The Little Match Girl

by

Hans Christian Andersen

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The Little Match Girl Character Analysis

The Little Match Girl is a child who is selling matches in the cold streets of an unnamed city on New Year’s Eve. She hasn’t sold a single match all day, and while she is freezing and miserable, she doesn’t dare return home without having earned money, since she fears her abusive father will beat her. To make matters worse, the Little Match Girl has lost both her slippers, so her feet are naked on the cold ground, and her hands are so cold that they are almost numb. Eventually, she becomes so cold and hungry that she decides to light one of her matches to warm her hands. In the light of that match (and the subsequent ones she strikes), she has visions: an indoor fireplace to warm her feet, a holiday feast, a bright-lit Christmas tree. Finally, she has a vision of her deceased grandmother, the “only person” who ever loved her. After striking the remainder of her matches to keep this vision alive and begging her grandmother to take her to heaven, the Little Match Girl freezes to death on the cold street and sees herself flying with her grandmother to God, where there is “neither cold, nor hunger, nor fear.” Freezing to death on a city street while trying unsuccessfully to sell matches to wealthy people is a terrible fate for a child, but the ending is not depicted as wholly tragic: the Little Match Girl has escaped her terrible life and moved on to a better world in heaven. That the Little Match Girl’s life on earth was so wretched as to make freezing to death preferable to continuing to live, however, is Andersen’s indictment of the evils of child labor and rampant capitalism that disregards community and kindness. The Little Match Girl is surrounded by the light, wealth, and food of those around her, but nobody thinks to share with her or help this vulnerable member of the community, and even her own father prioritizes her ability to make money over her wellbeing, which leads to her death.

The Little Match Girl Quotes in The Little Match Girl

The The Little Match Girl quotes below are all either spoken by The Little Match Girl or refer to The Little Match Girl. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Anchor Books edition of The Little Match Girl published in 1983.
The Little Match Girl Quotes

In this cold and darkness walked a little girl. She was poor and both her head and feet were bare. Oh, she had had a pair of slippers when she left home; but they had been too big for her—in truth, they had belonged to her mother. The little one had lost them while hurrying across the street to get out of the way of two carriages that had been driving along awfully fast. One of the slippers she could not find, and the other had been snatched by a boy who, laughingly, shouted that he would use it as a cradle when he had a child of his own.

Related Characters: The Little Match Girl
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

The snowflakes fell on her long yellow hair that curled so prettily at the neck, but to such things she never gave a thought. From every window of every house, light shone, and one could smell the geese roasting all the way out in the street. It was, after all, New Year’s Eve: and this she did think about.

Related Characters: The Little Match Girl
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:

She didn’t dare go home because she had sold no matches and was frightened that her father might beat her. Besides, her home was almost as cold as the street. She lived in an attic, right under a tile roof. The wind whistled through it, even though they had tried to close the worst of the holes and cracks with straw and old rags.

Related Characters: The Little Match Girl, Father
Page Number: 306-307
Explanation and Analysis:

“Someone is dying,” whispered the little girl. Her grandmother, who was dead, was the only person who had ever loved or been kind to the child; and she had told her that a shooting star was the soul of a human being traveling to God.

She struck yet another match against the wall and in its blaze she saw her grandmother, so sweet, so blessedly kind.

“Grandmother!” shouted the little one. “Take me with you! I know you will disappear when the match goes out, just like the warm stove, the goose, and the beautiful Christmas tree.” Quickly, she lighted all the matches she had left in her hand, so that her grandmother could not leave. And the matches burned with such a clear, strong flame that the night became as light as day. Never had her grandmother looked so beautiful. She lifted the little girl in her arms and flew with her to where there is neither cold nor hunger nor fear: up to God.

Related Characters: The Little Match Girl, Grandmother
Related Symbols: The Matches’ Flames
Page Number: 307-308
Explanation and Analysis:

In the cold morning the little girl was found. Her cheeks were red and she was smiling. She was dead. She had frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The sun on New Year’s Day shone down on the little corpse; her lap was filled with burned-out matches. “She had been trying to warm herself,” people said. And no one knew the sweet visions she had seen, or in what glory she and her grandmother had passed into a truly new year.

Related Characters: The Little Match Girl
Related Symbols: The Matches’ Flames
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Little Match Girl PDF

The Little Match Girl Character Timeline in The Little Match Girl

The timeline below shows where the character The Little Match Girl appears in The Little Match Girl. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Little Match Girl
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
On a cold and snowy New Year’s Eve, a little girl walks the city streets barefoot and without a hat. Earlier in the day, the girl... (full context)
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
As she wanders the streets, the snow falls on the girl’s long blonde hair, which “curled so prettily” along her neck. However, “to such things” the... (full context)
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Christianity and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
The little girl sits on a street corner against a building. Although she is getting colder, she does... (full context)
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
With her hands “numb from cold,” the little girl lights one of her matches to warm them. She holds her hands over the warm,... (full context)
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
The little girl strikes another match, and when the flame hits the wall of the building, the wall... (full context)
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
The little girl burns yet another match, the flame this time conjuring a brilliant Christmas tree “much larger... (full context)
Christianity and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
The little girl views a shooting star create “a line of fire across the sky” and notes that... (full context)
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Christianity and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
The girl burns another match, this time viewing the face of her “blessedly kind” grandmother. She implores... (full context)
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Christianity and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
The little girl’s body is discovered with all of her  matches used up the next day, having frozen... (full context)