Charles Dickens wrote one of his best sellers ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1843. Between 1838 and 1842 there were high levels of unemployment because the economy was in recession – this was the era he wrote his later novel in. Later on this era was referred to as ‘the hungry forties’ by some historians. Nine years earlier, 1834, The Poor Law Amendment was guided by the ‘principle of less eligibility’. As a result of the ‘principle of less eligibility’ the Union Workhouses were created. The poor had to be desperate to go there. While Dickens was lodging at his sister Fanny’s house with her husband and their crippled five year old son, he conceived the idea of writing a Christmas story about the poor, to bring it to the attention of the wealthier people’s attention.
Dickens sells the idea of charity and benevolence in his book by having Scrooge being a “…A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!” who doesn’t approve of Christmas or charitable events, as this would mean spending money. Dickens also wrote about this in his book “Pickwick Papers” (December 1836). Dickens implies that even someone like Scrooge can change and find happiness if only he learns to love people. In stave 1, Dickens promotes the idea of benevolence, charity and philanthropy. When Dickens wrote the book it promoted benevolence in such a way that in 1843, Lord Jeffrey said the book “had prompted more positive acts of benevolence than can be traced to all the pulpits in Christendom since 1842”.
Dickens creates the character Scrooge. Dickens shows us that Scrooge is a miser and a miserable “old sinner!” Scrooge’s attitude towards his nephew Fred when Fred greeted him with ‘Merry Christmas’ was of the unpleasant kind and his reply was “Bah!….. Humbug!” and “Every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!” Even when Fred says: ” I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?” Scrooge throws a horrible comment back in his face. When two charitable gentlemen came by to ask for money, to give the poor some food and warmth for the festive season, Scrooge replied “Are there no prisons?” and “And the Union Workhouses?….. Are they still in operation.”
“…Oh I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course.” Then Scrooge goes onto say: “I don’t make myself merry at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry.” “If they would rather die…they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population” Dickens makes Scrooge say these words, as Scrooge is the ‘villain’ in this story so people will disagree with Malthus’s words, which are from Malthus’s ‘Essay on the Principle of Population’ (1803), which proposed the idea that ‘nature’ can only produce a particular amount of food – so that it is only ‘natural’ that ‘the surplus population’ would starve.
Dickens uses Cratchit, the employee and Scrooge, the employer to show the readers a harsh employer who doesn’t treat his employee with respect. When Cratchit asks Scrooge for a day off on Christmas day, he was reluctant as he was paying a day’s wages for no days work, he then says: “…But I suppose you must have the whole day off. Be here all the earlier next morning.”