‘The Little Match Girl’ by Hans Christian Andersen

Andersen, Hans Christian 1845

The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Andersen, 1845

The magic trick:

The modest scope of the little match girl’s visions of happiness

The little match girl’s story is bound to be a sad one. How could it not be? I mean we’re talking about a poor kid who stays out in the cold to avoid her abusive father and freezes to death dreaming of her grandmother’s love. A real Christmas tear jerker.

But there is one element that cuts through the saccharine plot: the little match girl’s dream visions. In some ways, her dreams only up the level of sentimentality, but it’s good sentimentality; it’s specific and exceedingly touching sentimentality. The girl lights matches to warm herself before she dies and imagines scenes of happiness. Her happiness doesn’t involve bags of money or fancy merchandise. She just wishes for basic kindness, warmth, familial bonds. Her dreams are heartbreaking in their simplicity. And that’s quite a trick on Andersen’s part.

The selection:

She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried plums.

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