Literature: The Little Match Girl

"The Little Match Girl" (originally titled: "Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne" meaning "The little girl with the matchsticks") is Hans Christian Andersen's short story about a dying child's hallucinations at New Year's Eve. First published in 1845, it has been adapted into different media such as a Disney short and a Made-for-TV Movie. While technically a New Years story, it works at any time during the winter.

On a cold New Year's Eve, a little girl freezes barefoot outside with nothing but the matches she sells to keep her warm, afraid to return home without selling them. She looks into the window of the house she sits in front of, and pictures how nice it would be to celebrate with a family. The girl strikes her matches one by one, first trying to derive warmth, and then to see the beautiful images their light provides. She looks up and sees a shooting star, and recalls that her grandmother once told her that whenever a star streaks across the sky like that, a person goes to heaven. She lights all of her matches and it's as if she can celebrate with her grandmother right there, and on New Year's Day all that's left is her frozen body huddled against the building, smiling.

The full English translation can be found here, and the Disney short can be found here. There was also a 1977 Toei anime adaptation. Additionally, there was a French silent film that can be found here. The adaptation differs from the original, though. It has also been adapted as an audiobook with slideshow here.

For a very similar story with a little boy, see Fyodor Dostoevsky's A Child at Christ's Christmas Party, written thirty years later.

Tropes in "The Little Match Girl":

  • Abusive Parents: The original story says that her father will beat her if she returns without selling all of her matches.
  • Barefoot Poverty: In the freezing winter, and just a part of the reason that she froze to death.
  • Crapsack World
  • Died Happily Ever After
  • Disneyfication: Averted, even by Disney. Unlike most of Andersen's other works, adaptations usually stick with the original story. The only exception is the Michael Sporn version where she had a Disney Death and eventually revives in that adaptation.
    • That said, many adaptations do paint the events as a tragedy, while the tone of the original treats this as a happy ending.
    • Terry Pratchett, who usually snarks at Disneyfication, had fun upending this in a rather Heartwarming way in Hogfather. Death saves the little girl while Albert throws snowballs at the angels.
    There is no better gift than a future, Albert.
    • In one film version, the Virgin Mary takes the girl to Heaven. It is unclear if the little girl is meant to be dead or if she is taken to Heaven physically, which is an obvious parallel to the Virgin Mary herself.
    • Im the HBO Storyhook Musicals version the little girl does not die and it ends Happily Ever After.
    • In a German adaption, she still dies, but her death leads to the arrest of the leader of her Orphanage of Fear which improves the other orphans' lives significantly. Also, she actually sold her matches but bought another orphans matches so he doesn't go home without having sold anything. So her death could be interpreted as a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Downer Ending
  • Dying Alone: Technically, but by striking her matches she imagines her grandmother there with her. It's so SAD.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job
  • Go Out with a Smile
  • Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: An innocent young girl, Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
  • Heaven: When the little girl dies, the spirit of her grandmother carries her soul to Heaven: "They both flew upwards in brightness and joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God."
  • Karma Houdini: The father, although we don't know much about him (meaning he might not be all that bad by Victorian standards) and since he's just lost his daughter, he probably won't be feeling too great right now...
  • Kill the Cutie: Seriously Andersen, what was your issue?
  • Light Is Good: The light of the little girl's matches bring her warmth and comfort and visions of happiness. The light of the stars reminds her of heaven.
  • Nameless Narrative: Nobody is named in the story.
  • Snow Means Death: Of course, here the snow caused death.
  • Stars Are Souls: Inverted, falling stars represent someone dying.
  • Talking in Your Dreams
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth

Alternative Title(s):

Little Match Girl