In this lesson, we’ll examine the settings found in ‘The Little Match Girl.’ We will look at how each of the settings from reality and imagination tell a story about hope in a dark world.
‘The Little Match Girl‘ is possibly one of the saddest holiday stories ever told. This story, by Hans Christian Andersen, is about a little girl who was sent out to sell matches on New Year’s Eve. No one has bought any of her matches, and so she is afraid her father will beat her if she goes home empty handed. She ends up huddled in a corner lighting match after match.
With each match she imagines a beautiful scene. In one match she sees her recently deceased grandmother who takes the little girl to heaven with her. In the morning, the little girl is found frozen to death.This story is typically pictured occurring in a large, busy city such as Copenhagen since the author is from Denmark and lived much of his adult life in Copenhagen. The main setting of this story is the corner between two houses where this little girl sits huddled. More important are the places that this little girl imagines seeing within each match. This lesson will look at all the settings of the story.
Setting, Physical Location, and Time
This story occurs on New Year’s Eve on a particularly cold day. ‘Most terribly cold it was; it snowed and was nearly quite dark.’ It appears to be a bustling and busy city since earlier in the day she lost her slippers when two carriages ran past her quite quickly. After that one slipper ‘had been laid hold of by an urchin, and off he ran with it’ and the other could not be found. So we get the feeling that it is a busy city.This little girl was afraid to go home.
Besides, home was not much better than out here in the cold. She would have a roof over her head but ‘the wind still whistled, even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.’ And since she would certainly receive a beating (for not selling any matches) once going home, she decided it would be best to simply curl up between two houses. Here she eventually decided to light a single match (which turned into several matches) in order to stay warm. With these matches she began to picture much nicer places.
This setting clearly shows a poor girl. This is a girl out in the cold, but even sitting out in the elements is better in her mind than going home. This goes to tell us just how bad her home must be.
Setting and Imagination
Once this little girl has settled down and lit a match, the scene changes into a much nicer one – the scene of imagination. We now see ‘a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top.’ This isn’t just a nice sight, but it also offers warmth and comfort.
We can feel the warmth coming from the stove as she puts her feet up. But suddenly it disappears with the match.With the next match, the wall she is leaning up against disappears and she can see inside.
There she sees a beautiful feast with ‘a splendid porcelain service’ and a beautifully cooked goose, which ‘hopped down from the dish’ and danced a little jig for her. It sounds like quite the sight, which could bring a smile to our face as well as the little girl’s. But once again the match suddenly goes out, and the goose is gone and the wall once again becomes a normal wall.With the light of the next match ‘she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree’ and this one match became ‘Thousands of lights. . .
burning on the green branches.’ As this match went out the tree didn’t disappear like the others. Instead it rose up into the sky, becoming the stars.
Then she notices one star fall from heaven, which to her meant that someone had died. Her beloved grandmother, ‘the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more’ had taught her this.When the little girl lights the next match, she sees her grandmother standing before her. The little girl is so anxious to keep her grandmother there that she lights the entire bundle of matches.
She begs her grandmother to take her with her. And she does. ‘She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety – they were with God.’In the morning, all that is left of this scene is a frozen little girl with a pile of burnt out matches.
The people passing by cannot see what the little girl saw. All that is left is what the physical eye can see, but they do not know of the beautiful scenes that the little girl had beheld.
‘The Little Match Girl‘ is a story about a poor girl who would rather spend the cold night outside between two houses than go home to her abusive father. This sad scene changes to happy scene after happy scene as the little girl lights match after match. Each match lights up her imagination and she sees warm stoves, feasts with a dancing goose, and a Christmas tree. Finally she sees her grandmother who takes her into her arms and brings her to heaven with her.
The scenes in this story starkly show the difference between the gloominess of reality and the light of imagination and hope.