In the preface to ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens states that he had “endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an idea”. To what extent do you think he is successful in creating an enjoyable Christmas story with a serious moral message about the treatment of others? ‘A Christmas Carol’ is the story of a single man’s spiritual journey in the festive season. Dickens tries to “raise the Ghost of an idea” by basing the novel on his own experiences as a working class individual in the Victorian era. Dickens raises moral issues still relevant today, such as the immense variation in quality of life between classes.
The topics raised will linger in the readers’ minds, in order for them to understand the social and spiritual consequences of their actions. Dickens’ aim was to raise awareness of a social and economic plight. He chooses to convey this fundamental message through the simple story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner”. This book uses Scrooge as a metaphor to show the wealthy Victorian public the plight of those living in extreme poverty, and that it is never too late to adjust your ways.
This allegory, though basic, is effective, as the one dimensional characters are polarised, emphasising the moral reversal. This allows people to identify more with Scrooge’s spiritual journey. In the preface, Dickens also states that he does not want readers’ to feel “out of humour” after having read the novel. The purpose of the book is seemingly to entertain and enlighten, not to cast a burden onto anyone’s mind. The similarities between characters and the social classes in Victorian society must not be taken with offence.
The book, although not religious, does have undertones of Christianity, clearly shown through the three spirits and the significance of life after death. Scrooge is instantly introduced as a cruel and immoral person, to ensure the audience’s reaction to him is negative. The way Scrooge is described is also reflective on his treatment of the poor: “he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone”. This shows that he never gave away money to anyone, and was greedy with his wealth. Scrooge is also described as a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching, covetous, old sinner”.
This suggests the list of negative characteristics could go on indefinitely. The use of pathetic fallacy strengthens Scrooges image as a ‘bad’ character, although this comparison would have been much more significant in Victorian England, as winters were harsh and bleak, especially for the poor. “No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow more intent upon its purpose”. This description of Scrooge contrasts strongly with that of his nephew, Fred, who is “all in a glow; his face was ruddy and handsome; his eyes sparkled, and his breath smoked again”.
These two descriptions, when juxtaposed, show the extreme linguistic and physical contrasts between the two characters, although they are related. The difference between these two characters simply helps to emphasise Scrooge’s malicious nature and help the readers warm to Fred. Scrooge is also described as “solitary as an oyster”, a manifestation of his reclusive nature and self. However, this leads to the question, is Scrooge like an oyster, holding a pearl inside, with the potential to love and give? The scene with the charity workers is used as a plea for the “poor and destitute” people of Victorian society.
“Many thousands are in want of common necessaries, hundred of thousands are in want of common comforts”. This statement, issued from one charity worker only leads on, however, to a show to Scrooge’s selfishness and lack of empathy. “I don’t make myself merry at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry”. This should influence the audience to act in such a way as to distance themselves from Scrooge’s behaviour, and to give to the poor. The harsh response from Scrooge, coupled with his discourteous tone and rude language implies that he believes unemployed people are worthless and not deserving of his money or time.
Dickens uses Scrooge, throughout this scene, as a mouthpiece for the prevailing attitudes of the particular time – the poor were routinely criminalised. This scene leads to further alienation and hatred of Scrooge. Conversely, Scrooge’s reaction would not have differed greatly from that of people at the time, as support for the poor law and treadmill was common, and Victorian policies greatly endorsed. Through the government’s ideas, people began to criminalise the poor, although this concept is far removed from the assistance they are given today.
Scrooge shows throughout this discussion his support for the imprisonment of poor people, as he has even gone so far as to aid these organisations: “I help to support the establishment I have mentioned: they cost enough”. This also implies he believes that the poor should be encouraged to work, and those who cannot pay their debts, should be imprisoned or put into work houses. Dickens’ viewpoint is seen clearly through this scene as he encourages the audience to dislike Scrooge, as he himself shows criticism for the criminalisation of the deprived.