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The Little Match Seller: Summary & Characters

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Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

'The Little Match Seller' tells the story of a girl who dies on New Year's Eve while having visions of happiness and warmth. Learn about the author, read a summary, and get to know the title character of this short story by Hans Christian Andersen. Updated: 01/23/2022

Hans Christian Andersen

''The Little Match Seller'' is a story written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845 and is also sometimes called ''The Little Match Girl.'' The story has been translated from Danish, where the title is ''Den Lille Pige med Svovlstikkerne,'' meaning ''The little girl with the matchsticks.'' Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish writer known for such fairy tales as ''The Little Mermaid,'' ''The Emperor's New Clothes,'' and ''The Ugly Duckling.'' Just as the German fairy tales written by the Grimms brothers in the 19th century are much darker in tone and content than what we as modern readers and viewers of Disney versions of fairy tales expect, so too are Andersen's stories. This short story encapsulates how a little girl transforms herself from hopeless to hopeful on the very cold last night of her life.

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  • 0:04 Hans Christian Andersen
  • 0:54 Story Summary
  • 3:02 ''The Little Match…
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Story Summary

The story opens on the night of New Year's Eve. This time of year is cold in most places, but it's particularly frigid in Scandinavian countries like Denmark. The little girl who is the title character of the story is not given a name; she appears shoeless and cold as she tries to sell matches to passersby. Andersen notes that she has ''long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders,'' seemingly the only bright and beautiful detail in the scene. There aren't many people out because they're all celebrating the holiday inside. She hasn't earned any money and is afraid to go home empty-handed because her father might beat her.

As she moves through the dark, bleak streets, the little girl observes various celebrations taking place in the homes whose windows she can see through. Families are celebrating with feasts, warm fires, and Christmas trees that haven't been taken down yet. The little girl moves into a space between two houses and huddles there. She decides to light a match to enjoy the warmth, however brief it might be. While the match is lit, the girl has a vision of the dinner scene taking place on the other side of the wall she's huddled against. In her vision, the goose hops off the plate and over to her. As soon as the flame goes out, the vision disappears.

The girl continues to light matches, each time having a vision of happiness and feeling of warmth until the match burns out seconds later. One vision is celebrating by a Christmas tree, another was that she was warming herself by a hot stove. Then the girl sees a falling star and thinks to herself, ''Someone is dying,'' because once her own dead grandmother told her that a falling star meant someone was going to heaven. Her final vision is of her beloved grandmother, and she continues to light matches, one after the other, to keep her in sight. The fact that she sees the falling star and maintains the vision of her grandmother implies that the little girl is nearing death herself.

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