Short Story Dec. 23: Andersen
“The Little Match Girl” by Hans Christian Andersen
Quote of Note: “But in the corner, at the dawn of day, sat the poor girl, leaning against the wall,with red cheeks and smiling mouth — frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and cold she sat, with the matches, one bundle of which was burned.”
When I was five, my mom took me to see the ballet version of “The Little Match Girl” for the first of many times. She was a little anxious about bringing me with her because (1) the ballet is rather long and squirmy kids in an audience are the worst and (2) it’s really, really depressing. According to her, I surprised her by sailing through it, entranced by the array of characters that appear every time she lights a match and unconcerned by the tragic ending, responding only that the little girl was in heaven now.
What strikes me now about reading the story as an adult is how morally reprimanding it is compared to my childhood experiences with the ballet. The horror that a young girl was freezing to death and no one did anything was not lost in the ballet, but the final moment in the story, where the narrator steps back and returns to the dead body of the girl out on the street, was not part of the ballet. The ballet ends, instead, with the little match girl, up in heaven, surrounded by angels and everything is white and beautiful and romantic. In the story, the little match girl’s death is only romantic in heaven, back down on earth it is not romantic at all, and only further highlights the gruseomeness of humanity.