Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | Study Guide

Hans Christian Andersen

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Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (Selected) | The Little Match Girl | Summary



One cold and snowy New Year's Eve, a poor little match girl wanders the streets of the city without her shoes, carrying an apron full of matches to sell. But no one buys any from her, and as night falls, she is left alone in the cold. One by one, she strikes each match. They give her detailed visions of warmth, ample food, cheer, and people of all ages celebrating the holiday season.

In one lighted match, she sees the image of her dead grandmother, the only person who ever loved her. To keep her grandmother with her as long as possible, the little match girl strikes all the matches in one of her bundles. Brighter than ever, her grandmother holds out her arms to the little girl and takes her away to heaven, where there is no cold or hunger. The next morning, people find the little match girl's frozen body huddled against a corner of the building. A smile is on her lips. The passersby think the girl wanted to keep herself warm, but they have no idea of the beautiful things she has seen, or the radiance of her passing from life into her grandmother's realm.


Andersen was keenly aware of the stark contrasts between the poor and the wealthy, and in this story he paints a stark contrast between the holiday revelers and the freezing child. The grimness of the tale is relieved by the beauty of the main character's visions and the fact she is an instrument in relieving her own poverty by "summoning" her grandmother through her visions.

Andersen said the idea for this story was suggested to him by a painting given to him by his publisher asking him to write a story to go with it. The painting was of a poor girl with a bundle of matches by the Danish painter J.T. Lundbye (1818–48). The tale probably also has in it elements from his mother's childhood memories. Fame came to him only after his mother passed away, and he regretted he could not give her the money she had needed to be more comfortable. When he heard she had died while he was in Italy, Andersen was relieved her sufferings were at an end.

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