Hans Christian Andersen’s short story, The Little Match Girl, was a favorite of mine. This story haunted me. How sad this story was to me. In my world kids did not work outside of the normal house chores. Yet, this poor unnamed girl was made to sell matchsticks in the freezing cold.
I’d wondered, did this really happen? Was this based on a true story? And how could this happen? How could her parents send her out in the snowing weather? How could people in the story just ignore a starving, cold girl?
Hungry and shivering, she went along, poor little thing, a picture of misery.
And if I wasn’t sad enough, in this passage I’m reminded there was only one person in the entire world that cared for this little girl:
“Now, someone is dying,” said the little girl, for her old grandmother, the only person who had ever been good to her, and who was now dead, had said that when a star falls a soul goes up to heaven.
I had read many different versions of The Little Mermaid. Perhaps, there would be another happier version of The Little Match Girl. I sought out this disneyesque version, searching every collection of H.C. Andersen. I never found it. The story always ended the same:
But in the corner by the houses, in the cold dawn, the little girl was still sitting, with red cheeks and a smile upon her lips – frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. The new year’s sun shone on the little body. The child sat up stiffly, holding her matches, of which a box had been burned. “She must have tried to warm her-self,” someone said. No one knew what beautiful things she had seen, nor into what glory she had entered with her grandmother on the joyous new year.
Re-reading this as an adult, I am reminded that in many countries children are selling on the streets so that they might have a bit to eat. In this country there are many children without homes and without enough to eat. The story continues to haunt me. What can I do so a poor child does not die on the streets? Perhaps, by answering this question, I will find my happier ending.
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