Reflecting on Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl”

      An old memory popped into my head the other day, causing me to consider Hans Christian Andersen‘s fairy tale of The Little Match Girl. What caused me to muse upon this particular fairy tale? The fact that over a decade ago, I was involved in a ballet production based upon The Little Match Girl.

Marius Zirra photo from last program

      The ballet was a production by Marius Zirra, and at the time, I didn’t ponder the meaning of the story too much, other than to note how Marius used the little match girl’s circumstances to markedly portray the chasm between rich and poor. For in our ballet version, the little match girl watches through a window from outside in the cold, freezing night as a New Year’s Eve party (complete with dancing) goes on in the warmth inside a mansion. Tara, our little match girl, danced a solo as she froze to death, and I remember how passionate and tragic this particular ballet and solo felt. In the morning, the party-goers find the little match girl, frozen solid, but remarkably beautiful, under a layer of ice.

      So our ballet was a little different from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of The Little Match Girl, but not much, and I think the underlying lesson is similar.

      For in Andersen’s original 1845 fairy tale, although the little match girl’s visions, or hallucinations, are a little disparate from Mr. Zirra’s ballet, they still serve to point out the abyss between wealth and poverty. In Andersen’s Little Match Girl, she first has a vision of a warm iron stove, and we know from previously in the story that this is something the little match girl does not have in her own home, which is acutely cold and drafty.

the little match girl by kiriostergaard d4ud96e

      Next, the little match girl sees a stuffed roast goose on a noticeably elegant dinner table. Here, the gap between rich and poor is more distinctly noted, for the poor would not be able to eat so well as what the little match girl envisions as the wall before her melts in the flame of her match.

      Lighting yet another match, she sees a beautiful Christmas tree and remarks that it is even more beautiful than the one “at the rich merchant’s home.” If we had not seen the contrast between rich and poor before now, Hans Christian Andersen points out the divide to us with this comment. And when all three of these visions are considered together, it becomes clear the disparity between those who have a warm place to live, more than enough to eat, and enjoy worldly pleasures can be quite immense.

      And although the Little Match Girl ballet I took part in many years ago did not follow Andersen’s Little Match Girl fairy tale word for word, it authentically captured the gulf between the sad, poor, cold girl out in the street with nothing to eat and the joyous party-goers warm inside, eating, drinking, and dancing around the beautiful Christmas tree at their New Year’s Eve party.

      In the Little Match Girl fairy tale, she lastly sees her dead grandmother, come to take her to heaven where there is no chasm between the haves and have-nots, for there is “neither cold, nor hunger, nor fear,” as Andersen notes. And in Mr. Zirra’s ballet, this transformation is observed in the beauty of the frozen little match girl, covered with ice.

     Tragic, yet inspiring, we can learn much from The Little Match Girl.