‘A Christmas carol’ by Charles Dickens-what do we learn about the conditions of the poor in society and attitudes towards them in ‘A Christmas Carol? ‘ In this essay I will be answering the question ‘What do we learn about the conditions of the poor in society and attitudes towards them in A Christmas Carol? ‘ In the 1840s, in England, the poor and the unfortunate had to face a terrible life. Many poor people were homeless as the city of London had become an overcrowded and dirty place due to the industrial revolution-because of the industrial revolution there was an increase in job requirements in cities especially London.
People from the countryside and from other cities came to London in search of jobs which caused an increase in the population ergo making London an overcrowded city (as mentioned before). Young children were used as labourers who were required to work fourteen hours a day in an attempt to help their families pay bills-these bills mostly consisted of debts which the family had to loan out in order for the family to be provided with essentials such as food and clothing. Most of the times these loans were necessary as workers usually had low wages. In A Christmas Carol, the underprivileged are symbolized by Bob Cratchit and his family.
Bob Cratchit is a character in the novel who lives in a congested ‘hovel’. He provides for his family with only 15 shillings a week, while his young daughter even works on Christmas Day to maintain the position of the family- even though the position of the family was not the most excellent, they did not want to fall into the clutches of the dreaded work houses. It was well known that most of the poor thought this as a place where they went to as a last resort. They hated the idea of being in a work house so much that many believed ‘they would rather die’ than go to one.
In addition to this Bob’s young son, Tim Cratchit (or commonly referred to in the book as Tiny Tim), is likely to die of a poverty related disease because the family are unable to provide for his medical needs. Though Bob Cratchit represents the poor and the unfortunate, the viewpoints of the rich and middle classes are expressed through a character called Scrooge, who argues that the sick and dying (referring to the poor) deserve this sort of treatment because the only reason they are living in conditions as such is because they did not work hard enough in life to reach the higher division of society.
Throughout the novel it becomes obvious that the viewpoints the rich held towards the poor in the 1840’s were not a positive view, as the rich thought the poor just existed to make London a crowded place and are in other words simply a burden to everyone. They thought that if the poor ‘are like to die’ instead of going to workhouses, then ‘they had better do it and decrease the surplus population’. Charles Dickens uses the emotive language very well to build up the character of Scrooge.
He uses a long list of words to create the effect that Scrooge has many sins that cannot be diminished easily: ‘A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! ‘, these lists of words are especially effective because they all describe Scrooge’s personality as greedy and selfishness; only caring for himself. This gives the modern and the Victorian readers the impression that Scrooge is a very immoral person as there is a never-ending list of words describing his personality in an evil manner. The sounds of the letters in those words also encourages us to feel the frostiness that Scrooge is giving off.
Furthermore Scrooge is compared with the cold, wintry weather in the novel, because of his cold feelings and the chilly way he looks towards the poor: ‘The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eye red his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. ‘ This extract shows how Scrooge’s facial features are described in many ways as the weather would be. We(as the readers) get the impression that he is a very cold-hearted man who is so emotionless that the wickedness within him makes his features disturbing as well as his character.
Charles Dickens is almost trying to compare Scrooge with an ice block since he says his features are frozen and describes him as ‘blue’ which is the description of an ice block. Moreover, Charles Dickens wants us to realise that Scrooge takes his cold personality with him everywhere he goes since Dickens writes, ‘He carried his own low temperature always about with him. ‘ Dickens wants us to realise to what extent Scrooge is callous that wherever he goes he always takes his heartless and gloomy personality with him, warning the Victorian society to stay away from him.
From the above paragraph I and probably other readers (both Victorian and modern) feel as if the wording and structure takes a big effect on us. The ‘ing’ added at the end of most of the words which are displayed in the lists of descriptions makes us realise the amounts of faults Scrooge’s personality has. The way Dickens describes Scrooge using alliteration(clutching, covetous)is very effective, the “C” sound is very sharp which represents Scrooge’s cold personality. In stave one Charles Dickens constructs humour to ridicule the wealthy using two characters from the novel-Scrooge and the Mayor.
Dickens uses these two characters to build up two different lifestyles of the rich. Scrooge is selfish; “it’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other peoples. ” this shows the first sort of rich being who is selfish and uncaring. The second type is of course the Mayor, who isn’t that bothered about charity but is really interested in decorating his house-telling “his fifty cooks and butlers to keep Christmas as a Lord Mayor’s household should”.
This shows that both Scrooge and the Mayor are both self-centred and don’t care about the true meaning of Christmas- to pity on the poor and open up your hearts to be charitable to everyone. this creates an ironic effect. Furthermore, both Scrooge and the mayor have a duty towards society Scrooge’s is to be charitable and the Mayors is to be, charitable, and a lot of other Duties- such as setting up shelters. None of those two characters are fulfilling their duty. and Dickens creates this kind of humour sp that we as the readers can realise the behaviour of the rich. He uses these two characters to contrast the rich together.
This results in us (the readers, both modern and Victorian) despising the rich who ignore the poor. Throughout the whole story Dickens uses specific language in ‘A Christmas carol’ to create atmosphere. He wants us as the readers to realise how the poor people live throughout their daily life: ‘the ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched; the people half naked, drunken, slipshod, ugly. ‘ Through this extract, Dickens wants us to sense that although there may be rich people in the Victorian times there are still poor people lurking around in ill-reputed places in England.
We get the image that certain areas in London are labelled as places where the poor reside and the conditions of those particular places are always expected to be ‘foul’ and ‘ugly’. He personifies the houses calling them ‘wretched’ and describes the public living there in the worst possible way ‘slipshod, ugly’ through this extract he wants the readers to know what the conditions of the poor are and how they have to spend their lives compared to the rich who are stingy, selfish and horribly egotistical.
Because Dickens also describes the people living there as ‘drunken’ and ‘slipshod’ we also get the image that the people living in these places are also just as poor as the conditions of those locations. These extracts make a huge effect upon us as the readers because we realise how appalling the conditions of the poor were in the Victorian times. We understand that there are certain places labelled in the Victorian society where underprivileged people reside, and we should take that into account-even in the modern world, so that the poor presently aren’t treated in any way at all similar to how they were treated in the Victorian era.