The novella written by the renowned author Charles Dickens centralises around the theme of Christmas, as a pivotal motif for not only the celebration of Christ, but for its analogous time of unification of people of different social classes. It also possesses a metaphorical meaning of ‘rebirth’ as the underpinning story is about the physiological rebirth of the allegorical Ebenezer Scrooge from a callous misanthropist – the rich gentry – into a benevolent being willing to recognise the plight of the working class. This therefore calls for a celebration: Christmas.
A time of bestowing material and emotional wealth, which Scrooge has unearthed, and become a part of in the festivity. The theme of Christmas and generosity is exemplified throughout the novella by characters such as Fred, Fezziwig, the Ghost of Christmas past and present and Scrooge as he changes into someone who believes in Christmas and its spirit of generosity. In the novella, Dickens asks, in effect, for people to recognise the plight of those whom the Industrial Revolution has displaced and driven into poverty, and the obligation of society to provide for them humanely.
In the exposition of the novella we are told that ‘it was Christmas Eve’, and are shown that this is a time when society is perhaps more divided than any time of the year. This is shown when the ‘portly gentlemen’ visit Scrooge, and declare: ‘This is the time of the year where want is felt most keenly…many are in need of common necessities’. The phrase ‘common necessities’ implies that some people in society do not even have enough to provide materially to feed their families, let alone be able to celebrate Christmas.
The fact that these ‘necessities’ are considered a ‘want’ rather than a desperation is rather ambiguous, and could infer that this deprivation has manifested into a desire, rather than a genuine need, as they have become so adapted to the ill treatment received, especially under the Poor Laws. Dickens reminds us of the inequality between Rich and Poor in the Victorian London, shown in the juxtaposition of Scrooge (representing the class of rich industrialists) and the Cratchit family (representing the Working Poor), and how individuals like Scrooge have the power to change this dynamic, should they choose to distribute their wealth.
This links directly to the novella, and especially the word ‘carol’, which suggests a vocal and therefore public expression, something the portly gentlemen try to convey to Scrooge. Dickens could be arguing through this that we should all be vocal in our acknowledgement of Christmas, spreading the word of God through humanitarian action and reducing the misery of poverty. Fred, Scrooges’ nephew also embodies the spirit of Christmas generosity, kindness and forgiveness. He defends the spirit of Christmas saying it is a ‘kind, forgiving and charitable time’.
He embraces the warmth of humanity by the ‘glow’ in his face, and the ‘sparkle’ in his eyes. His warmth emphasises the compassion that we should show each other. Scrooge is invited by his nephew Fred, to join him at his Christmas party, to which he replies ‘what’s Christmas time to you but a time to pay the bills without money’ which shows how Scrooge is more interested in his own wealth than being generous and sharing with Fred, whom has ‘not profited’ from Christmas financially, but has profited spiritually from the generosity of Christmas spirit.
Scrooge abrasively refuses: “keep Christmas in your own way” showing him as the antithesis of the Christmas spirit. Fred’s tenacious persistence to urge Scrooge to join their party, “Uncle, come” shows his belief in Scrooges ability to become a more family orientated person, as he obviously sees something in Scrooge. This alludes to how it is possible for Scrooge become a reborn person spiritually and bring the spirit of happiness to others if they are willing to invest themselves in others.
A Ghost of Christmas Past is given an androgenic, yet angelic appearance and an intermediate age, making it an ambiguous character: ‘like a child…not so much like a child’. It is as if the character is allegorical of the underclass, “diminished” – its intermediate age foils the child figure having to undertake an inhumane ordeal, as it has to have the emotional endurance of someone far more adapted. This resulted in a high child mortality, and children having to be orphaned in the Elizabethan era. Dickens describes the ghost as being ‘viewed through a supernatural medium’, alluding to how the underclass are merely regarded as another race.
The word ‘carol’ epitomises an unlikely revolution in the social divide and political involvement, and therefore would suggest for the poor to be treated as human, rather than the ‘supernatural’ would be like the poor celebrating Christmas. The apparitions are seen as being the embodiment of the Spirit of Christmas collectively, as they reinitiate Scrooges forgotten humanity: “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give. ” Condescending tone – something much bigger than the rich – biblical discourse – destroying what god has provided “light” Christmas offers hope & the Rich exploit this for no significant purpose.
Rhetorical tone, asking Scrooge the purpose of his tyrannical ways. This invokes the theme of Christmas, as the “light” is reminiscent of the generosity symbiotic of Christmas, and therefore the metaphor correlates with the oppression of the underclass – the rich literally deteriorate the festivity of Christmas. The personification of “worldly hands” would also implicitly relate to the collective influence of the gentry of society; the word is a very dominating spectacle, inferring that they have the ability to oppress the poor instantaneously.
The ghost therefore rhetorically questions this, asking “would you so soon put out”, referencing the festivity of Christmas when it offers so much. Dickens almost reminds us that the aristocrats of society abuse their power, destroying what God has offered through the use of the apparition giving a biblical connotation. This links with the theme of Christmas, because it insinuates that the Rich feel they don’t have to be merry, as they possess all the material wealth. Whereas, the lower class in actuality possess the spiritual wealth, and kindness associated with Christmas.
The Ghost of Christmas recalls a montage of memories to Scrooge, some of which epitomise the disappointments and nostalgic moments of his past. Scrooge revisits his youth as a lonely child isolated on his own and deserted by his family in boarding school: “Good Heaven! ”, “…I was a boy here. ” The implicit use of biblical discourse “Heaven” paralleled with him informing us he was a boy would insinuate that he had a fulfilled childhood, compared with his concurrent valueless state. The alternative deeper meaning of the exclamation mark would suggest his genuine surprise, to be reconnected with his childhood emotions.
The emotional confrontation is described as ‘appearing to the old man’s senses’ suggesting that he has forgotten how to enjoy Christmas. Dickens is suggesting that the value of Christmas generosity towards the lower class has been forgotten, because they are so disassociated with each other, and the divide in class has resulted in the lower class being neglected. This links with the title A Christmas Carol, as the vocal expression of ‘carol’ could herald the opportunity of the classes being reconciled and unified.
Scrooge is also portrayed as being a miserly old man, due to his psychological issues as a child, ‘broken fortunes’, which shows that he has become a man founded by his treatment. However, the visitation to his past allows him to realise that instead of reflecting his inner child – psychological development as a child (learning to seclude himself) – he should assist in avoiding others experiencing the same emotional pain. Dickens provides this as a moral message to invest in the Christmas spirit and bestow others a welcoming feeling.
Next, we are taken to visit Fezziwig, Scrooge’s apprentice, whom displayed good charisma and business ethics. Yet, like Scrooge, he had the ability to “render us happy or unhappy” which Scrooge can do over Bob. The word “render” suggests that Scrooge is the imminent power to dictate whether Bob has a future or not. This is so, as in the Elizabethan era, as many Irish immigrants fled to Britain to escape the potato famine, thus meaning wages became rock bottom, and Scrooge could easily find a replacement accepting even lower wages.
Scrooge recognises the emotional privilege of those who were around Fezziwig, and even though he was not as wealthy as Scrooge, he was more wealthy in terms of emotional wealth. He therefore wishes to treat Bob better, ‘I would like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now’ which demonstrates that Scrooge would to redeem himself for the stress he causes the family. Dickens uses this moral message to illustrate that the upper class, despite holding the power to do so, should not victimise those lower in the social hierarchy, but treat them with compassion, as we associate with Christmas.
In stave 3, the Ghost of Christmas Present personifies generosity, ‘sparkling eye, its open hand’. This is an omnibenevolent gesture, ‘open hand’ implying that he provides the spirit of Christmas generosity, as a hand is often referred to as being symbolic of provision. The ghost then takes Scrooge to the Cratchit’s house where they are always positive despite their destitution, ‘brave in ribbons’ showing how Mrs Cratchit dismisses her pain of being displaced into the workhouses, and to be ‘brave’ in the sense that she wants to maximise her situation to maintain her pride and self-respect.
This relays the message of Christmas spirit because they celebrate despite their lack of fortune. We as the reader find out about the crippled Tiny Tim, and his exuberance despite his unlikeliness to survive. He had said that he wanted other people to see his situation: “hoped the people saw him in the church…to remember…who made lame beggars walk”. The use of “hoped” suggests that the likelihood of people recognising him is marginal, as it is more an intangible dream than a realistic wish.
This quote also alludes to the many miracles Jesus performed, such as allowing people to “walk” again, which Dickens may use to suggest that the rich aristocrats have the ability to do; they can cure Tiny Tim’s illness, which is as much a miracle to them, as what Jesus performed. Tiny Tim’s illness was likely the result of the inadequate sanitation of sewage, contaminating drinking water. Tuberculosis and cholera caused an endemic especially across large cities.
Therefore, Tiny Tim “hoped” that people would notice his illness, to become proactive, especially the upper-class, whom were complacent with the endemic, as they did not share the same facilities. Dickens uses Tiny Tim as a face for the poor, as they had little political say, as a symbol of hope. He does this through his dire need, and benevolent and courteous attitude. By showing how Christmas is celebrated through the bleakest of places, like a ‘solitary lighthouse’ it shows that the locations are the last delivery of hope and how even though the most dreadful times, Christmas is still what brings people together.
Therefore, our generosity of spirit at Christmas time should be spread across the whole of humanity, even to those who are less fortunate than ourselves. In stave 5, when Scrooge wakes up and realises he must change, it shows his transformation and how he has been reborn to the generosity of Christmas. When he awakes, he euphorically says ‘I am here, the shadows of the things that would have been, may be dispelled’. The ‘shadows’ imply that his true meaning of life was obscured, and that his conscience has now been uncloaked to the spirit of generosity.