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The Little Match-Seller
The Little Match-Seller Märchen

The Little Match-Seller - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 8 min

It was terribly cold and nearly dark on the last evening of the old year, and the snow was falling fast. In the cold and the darkness, a poor little girl, with bare head and naked feet, roamed through the streets. It is true she had on a pair of slippers when she left home, but they were not of much use. They were very large, so large, indeed, that they had belonged to her mother, and the poor little creature had lost them in running across the street to avoid two carriages that were rolling along at a terrible rate. One of the slippers she could not find, and a boy seized upon the other and ran away with it, saying that he could use it as a cradle, when he had children of his own.

The little match-seller Fairy TaleImage: Paul Hey (1867 – 1952)

So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold. In an old apron she carried a number of matches, and had a bundle of them in her hands. No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had any one given here even a penny. Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked the picture of misery. The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.

Lights were shining from every window, and there was a savory smell of roast goose, for it was New-year’s eve– yes, she remembered that. In a corner, between two houses, one of which projected beyond the other, she sank down and huddled herself together. She had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny of money. Her father would certainly beat her; besides, it was almost as cold at home as here, for they had only the roof to cover them, through which the wind howled, although the largest holes had been stopped up with straw and rags. Her little hands were almost frozen with the cold. Ah! perhaps a burning match might be some good, if she could draw it from the bundle and strike it against the wall, just to warm her fingers. She drew one out-„scratch!“ how it sputtered as it burnt! It gave a warm, bright light, like a little candle, as she held her hand over it. It was really a wonderful light. It seemed to the little girl that she was sitting by a large iron stove, with polished brass feet and a brass ornament. How the fire burned! and seemed so beautifully warm that the child stretched out her feet as if to warm them, when, lo! the flame of the match went out, the stove vanished, and she had only the remains of the half-burnt match in her hand.

She rubbed another match on the wall. It burst into a flame, and where its light fell upon the wall it became as transparent as a veil, and she could see into the room. The table was covered with a snowy white table-cloth, on which stood a splendid dinner service, and a steaming roast goose, stuffed with apples and dried plums. And what was still more wonderful, the goose jumped down from the dish and waddled across the floor, with a knife and fork in its breast, to the little girl. Then the match went out, and there remained nothing but the thick, damp, cold wall before her.

She lighted another match, and then she found herself sitting under a beautiful Christmas-tree. It was larger and more beautifully decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door at the rich merchant’s. Thousands of tapers were burning upon the green branches, and colored pictures, like those she had seen in the show-windows, looked down upon it all. The little one stretched out her hand towards them, and the match went out.

The Christmas lights rose higher and higher, till they looked to her like the stars in the sky. Then she saw a star fall, leaving behind it a bright streak of fire. „Some one is dying,“ thought the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only one who had ever loved her, and who was now dead, had told her that when a star falls, a soul was going up to God.

She again rubbed a match on the wall, and the light shone round her. In the brightness stood her old grandmother, clear and shining, yet mild and loving in her appearance. „Grandmother,“ cried the little one, „O take me with you. I know you will go away when the match burns out. You will vanish like the warm stove, the roast goose, and the large, glorious Christmas-tree.“ And she made haste to light the whole bundle of matches, for she wished to keep her grandmother there.

The little match-seller Fairy TaleE. Stuart Hardy (1865 – 1935)

And the matches glowed with a light that was brighter than the noon-day, and her grandmother had never appeared so large or so beautiful. She took the little girl in her arms, and 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.

In the dawn of morning there lay the poor little one, with pale cheeks and smiling mouth, leaning against the wall. She had been frozen to death on the last evening of the year; and the New-year’s sun rose and shone upon a little corpse! The child still sat, in the stiffness of death, holding the matches in her hand, one bundle of which was burnt. „She tried to warm herself,“ said some. No one imagined what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother, on New-year’s day.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The little match-seller“

„The Little Match Girl,“ also known as „The Little Match-Seller,“ is a short story by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845. It is a heart-wrenching tale of a poor little girl who, on a freezing New Year’s Eve, tries to sell matches to support her family. As she is afraid to go home without having sold any matches, she huddles in a corner and lights the matches to keep herself warm.

Backgrounds and Influences:

Social Inequality: The story reflects the harsh realities of poverty and social inequality during the 19th century in Europe. Andersen’s vivid portrayal of the little girl’s struggle and her tragic fate serves as a critique of the social system, which often neglected the poor and vulnerable.

Andersen’s Childhood: Hans Christian Andersen’s own experiences growing up in a working-class family likely influenced the story. His family’s struggles with poverty allowed him to empathize with the hardships faced by the less fortunate, leading to the creation of characters such as the Little Match Girl.

Sentimentality and Romanticism: The story is an example of the sentimentality and Romanticism popular during the 19th century. The tragic circumstances of the little girl’s life, her vivid imagination, and the heart-wrenching conclusion evoke strong emotions in readers and serve as a reminder of the power of empathy and compassion.

Christian Symbolism: Andersen’s Christian faith is present in „The Little Match Girl“ through the use of symbolism. The little girl’s visions of her deceased grandmother, who represents love and warmth, and the girl’s ascent to heaven with her grandmother after her death, reinforce the themes of salvation and hope.

Overall, „The Little Match Girl“ is a powerful and emotive story that reflects the social conditions of its time while touching on universal themes of poverty, hope, and the power of imagination. The story serves as a reminder of the importance of compassion, empathy, and social responsibility.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The little match-seller“

„The Little Match Girl“ by Hans Christian Andersen is a poignant story with various themes and interpretations. Here are some possible interpretations of the story:

The harsh reality of poverty: The story highlights the struggles faced by the poor, particularly children, in the19th century. The little girl’s desperate attempts to sell matches and her fear of returning home without having sold any underscore the harsh reality of poverty and the pressure it puts on those who suffer from it.

The power of imagination and hope: Despite her miserable circumstances, the little girl finds solace in her imagination as she lights the matches and sees beautiful, warm visions. Her imagination offers her a temporary escape from her harsh reality and provides her with hope in her final moments.

The importance of empathy and compassion: The story serves as a reminder of the importance of empathy and compassion towards others, particularly the less fortunate. The little girl’s tragic fate illustrates the consequences of society’s indifference to the plight of those in need.

The theme of salvation and the afterlife: The story contains elements of Christian symbolism, with the little girl’s deceased grandmother representing love, warmth, and salvation. The vision of the girl being taken to heaven by her grandmother offers a sense of hope and consolation, suggesting that there is a better place beyond the hardships of this world.

The critique of social inequality: Andersen’s story can be seen as a critique of the social system that allowed such extreme poverty and suffering to exist. The story challenges the reader to question the societal structures that perpetuate poverty and to consider their own role in addressing these issues.

In summary, „The Little Match Girl“ is a touching story that explores themes such as poverty, hope, imagination, empathy, compassion, and salvation. Through its emotive narrative, it encourages readers to reflect on their own lives and the society they live in, urging them to be more empathetic and compassionate towards others, particularly those who are less fortunate.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The little match-seller“

„The Little Match Girl“ has been adapted into various forms of media over the years, capturing the hearts of audiences with its poignant story. Here are some specific examples of adaptations:

Film and television adaptations:
„The Little Match Girl“ (1928): A silent film directed by Jean Renoir, this adaptation tells the story in a visual format, showcasing the emotions and struggles of the little girl.
„The Little Matchgirl“ (2006): A Disney animated short directed by Roger Allers, part of the Disney Animation Studios‘ „Fantasia 2006“ project, which retells the story without dialogue, relying on visual storytelling and a haunting musical score by Alexander Borodin.

Theater and ballet adaptations:
„The Little Match Girl Passion“ (2007): A musical composition by David Lang, inspired by the story. This piece combines elements of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion with the narrative of the Little Match Girl, exploring themes of suffering, compassion, and hope.
„The Little Match Girl“ ballet: Various ballet adaptations have been created, using dance and music to convey the story’s emotions and themes. One example is choreographer Arthur Pita’s production, which premiered at the Sadler’s Wells Theater in London in 2017.

Literature adaptations:
„The Little Match Girl“ illustrated books: Various illustrated versions of the story have been published, appealing to younger audiences and introducing them to the tale’s themes and messages. One example is a beautifully illustrated edition by artist Rachel Isadora.

Radio and audio adaptations:
BBC radio drama: A radio adaptation of „The Little Match Girl“ was produced by the BBC, using voice acting, sound effects, and music to create an immersive and emotional audio experience for listeners.

Art and other adaptations:
Artwork inspired by the story: Artists have created various works inspired by „The Little Match Girl,“ such as paintings, drawings, and sculptures that capture the essence of the story and its themes.
„The Little Match Girl“ opera: Composed by Helmut Lachenmann, this avant-garde opera explores the story in a unique and challenging way, pushing the boundaries of traditional operatic storytelling.

These are just a few examples of the many adaptations of „The Little Match Girl“ that have been created over the years. Each adaptation offers a unique perspective on the story, allowing it to reach new audiences and continue to touch hearts with its powerful message.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The little match-seller“

„The Little Match-Seller“ by Hans Christian Andersen has been adapted into various forms of media, including films, TV shows, and plays. Here are some notable adaptations:

Animated Films: The story has been adapted into several animated films, including a 1928 silent film by Jean Renoir and a 2006 Russian film by Mikhail Aldashin.

Live-Action Films: In 1953, a live-action film adaptation of the story was released in Denmark, titled „Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne.“ It has since been adapted into several other films, including a 1990 British film titled „The Little Match Girl.“

Opera: The story has been adapted into an opera by the composer Helmut Lachenmann. The opera premiered in Hamburg, Germany, in 1997.

Ballet: In 1995, a ballet adaptation of the story was created by the choreographer Mats Ek. It has since been performed by several ballet companies worldwide.

Children’s Books: The story has been adapted into numerous children’s books, including a 1987 version illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and a 2018 version illustrated by Rachel Isadora.

Musical Theater: The story has been adapted into a musical titled „Match Girl“ by the composer Stephen Schwartz and the librettist David Stern. It premiered in New York City in 2006.

These adaptations have brought the story to new audiences and explored different interpretations of its themes and messages.

Summary of the plot

„The Little Match Girl,“ also known as „The Little Match-Seller,“ is a poignant short story by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the tale of a poor, young girl on a freezing New Year’s Eve. She is trying to sell matches on the street to support her family, but nobody pays her any attention.

Fearing her father’s anger for not having sold any matches, the girl finds a corner to shelter from the cold wind. In an attempt to keep warm, she starts lighting the matches one by one. Each time she lights a match, she experiences vivid, beautiful visions that provide her temporary comfort and happiness. These visions include a warm stove, a festive holiday table laden with food, and a magnificent Christmas tree.

In her final vision, the girl sees her deceased grandmother, who was the only person to have ever shown her love and kindness. Her grandmother appears more radiant and lovely than ever, and the girl lights all the remaining matches to keep her vision alive. The grandmother takes the little girl’s hand, and they ascend together into the sky, where the girl will finally find warmth, love, and happiness.

The next morning, people discover the frozen body of the little girl, still holding the burnt matches in her hand. They express sympathy for her tragic fate but remain unaware of the beautiful visions she had experienced and the loving embrace of her grandmother, who had taken her to a better place.

„The Little Match Girl“ is a heart-wrenching story that explores themes of poverty, imagination, hope, and the importance of empathy and compassion.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The little match-seller“

„The Little Match-Seller,“ also known as „The Little Match Girl,“ is a short story by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. First published in 1845, the story is part of Andersen’s larger collection of fairy tales that includes other famous works such as „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Little Mermaid,“ and „The Emperor’s New Clothes.“

Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a Danish author and poet who gained widespread recognition for his literary contributions, particularly his fairy tales. His stories were often inspired by Danish folklore, personal experiences, and observations of the world around him. Many of Andersen’s tales feature moral lessons and address social issues, reflecting his sensitivity to the human condition and his awareness of the societal problems of his time.

„The Little Match-Seller“ is set during the industrial era in the 19th century, a period characterized by significant social and economic changes across Europe. The story reflects the harsh living conditions of the lower classes during this time, particularly the struggles faced by the urban poor. The tale has been adapted into various forms, including films, stage plays, and animated features, and it remains a powerful and poignant story that continues to touch readers and audiences around the world.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The little match-seller“

„The Little Match-Seller“ is a heart-rending story that has inspired various interpretations. Some of the common interpretations include:

Commentary on social inequality: The story highlights the plight of the poor and the social inequality prevailing during the time. The little girl’s suffering and her visions of warmth, comfort, and abundance emphasize the stark contrast between her reality and the lives of the wealthy. This interpretation calls for empathy, compassion, and awareness of the struggles faced by the less fortunate.

The power of imagination: The girl’s ability to momentarily escape her harsh reality through her vivid imagination highlights the power of the human mind. As she lights each match, she creates a world filled with warmth, joy, and love, demonstrating how imagination can offer solace during difficult times.

The importance of love and human connection: The story emphasizes the need for love and human connection in our lives. The little girl’s grandmother is the only person who ever loved her, and it is through the memory of that love that she finds solace and, ultimately, her eternal reward in the afterlife.

Hope and the promise of a better life: The tale carries a message of hope, as the little girl’s suffering comes to an end when she is reunited with her grandmother. The story suggests that even in the most challenging circumstances, there is the possibility of finding relief and, in this case, eternal happiness in the afterlife.

A critique of society’s indifference: The reactions of the passersby when they find the girl’s lifeless body indicate the indifference of society to the struggles of the poor. This interpretation challenges the readers to reflect on their own actions and attitudes towards those in need, encouraging them to be more understanding and supportive.

Overall, „The Little Match-Seller“ is a moving and thought-provoking tale that carries multiple layers of meaning, emphasizing themes such as social inequality, imagination, love, hope, and the importance of compassion and empathy.

Summary of the plot

„The Little Match-Seller“ is a poignant fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a poor little girl who ventures out into the freezing cold on New Year’s Eve to sell matches. With her feet bare and her hair covered in snow, the girl fails to sell any matches and, afraid of her father’s anger, does not return home. Instead, she seeks shelter between two houses.

In an attempt to warm herself, the girl lights a match and is momentarily transported to a cozy scene with a glowing stove. As the match goes out, the vision disappears, and she is left cold and alone again. She lights another match, and this time, she sees a warm room with a table set for a feast, complete with a roast goose that comes to life and approaches her. When the match goes out, she is left cold and hungry.

The girl lights a third match, finding herself under a magnificent Christmas tree. She reaches for the tree decorations but, as the match goes out, they fade away. Remembering her late grandmother’s words about stars falling when someone dies, the girl lights another match, and her grandmother appears before her. Desperate to stay with her grandmother, the girl lights the remaining matches, illuminating the scene more brightly than ever.

Her grandmother embraces her, and together they ascend to heaven, free from the cold, hunger, and pain of earthly life. The next morning, the little girl is found frozen to death, still holding the burnt matches. While passersby note her attempts to warm herself, they are unaware of the beautiful visions she experienced and the loving reunion with her grandmother in the afterlife.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, EN, EL, DA, ES, FR, IT, NL, RO
Readability Index by Björnsson31.4
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index80.4
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7
Gunning Fog Index9.6
Coleman–Liau Index8.4
SMOG Index8.3
Automated Readability Index8
Character Count5.311
Letter Count4.117
Sentence Count50
Word Count1.000
Average Words per Sentence20,00
Words with more than 6 letters114
Percentage of long words11.4%
Number of Syllables1.254
Average Syllables per Word1,25
Words with three Syllables39
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.9%
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