Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | August 25, 2018

A Match Made in Hell

 

Are you familiar with The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson?  It’s a tragic tale about a child trapped in a world of poverty and abuse, hunger and homelessness…

On New Year’s Eve, someone steals her ill-fitting shoes, so the little girl wanders barefoot through the snow, trying to sell matches to uncaring people hurrying home to warm houses and holiday feasts.  No one has a farthing or even a second glance for the unfortunate waif.  If she goes home having sold no matches, her father will beat her.  To keep the cold at bay, she huddles against a wall and strikes her matches, one at a time. In each tiny flame she sees visions: a warm stove, an elegant feast, a Christmas tree lit by candles…  

Then her dead grandmother, the only person who ever treated her with kindness, appears to the shivering child, and carries her soul off to Heaven. The next morning, the strangers who walked past her the night before discover the little match girl’s icy corpse, clutching the burnt-out matches in her frozen fingers.  Too late they feel a twinge of pity.  The end.

As a child, I hated that story.  I was appalled that grownups could look away from a child’s suffering, without lifting a finger to help.  Why would anyone invent such a depressing story, and who would want to hear it?

As an adult, I still hate that story, and even more now, because I realize that when Anderson wrote The Little Match Girl in 1845, except for the bit about the grandmother, he was fictionalizing a deplorable reality he himself was witnessing. He wrote during the Industrial Revolution, when the poor were miserable and overcrowded.  Pollution from the unregulated burning of coal poisoned the air, and factories were dumping metals, chemicals, raw sewage, and other toxins into the lakes and rivers that people depended upon for drinking water.

Wages were so low that the working class toiled 12 to 16 hours a day, yet still couldn’t earn a living wage.  On the brink of starvation, they sent their children to work in factories and mines.  Many were separated from their families, left to the ‘mercy’ of strangers, working ungodly hours for only a place to sleep and the food they ate.

In 1832 it was reported, “…workers are abandoned from the moment an accident occurs; their wages are stopped, no medical attendance is provided, and whatever the extent of the injury, no compensation is afforded.”  

The wealthy were given free reign to exploit the poor. When the Industrial Revolution sparked disputes over inhumane working conditions, the government introduced measures to prevent labor from organizing. The rich got richer, the poor remained poor, and children, who were forced to work all day or starve, couldn’t get an education to help them rise from poverty.

In the USA, industrialization occurred mostly in the North, with an influx of immigrants serving as factory fodder to keep up with attrition and demand. The South had its own foul history of systemic oppression, with its agrarian economy dependent upon human slavery.

Over time, Americans have fought and died for the cause of social justice.  They organized labor unions, which brought an end to child labor, shortened the work week, and ushered in workman’s compensation for on-the-job-injuries. They are still trying to negotiate a living wage.  Public education, Social Security, Medicare, Affordable Healthcare have all helped to even the playing field and a provide a social safety net.  Civil rights, women’s suffrage, Affirmative Action, environmental protection have, too.

We still had a long way to go to overcome class, gender, religious, and racial discrimination, such as the legacy of Jim Crow that still exists.  Yet we saw the middle class grow, the standard of living rise, and each generation doing better than the preceding one, until the 1970s.  What in Hell happened?  Ronald Reagan, and his trickle down economics, for starters.  It has been a downhill slide since then, snowballing since the Trump administration took power.

Today there is a little match girl on every street corner.  Our democratic republic has degenerated into an oligarchy, bought and run by big business, with puppet strings being yanked all the way from Russia.  International treaties have been broken, environmental protections scrapped to increase company profit, families torn apart by inhumane ICE policies, cruelly punishing the innocent children of undocumented immigrants. Affordable Healthcare, Social Security and Medicare are in the administration’s crosshairs.  The three richest men in America own more than half of this country’s wealth.  Our society has regressed two hundred years to become a near perfect match for the one that inspired Hans Christian Anderson to write The Little Match Girl.  A match made in Hell.

I will always hate that story.  But we need to keep telling it, until we can pound out a new ending.  We need to keep telling it, until we never need to tell it again.

©2018 Naomi Baltuck

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Responses

  1. Thank you for telling it, and for hating it.

    • Dear Priscilla,

      I must admit that I chose to share this story today as an apt example of social injustice that most people are familiar with. I still can’t bring myself to tell it because, even when I tell stories of social injustice, and even if I tell a story that doesn’t end happily, I like to leave people with some kind of hope or inspiration. In this story, the grandmother whisking the little girl off to Heaven makes it too easy to accept this as a happy ending and the moral of the story might be construed as, ‘You can put up with injustice and endure hell on earth because in the long run you will go to Heaven.’
      What I appreciate about this story is that Hans Christian Anderson is telling it like it is, and using his mighty pen to call public attention to a social ill, like Charles Dickens did when he wrote Oliver Twist, and Upton Sinclair did with The Jungle.
      xoxo,
      n

      • I suppose the inspiration is that we get to write our own ending, as individuals and perhaps as a collective. What can I do? What can we do together? I’m always hoping we can write better endings.

  2. I have hated it also, but you’ve helped me value it . . . see it in a new light. Thanks, and may we make it as unthinkable as it ought to be. ❤

    • Dear Mary,
      I had to look at it in a new light to appreciate what Anderson was trying to do. As I said to Priscilla in the previous comment, I cannot actually bring myself to tell this story because…” if I tell a story that doesn’t end happily, I like to leave people with some kind of hope or inspiration. In this story, the grandmother whisking the little girl off to Heaven makes it too easy to accept this as a happy ending and the moral of the story might be construed as, ‘You can put up with injustice and endure hell on earth because in the long run you will go to Heaven.’
      What I appreciate about this story is that Hans Christian Anderson is telling it like it is, and using his mighty pen to call public attention to a social ill, like Charles Dickens did when he wrote Oliver Twist, and Upton Sinclair did with The Jungle.”
      xoxo,
      n

  3. Thanks for making me think again, Naomi. I heard on the PBS news yesterday that US companies are allowed to buy back their own shares and thus create an artificial rise in their value and so make more money …
    Never was a better time for this post and to retell that story to adults.
    Meg

    • Oh, Meg, it is so disheartening. But in the last couple of days, two of Trump’s toady minions have been convicted of many crimes, and it is indisputable that Trump knew what they were doing, and ordered them to carry out campaign cover-ups. I think impeachment is finally within reach, but it will take years to repair the damage he has done to our social programs and our environment, and our standing in the global community. Not to mention the hatred he has stirred up. I don’t know if that can ever heal. I have learned more about certain people than I ever wanted to know, based solely on the fact that they knowingly voted to put a malignant racist misogynistic sociopath in the White House.

  4. Thank you so much. This is such a graphic, poignant way to tell how our country is headed backwards, to the 19th century!

    • Hi Judith,
      I am hoping that we can turn things around–it looks like the tide might be changing. Thanks for the visit, and for taking the time to comment.

  5. Bless you, darlin! As I read the Hans Anderson story I was thinking to myself how lucky we are in comparison with those days. My parents were working class and would never have made it out of the mire. But then I realised how blinkered I was being. There is little visible poverty where I live, but if you go looking it’s there. The Food Drops in the supermarkets tell that story. And in our cities they do sit on the pavements begging. So though it’s easier to be a camel, I can’t deny what you are saying Naomi. Would it were not so!

    • Hi Jo,

      So good to hear from you. Yes, we too live in a nice little town not far from Seattle, and you have to look for signs that hint of poverty, but they are there.
      Have a good rest of your summer!
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  6. Sigh. The protections that took so many years to become reality are being tossed into the trash so quickly. And the party in control is doing nothing to ingrain some logic, some common sense, into the whole mess. Your beautiful telling of the story makes it no less sad, as will our chiildren’s children’s telling to their children or grandchildren – the tale of when the U.S. went from nearly being great to being a dark comedy.

    • Well said, Carol. I tell my kids of former days, when there were Republicans who were willing to work with Democrats for the good of the country, and we would feel great whenever we heard that more parkland had been set aside for future generations, or that we had, under the Clintons, finally balanced the budget. So much damage has been done, I don’t know how we will ever recover from this.
      But we must never surrender, never give up!
      I have been so affected by the politics in this country that it is hard to blog without ranting; everything else I might have to say feels so insignificant compared to all that is happening, but it feels great to post and hear from my blogging buddies. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I hope you are still painting and get to travel now and then. I look forward to popping by and visit your blog.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  7. Mother Jones, the famous labor organizer (oy, would she weep looking at the state of organized labor today and how, starting with Reagan, it has been destroyed) knew the power of the Match Girl, when in 1903, she marched the children who were victims of our industrial revolution through this nation and right up to the door of Theodore Roosevelt, who refused to answer her knocks. Others did and the reporters of the nation shared the story of these children with the larger population and the first child labor laws were passed.

    • Dear Judith,
      That is such a great story. Now I have to go and do some reading about it. That would have given me the positive angle with which to tell this story. It is hard to tell such a sad story; I prefer one that is more hopeful, and, as with Mother Jones’ story, one that comes with instructions.
      I hope you and the kids are well!
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  8. You are so correct when you say, we need to keep retelling this story (and others), our voices need to be stronger and louder, history is repeating itself far too often.

    • So true. I don’t know how we could have let things get to this point. Well, actually I do. Washington is a den of thieves who have stolen the keys to the candy store, and they’ve been so busy cramming their own pockets full of ill-gotten gains–like tax cuts for mostly rich people that we can’t afford–and securing their power, so that they can keep on sucking our budget dry. Just like during the Industrial Revolution, it is to the detriment of most Americans. Taking away free lunched for underprivileged school children to give more money to rich white guys who don’t know what to do with the obscene wealth they already have.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts! So good to hear from you.

      • Thanks Naomi. We are not doing all that well here up in Ontario, Canada. The twats that voted in our new Premier, took away guaranteed basic income, updated sex education in our schools. Apparently a buck for a beer is more important to him.

      • I’m so sorry to hear that. There seems to be a disturbing global trend toward hardline conservatism. At least Ontario’s premier, as far as we know, doesn’t advocate grabbing pussy, make secret deals with Russia to sell out his country, specialize in bitchy tweets, and lie and cheat and bully as a rule. But my rotten no- good political ‘leader’ is worse than your rotten no-good political leader is small comfort. Sending good wishes to our neighbors to the north–we need you to stay in fine mettle so that the outspoken liberals and reformers can all flee across the border when they start coming for us.

  9. Always good to see your posts Naomi. I can’t hate the Andersen tale because, like the best-written stories, it stays with you. Certainly I hate the truths which inspired it.

    Of course the US isn’t alone in its continuing (and worsening) social inequality. We see everywhere how the human instinct to climb the ladder and then protect one’s status and possessions has become institutionalised leaving meagre social welfare and charities to deal with the little match girls. And this seems to be sufficient to avoid popular revolutions such as we saw in times past.

    • Dear Roy,
      Like it or hate it, it certainly does stay with you, and you’re right–it means it has hit its mark.
      Here is the US, they are chipping away at the unions, which are the firewalls that stand between us and unchecked greed. We saw how that worked out during the Industrial Revolution. Once you take down the firewalls, it is really hard to win back lost ground.
      I have been very busy, and rather discouraged about the state of affairs here, and so have filled my time with neighborhood action rather than doing much blogging. But once in awhile I still need to put my two cents in!
      It’s go good to hear from you. I hope you are well, Roy. I will head over to your blog and see what you’ve been up to.
      Warmly,
      Naomi

  10. Wow Naomi. There is so much that seems never to change, simply becoming more sophisticated, if you can call the technology and predatory tactics that allows sophisticated. I am filled with responses to your excellent writing, that will have to keep for some time we chat in the future.
    blessings upon you,
    Mary

    • Thanks for checking in, Mary. It’s always good to hear from you. I hope to see you soon.

  11. […] A Match Made in Hell […]

  12. Thank you for your compassion.

    • And thank you for yours. Imagine a world without it. I appreciate your visit, and taking the time to share your thoughts. It brings to mind one of my favorite poems…

      The Tuft of Flowers
      BY ROBERT FROST

      I went to turn the grass once after one
      Who mowed it in the dew before the sun.

      The dew was gone that made his blade so keen
      Before I came to view the levelled scene.

      I looked for him behind an isle of trees;
      I listened for his whetstone on the breeze.

      But he had gone his way, the grass all mown,
      And I must be, as he had been,—alone,

      ‘As all must be,’ I said within my heart,
      ‘Whether they work together or apart.’

      But as I said it, swift there passed me by
      On noiseless wing a ‘wildered butterfly,

      Seeking with memories grown dim o’er night
      Some resting flower of yesterday’s delight.

      And once I marked his flight go round and round,
      As where some flower lay withering on the ground.

      And then he flew as far as eye could see,
      And then on tremulous wing came back to me.

      I thought of questions that have no reply,
      And would have turned to toss the grass to dry;

      But he turned first, and led my eye to look
      At a tall tuft of flowers beside a brook,

      A leaping tongue of bloom the scythe had spared
      Beside a reedy brook the scythe had bared.

      I left my place to know them by their name,
      Finding them butterfly weed when I came.

      The mower in the dew had loved them thus,
      By leaving them to flourish, not for us,

      Nor yet to draw one thought of ours to him.
      But from sheer morning gladness at the brim.

      The butterfly and I had lit upon,
      Nevertheless, a message from the dawn,

      That made me hear the wakening birds around,
      And hear his long scythe whispering to the ground,

      And feel a spirit kindred to my own;
      So that henceforth I worked no more alone;

      But glad with him, I worked as with his aid,
      And weary, sought at noon with him the shade;

      And dreaming, as it were, held brotherly speech
      With one whose thought I had not hoped to reach.

      ‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart,
      ‘Whether they work together or apart.’


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