Anderson wrote his fairy tales in the 1830s, during the height of the industrial revolution. It was a time of great contrasts between rich and poor, owners and workers. The Little Match Girl reflects this era, with the poor little girl trying to sell matches to indifferent passers-by on a freezing new year’s eve. Unable to sell her matches, unable to return home from fear of her father’s anger, she huddles in an alley and lights matches to keep warm. Magically, images of a happy holiday appear in the matches’ circle of light, ending with the little girl being carried away in her grandmother’s arms.
In my version, the girl is looking at one of the holiday scenes that appear. She sees holiday revelers: the haves, the robber barons, the investment bankers, the top 1% who control 42% of this country’s financial wealth. They enjoy themselves heartily, oblivious to the plight of the poor.
And the girl? Why can’t she go home? Perhaps her parents, foolishly, believed they could afford a balloon mortgage, and have been forced into the street when their house was foreclosed. Perhaps her parents were laid off, and since health care is tied to employment in this country –still, even with some health care reforms– all their money goes to paying for medicine for a sick family member. She fears her father’s anger; perhaps she and her mother would be better off in a shelter for battered women, but state budget cuts have closed their doors.
Did I say this was a story about the industrial revolution? Unfortunately, it’s a tale for our time, as well.
The Little Match Girl
Linoleum block print with hand coloring
Edition of 22
There is a lot of interesting contemporary work based on this story. Here are some links for you.
• An interesting interview with David Lang, composer of the Little Match Girl Passion, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for music. He talks about the story and its imlicaitons and his reaction to it. Well worth the visit.
• Pixar’s animated version. Have your tissues handy.
• A play by Jack Neary, The Little Match Girl, in its entirety on Google Books.