The Little Match Girl

by

Hans Christian Andersen

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The Matches’ Flames Symbol Analysis

The Matches’ Flames Symbol Icon

When the little girl burns her matches to keep herself warm, their “strange light” brings wondrous visions of warmth, kindness, and celebration until she freezes to death when the flames burn out. The short-lasting flames, therefore, embody how the delight and comfort of escapism is only a temporary form of liberation from poverty. After spending a frigid day trying to sell the matches on the street, the girl uses them as a literal escape from the cold (to warm herself) and they also lead to an emotional escape through her visions, which make her feel comforted in a hostile environment. While these two aspects—physical warmth and emotional comfort—are nice for her, the escapism of the matches cannot last. After all, just as all the matches flame out, she is left with her unendurable reality and ultimately freezes to death. Andersen thereby suggests that escapism is an inevitable part of enduring such a terrible life because, though temporary, it can provide badly-needed comfort. However, in a sense, escapism is only useful when you’re in a situation that you need help enduring. The little match girl’s poverty is so dire that attempting to endure it doesn’t make sense—she needs not simple escapism, but rather real escape that can only come in the form of death. So, just as her situation is too dire for the matches to keep her warm, her poverty is too horrible and unendurable for emotional escapism to save her in any lasting sense, and the short-lasting warmth and fleeting visions of the matches represent this harsh reality—they are extinguished, and so, too, is the little girl’s life.

The Matches’ Flames Quotes in The Little Match Girl

The The Little Match Girl quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Matches’ Flames. 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

“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 Matches’ Flames Symbol Timeline in The Little Match Girl

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Matches’ Flames 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
...one of her matches to warm them. She holds her hands over the warm, bright flame, which gives a “strange” light. The match, it seems, has become an iron stove, and... (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 becomes “transparent as a veil” and the... (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 and more beautifully decorated” than one... (full context)