The opening Stave of A Christmas Carol sets the mood, describes the setting, and introduces many of the principal characters. Scrooge represents greed, apathy, and all that stands in opposition to the Christmas spirit. Bob personifies those who suffer under the "Scrooges" of the world--the English poor. Fred serves to remind readers of the joy and good cheer of the Christmas holiday. The opening section also highlights the novel's narrative style--a peculiar and highly Dickensian blend of wild comedy and atmospheric horror (the throng of spirits eerily drifting through the fog just outside Scrooge's window).
The allegorical nature of A Christmas Carol leads to relatively simplistic symbolism and a linear plot. The latter is divided into five Staves, each containing a distinct episode in Scrooge's spiritual re-education. The first Stave centers on the visitation from Marley's ghost, the middle three present the tales of the three Christmas spirits, and the last concludes the story, showing how Scrooge has changed from an inflexible curmudgeon to a warm and joyful benefactor. Underlying the narrative and paralleling the more ostensible theme of moral redemption, lies an incisive political diatribe. Dickens takes aim at the Poor Laws then governing the underclass of Victorian England. He exposes the flaws of the unfair system of government that essentially restricts the underclass to life in prison or in a workhouse. (Dickens' own father served time in debtor's prison.) Dickens' sympathetic portrayal of Bob Cratchit and his family puts a human face on the lower classes. Through Scrooge's inherent defense of the Poor Laws (his argument that prisons are the only "charity" he cares to support), Dickens dismisses the excuses of the indifferent upper class as an irresponsible, selfish, and cruel defense.
A Christmas Carol is a fairly straightforward allegory built on an episodic narrative structure in which each of the main passages has a fixed, obvious symbolic meaning. The book is divided into five sections (Dickens labels them Staves in reference to the musical notation staff--a Christmas carol, after all, is a song), with each of the middle three Staves revolving around a visitation by one of the three famous spirits. The three spirit-guides, along with each of their tales, carry out a thematic function--the Ghost of Christmas Past, with his glowing head, represents memory; the Ghost of Christmas Present represents charity, empathy, and the Christmas spirit; and the reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Yet to come represents the fear of death. Scrooge, with his Bah! Humbug! Attitude embodies all that dampens Christmas spirit--greed, selfishness, indifference, and a lack of consideration for one's fellow man. With A Christmas Carol, Dickens hopes to illustrate how self-serving, insensitive people can be converted into charitable, caring, and socially conscious members of society through the intercession of moralizing quasi-religious lessons. Warmth, generosity, and overall goodwill, overcome Scrooge's bitter apathy as he encounters and learns from his memory, the ability to empathize, and his fear of death. Memory serves to remind Scrooge of a time when he still felt emotionally connected to other people, before he closed himself off in an austere state of alienation. Empathy enables Scrooge to sympathize with and understand those less fortunate than himself, people like Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit. The fear of death hints at imminent moral reckoning--the promise of punishment and reward.
With each Ghost's tale functioning as a parable, A Christmas Carol advances the Christian moral ideals associated with Christmas--generosity, kindness, and universal love for your community--and of Victorian England in general. The book also offers a distinctly modern view of Christmas, less concerned with solemn religious ceremony and defined by more joyous traditions--the sharing of gifts, festive celebrations, displays of...
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