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Ms. Magnolia

Dear Ms. Magnolia, Hans Christian Andersen was a Danish author noted for his children’s stories. Like Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, “The Little Match Girl” focused a light on a very oppressed and silent group in Europe — its children.

“The Little Match Girl” is a literary fairy story, about a dying child’s dreams and hopes, published in 1845. On a freezing New Year’s Eve, a poor young girl, shivering and barefoot, tries to sell matches in the street. Afraid to go home because her father will beat her for failing to sell any matches, she huddles in the alley between two houses and lights matches, one by one, to warm herself.

In the flame of the matches, she sees a series of comforting visions: a warm iron stove, a lovely roast goose, a glorious Christmas tree. Each vision disappears as its match burns out. In the sky she sees a shooting star, which her late grandmother had told her means someone is on their way to Heaven. In the flame of the next match, she sees her grandmother, the only person who ever treated her with love and kindness.

To keep the vision of her grandmother alive as long as possible, the girl lights all of the matches. When the matches are gone the girl freezes to death, and her grandmother carries her soul to Heaven. The next morning, passers-by find the girl's body and ex press pity.

Andersen appears to want to highlight the plight of the poor and needy to his middle-class readers and points out the uncaring attitude of people who are more affluent. In leaving her dire pov erty on earth, the little girl is happier joining her grandmother in heaven.

Letters have been edited for length and clarity.

If you have a question for Ms. Magnolia, please mail it to P.O. Box 669, Vidalia, GA 30475, or e-mail to [email protected]

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