‘A Christmas Carol’ covers a period of 24 hours from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. It is a simple morality tale of the radical change in the character Ebenezer Scrooge from being bitter, ironfisted and miserable to becoming a new, openhearted and charitable man. The book was first published in 1843, a time when many of the wealthy people neglected the old Christmas spirit of charity. In addition, the Industrial Revolution had further done away with the simple pleasures of the season. Dickens’ intentions in writing ‘A Christmas Carol’ were not only linked to his childhood and sympathy for the poor, but he was also acting as a philanthropist by making an appeal to the rich people of society to mend their selfish ways. Dickens is able to show the change in Scrooge’s character by establishing what Scrooge is like at the very beginning of the story with the first two words he says: ‘“Bah! Humbug!”’ It is clear from the dismissive tone and the two exclamation marks that Scrooge has no patience with the idea of Christmas as a special time. At the start of the novel, Dickens is using Scrooge, someone who associates happiness with nothing but money, as an example of a classic wealthy person in the 19th Century. He does this with Scrooge enquiring of his nephew ‘“What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough.”’ Scrooge’s manor in saying this makes me, as the reader rather upset and disappointed that someone can be so shallow and uncaring. In Scrooge saying this, it demonstrates to the reader that Scrooge does not think one could be joyous if they were not well off, and proves that he does not understand the concept of Christmas spirit. Dickens continues to make Scrooge’s character clear through the shocking juxtaposition of the traditionally festive holly and the medieval custom of burying murderers with a stake through their heart: ‘“…every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with a stake of holly through his heart.”’ The reader is very surprised to have the idea of Christmas decorations associated with death and Dickens is successful in making us see how bitter Scrooge is about the festive season. We may also feel a little sorry for Scrooge as he rejects the spirit of Christmas, which we so enjoy: he is clearly miserable and we would prefer people to be happy, especially at Christmas. By showing Scrooge’s strength of feeling here, Dickens is able to show what an extreme change overtakes him as he meets three ghosts, the agents of his transformation.
Dickens uses the visit of two men collecting money for charity to show us Scrooge’s attitude to the poor. He says the poor had better die, ‘“and decrease the surplus population.’” Scrooge talks about those less fortunate than himself as if they are statistics: ‘surplus population’ makes them sound like things rather than people. I felt angry when reading this, as Scrooge, who is wealthy, is dehumanizing poor people, when he could be helping them. Dickens is using Scrooge to represent and criticize the rich people of the time, who he thought lacked generosity.
Dickens introduces the Ghost of Marley, Scrooge’s deceased business partner. ‘The chain he drew was clasped about his middle.’ The fact that Marley is bound in chains signifies that he, in death, is unable to change his fate and cannot make amends for the way in which he lead a sinful and greedy life. As we know that Scrooge and Marley had once been business partners, we assume that they are similar to one another, and this helps the reader to gather an initial feeling of Scrooge’s personality and what he is like on the inside. To add to the character of Marley, Dickens includes that ‘Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.’ With pointing out that Marley had no bowels, Dickens is referring to how certain parts of the body were often thought to be linked to people’s affection and personalities, and the bowels were thought to...
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