The Little Match Girl

by

Hans Christian Andersen

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Christianity and the Afterlife Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Cruelty of Poverty Theme Icon
Christianity and the Afterlife Theme Icon
Fairy Tales vs. Reality Theme Icon
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Christianity and the Afterlife Theme Icon

Christianity was central to the culture of 19th century Denmark (Andersen’s native country), and “The Little Match Girl” reflects this in its depiction of death as being beneficial and good: a means of transcending earthly life, reuniting with deceased loved ones, and connecting with God. By portraying death as a more positive outcome than continuing to live in poverty, Andersen suggests that dying isn’t something to be feared, since it is only through death that human beings can be reunited with God and be free of earthly pain and suffering. This notion is not only an endorsement of Christian ideas; it also offers an implicit criticism of the industrialized society the little match girl leaves behind after death, which he suggests is inherently flawed compared to the Christian ideal of the afterlife.

In “The Little Match Girl,” light is frequently associated with comfort and a godly presence. This presents itself initially through the juxtaposition Andersen makes between the “cold and darkness” of the city streets and the bright lights shining from inside the windows of the upper classes’ homes, but culminates in the visions brought about by the “blessedly warm” flames of the matches. Andersen’s use of the word “blessedly” implies a parallel between the reprieve that light and warmth offer from Earthly suffering and the eternal comfort that the afterlife promises. Similarly, the story’s claim that a shooting star represents “the soul of a human being traveling to God” is worth noting in the context of the common association of shooting stars with wish fulfillment. The little girl’s plea for the vision of her deceased grandmother to “Take me with you!” can thus be construed as a kind of prayer, suggesting that death is not something to be avoided—rather, it is where true love, happiness, and contentment lie. This is echoed by one of the story’s final images of the New Year’s Day sun shining on the little girl’s corpse after she dies from exposure. This description emphasizes the notion that it is not Earthly comforts that save the little girl from her harrowing situation, but God himself and the comforts the afterlife offers over earthly life.

Andersen uses this Christian outlook on the afterlife to levy some criticisms of the dehumanizing nature of the modern industrial city in comparison to the bliss of heavenly life. The inhabitants of the story’s city, for instance, are characterized as reckless, selfish, and uncharitable, with the little girl not having received “so much as a penny” for the matches she is selling. Despite being surrounded by the flamboyant wealth of people like the “rich merchant,” the little girl goes cold and hungry. It is only in death and in communion with God that she can finally be considered to have achieved something of wealth. Even in death, though, the wealth the girl enjoys is immaterial. Her visions of a decadent holiday feast are not realized—rather, she is simply reunited with her beloved grandmother and with God. As a result, she gains a lasting sense of peace, experiencing “neither cold nor hunger nor fear,” all of which incessantly plagued her life.

With this, Andersen invokes the Christian ideal that love, particularly God’s love, is preferable to any material wealth on Earth. Andersen further emphasizes this concept by adopting a tone of vague pity when describing the townspeople’s muted reactions to the little girl’s death. Being united with God is preferable to a life of suffering on Earth, as he notes the townspeople’s inability to know “the sweet visions” and “glory” that the girl and her grandmother witnessed upon their passage into Heaven. For once in the story, the impoverished little girl has something her fellow townspeople don’t. In this sense, Andersen is noting that, while the girl’s struggles are now effectively over, the townspeople’s struggles will only continue until they, too, are ready to pass on. By portraying the little match girl’s death as a blissful reprieve from the oppressive, dehumanizing realities of industrialized life, Andersen expresses the Christian ideal that the afterlife is something to be revered rather than feared.

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Christianity and the Afterlife Quotes in The Little Match Girl

Below you will find the important quotes in The Little Match Girl related to the theme of Christianity and the Afterlife.
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:

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: