
The theme of the story is the last evening of a poor girl whose life has no value in society. The main idea – happiness is not in wealth and not even in life. Happiness is the ability to see the invisible, to touch the eternal. The story raises serious social problems, describes the life of a city on the streets of which people from different worlds live. A girl loses her shoes when she is frightened of two carriages racing at full speed. In the world where carriage riders live, they don’t notice the little saleswomen of matches.
The plot and composition
A two-page story reveals all the circumstances of a girl’s life. The reader learns about some facts of her biography from the details. For example, a little girl wore shoes that her mother used to wear. Obviously, now mother has already died.
The world of poverty, in which the little matchmaker lives, is separated from the world of wealth hostile to the girl. She loses her shoes, her only inheritance, frightened by the carriages rushing at full speed. But the world of the poor is hostile. He is closer, the girl comes into contact with him and from this he sees his absurdity. The laws of nature reign in the world of human relations, where the fittest survives. The boy selects a wooden shoe to make a cradle out of it for future children. The absurdity of this act and the idea of the boy is obvious. Accustomed to poverty, the child is trying to resist the circumstances, storing things for all occasions.
The girl sold matches all day and did not sell a single one. She cannot return home because her father will beat her. In addition, the house is also cold, the cracks are covered with straw and rags. The girl is doomed to physical death, she ate nothing all day. But most of all she suffers from her own uselessness and loneliness.
In the near-death visions of the girl, all her needs are realized, first physical (warmth and satiety), then spiritual (cozy security and love). In the first vision, the match turns into an amazing candle, and the girl basks by the stove. In the second, the girl is at a rich table, and the roasted goose himself goes to feed her. The third vision takes the girl to a luxurious Christmas tree.
The girl resigns herself to the fact that visions disappear when the match goes out. But she is not ready to again lose the recently deceased grandmother that appeared in the vision. Love overpowers the fear of punishment, and the girl lights all the matches at the same time.
In the story, the two hypostases of the ambivalent, dual world freely flow into each other, for example, the lights of a wonderful Christmas tree turn into stars, and the light of the match into a blazing stove. Not only space is shifting, but also time. After all, a shooting star means the death of the girl herself, who is witnessing the fall of the star in earthly life.
At the end of the story, the two worlds regain their borders. The girl’s body remains on earth, the soul belongs to heaven.
The image of the heroine
The heroine of the story is “a little impoverished girl with her head uncovered and barefoot.” The girl experiences two constant feelings of the poor – cold and hunger. Her bare legs turned blue and reddened from the cold, her apron is old, snowflakes are falling on her beautiful blond hair.
The girl has no name. On the one hand, this is the principle of typification, because the world is full of such poor dying children. On the other hand, nobody needs the life of a girl on earth, as if it does not exist. Only the recently deceased grandmother loved the girl, and in addition to her, God. So the absence of a name is not so much a typification inherent in realism as a romantic separation of the heroine from the townspeople who did not understand her. People thought that she died in misery, but in fact the girl was illuminated with light and joy, she and her grandmother saw miracles and beauty, met New Year’s Happiness .
The story “The Little Match Girl” is based on contrasts. In it, wealth and poverty, the fragility and tenderness of a girl and the rudeness of the wall, at which she dies, coexist. Earthly suffering is contrasted with heavenly happiness, which managed to be reflected and imprinted in the blush and smile of a dead girl.
A girl with matches has become a symbol of a person who unjustly suffers in circumstances alien to her, although she belongs to another world, to which she unsuccessfully aspires. The gray wall of the house where the girl dies is a symbol of an insurmountable barrier separating these worlds and disappearing only by a miracle.
Symbolically, the time of action in the story. A time of miracles for a Westerner is Christmas. It has already passed without any relief. New Year becomes for the child the beginning of a new heavenly life, he plays the role of Easter – death and resurrection.
In “The Little Match Girl” the role of the storyteller is huge. He is omnipresent, as God, observes the visions, thoughts and feelings of the heroine, gives an assessment to them, her appearance and actions. Without a narrator, the story would have turned into a story about how on the New Year’s Eve a small impoverished saleswoman of matches froze. This point of view is presented in a remark of people: “She wanted to warm herself.” But this, of course, is not the point. Only the narrator can discover the true motives and dreams of the heroine, her past and even her eternal heavenly life.