The Little Match Seller

the little match girlAlthough very short, this well-known story by Danish poet and writer Hans Christian Andersen is one of the saddest Christmas stories ever told. A poor little girl freezes to death in the snow as everyone else is warm inside their houses getting ready for a big New Year’s dinner. Sadly, child labor and people freezing to death still take place in the world today.

English Learner Vocabulary Help

The words and expressions in our Simplified English story which are not in our Pre-Intermediate Level 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , and .

General Comments on the Story

Andersen trained for the theater when he was young. Although he never performed as an actor, this was to help him greatly later in life. As well as writing stories, authors of the time often performed public readings of their works. George Griffen, an American diplomat, wrote of an Andersen performance of “The Little Match Seller”:

He is a remarkably fine reader, and has often been compared in this respect to (Charles) Dickens — Dickens was in truth a superb reader, but I am inclined to think that Andersen’s manner is far more impressive and eloquent. Both of these men have always read to crowded houses. Dickens voice was perhaps better suited for the stage than the reading desk. It was stronger and louder than Andersen’s, but nothing like as mellow and musical. I heard Dickens read the deathbed scene of Little Nell in New York, and I was moved to tears, but I knew that the author himself was reading the story; but when I heard Andersen read the story of the Little Girl with the Matches, I did not think of the author at all, but wept] like a child, unconscious of everything around me.

It is said that the story was written to call attention to the suffering being experienced by many children in Europe at the time. In addition to Andersen’s acting talent, one of the reasons that he was able to move people to tears when reading it aloud may be that he felt so strongly about its message. The most notable thing about the story is its powerful imagery. The story is told from a omniscient , and is unusual in that there is almost no dialogue. There are only two sets of “spoken” words in the whole story, and these don’t occur until near the very end. The first is when the little girl cries out to the vision of her dead grandmother. The second is the suggestion that those who find the body the next morning can think of nothing more to say than: She tried to warm herself. This could well be why, when Disney decided to produce an animated film based on the story in 2006, they chose to make it as a silent film. Interestingly, the first ever film version of the story (made in 1902) was also silent. If you are interested, you can watch both of these below:

fairy tales of hans christian andersenOur source for the story was a children’s book called Tales of Hans Christian Andersen, available as an e-book from Project Gutenberg here.

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candle(n: candle pl candles) Wax that has been formed into a stick or another shape and has a string in the middle that can be burned to give light. 3000

carriage(n: carriage pl carriages) 1. A horse-drawn vehicle with four wheels that is used to carry people. 2. [British] A separate section of a train. A railway carriage. 4000

freeze(v: freeze, freezes, froze, frozen, freezing) 1. To make or be very cold. If you get lost in the snow you will freeze to death. 2. To make or become hard because of cold. Every winter the river freezes over. 3. To make or become stiff, still or unable to move. She froze with fear when she heard the strange noise. 4. To fix at a certain level. a price/wage freeze 2000

goose(n: goose pl geese) A web-footed bird that swims like a duck, but is larger and has a longer neck. 4000

match(n: match pl matches) 1. A short thin piece of wood with a special tip that produces fire when it is rubbed against something else. He lit a match. 2. Someone or something that is equal to or as good as another person or thing. She has finally met her match at arguing. 3. A contest between two or more players or teams. A soccer match. 1000

misery(n: misery pl miseries) [something that causes] Great suffering or unhappiness; a very unhappy or painful time or experience. The war brought misery to thousands of refugees. The last years of her life were a misery. 3000

pain(n: pain pl pains) The physical feeling caused by sickness, injury, or mental or emotional hurt. He felt a sharp pain in his back. It caused him pain to talk about his wife's death.)
(adj: painful; painless) Causing pain. A painful injury.; Without pain. Painless childbirth. 2000

roast(v: roast, roasts, roasted, roasting) To cook food [such as chicken, potatoes, or beef] with dry heat in an oven or over a fire. 4000

rubbing(v: rub, rubs, rubbed, rubbing) To move something [such as your hand or an object] back and forth along the surface of something else while pressing. 2000

shiver(v: shiver, shivers, shivered, shivering) To move back and forth or from side to side slightly because you are cold, afraid, etc. 5000

soul(n: soul pl souls) The spirit; the non-physical part of a person that is believed to give life to the body and in many religions is believed to live forever. (วิญญาณ) 3000

(n: third person) In literature, a writing style where a story is told by someone who is not a character, using 'he', 'she', 'it' and 'they' as subject pronouns when describing what characters do. The writer may choose for the knowledge of the third person to be limited (in which the reader enters the mind of only one character at a time) or omniscient (all-knowing, where the thoughts of every character are open to the reader).

(n: point of view) A way of looking at or thinking about something; viewpoint. Even if you disagree with her, you should try to see things from her point of view.
In literature, the position of the storyteller (narrator) in relation to the story being told. The two most common points of view in short stories are 'first person' [where the narrator is a character in the story] and 'third person' [where the narrator is not part of the story].

This very short (4 minute) British silent film is said to be notable for two things. It is one of the earliest attempts to bring a well-known work of fiction to the screen, and one of the first films to use special effects for dramatic purposes as opposed to creating laughter. To watch online, click here. To download the mp4, click here.
A short (6 minute) film adaption of the story from Disney. It was originally intended to be part of another ‘Fantasia’ re-make which did not proceed. This probably explains why the film is completely set to music. The story follows the original quite closely. The only major change is that the film is set in Russia, possibly because of the music selected: the third movement of Nocturne from String Quartet No. 2 in D Major by Alexander Borodin. To watch online, click here. To download the mp4, click here.

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