HUNTINGDON, PA, December 11, 2011 - A Christmas Carol has transported readers for generations to Victorian England, where carollers in the streets sing glad tidings and greet one another with good cheer, while, in stark contrast, the novel’s main character sits in a cold room, lit by a single candle.
The setting aptly symbolizes the warmth, generosity, and compassion demonstrated by most at Christmas time, regardless of social or economic status. The cold, cheerlessness that pervades the atmosphere in Ebenezer Scrooge’s office and home is indicative of the man’s heart, which lacks compassion for the poor and less fortunate.
Unbeknownst to many who have read A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens penned this holiday classic, mindful of the numerous allusions to the disparity that existed at that time between the wealthy and the poor. In fact, Dickens was an outspoken advocate for those less fortunate, spending much of his time (aside from writing) giving public speeches about social and economic inequity.
One example from A Christmas Carol that demonstrates Dickens’ own personal advocacy is stated by the ghost of Jacob Marley:
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
As referenced in the first chapter of A Christmas Carol, Marley was Scrooge’s business partner who died seven years prior to the apparition’s visit. Laden with chains and chests heavy with coins, Marley tells Scrooge that his former life, which was full of avarice, has resulted in his being made to walk the earth in misery.
When Marley dies, he is friendless, with the exception of Scrooge who “was not dreadfully cut up by the sad event …”
Fortunately, many of the story’s other prominent characters are the antithesis of Marley and Scrooge. Scrooge’s own nephew, Fred, epitomizes the dissimilarity between Scrooge and many of the happy, upbeat characters who strive to be content, regardless of their circumstances in life. Scrooge’s primary concern is money, which leads to his solitary, sad existence.
Dickens’ compassion for the underprivileged may have been borne as a result of his own financially disadvantaged upbringing. Dickens’ father John was employed as a clerk in the Navy payroll office in Portsmouth. He was later transferred several times, and eventually sent to debtors’ prison. During this time, Charles was forced to leave school at the age of 12 and work in a “bootblack” factory to help support his family. This early, bitter taste of poverty is said by historians to have influenced Dickens’ thinking regarding the less fortunate.
Eventually, Dickens’ father was released from prison after inheriting money from a relative, thus allowing him to pay his debts. Charles was able to return to school for an additional two years before beginning his career. He initially worked as a clerk, then pursued his dream of writing by working for newspapers.
While working for one of the newspapers, Dickens met and married Catherine Hogarth. Together the couple had ten children.
In addition to writing for newspapers, Dickens became a prolific novelist and short story writer, perhaps best known for A Christmas Carol. “In these stories and his longer works, Dickens constantly returned to themes of social inequity and oppression of the poor,” according to Charles Dickens Biography at www.britainexpress.com/History/bio/dickens.htm.
Dickens’ writings were not the only way in which he expressed his compassion for humanity. He raised money for those less fortunate by giving theatrical performances and public readings, activities in which he also took great enjoyment.
This little known aspect of Dickens’ life may have been the impetus for his illustrious writing career. Not only did writing allow him to use his literary genius, but it also permitted him to impart his societal concerns on the minds of his readers.
In A Christmas Carol, Dickens’ characters and their demonstration of Christmas cheer, in spite of difficult circumstances, is one of the strengths of the literary work. For instance, Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, is a good-natured, hardworking poor man with a large family to support. In spite of this, he is portrayed as a good, kind father and husband and dedicated employee. His young, crippled and unhealthy son, Tiny Tim, is by far the most touching character in the story. The boy is friendly and kind, despite his unfortunate plight. Tiny Tim, presumably represents poor children who are disabled, but lack the monies necessary to improve their condition.
The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge what his life was like as a young boy and man. This passage also hints at what Scrooge’s life could have been like had he chosen to spend it with his long-time fiancé, Belle, instead of focusing on accruing riches. Belle, however, realizes Scrooge’s first love is money and breaks the engagement and, perhaps, Scrooge’s heart. He chooses not to pursue her, however, and goes on with his life.
Scrooge’s persona remains basically cold and impassive until his visit from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge begins to show emotion when he sees the Cratchit family after their loss of Tiny Tim, who his readers remember for his poignant statement, “God bless us everyone!”
Scrooge’s vision of his own tombstone, however, is what finally causes him to break down and express remorse, vowing to change. Upon awakening in his own bedroom on Christmas Day, Scrooge is truly a changed man who follows through on his promise to do good. He begins by sending a large turkey to the Cratchit family for their Christmas dinner. He further expresses his reformed outlook by giving Bob Cratchit a much-needed raise. In addition, Tiny Tim is seen at a later date, healthy and able to walk, lending to the classic’s touching conclusion.
The ending of A Christmas Carol exemplifies the difference that one person can make, simply by changing his or her attitude and lifestyle. In that regard, perhaps, Dickens was able to influence some of his readers to give to those in need and appreciate the blessings often taken for granted.
Much like Victorian England, life in America today is far from socially just. There are still those who are in need, especially today with many lost jobs and lack of available employment. Undoubtedly, the most unfortunate are the impoverished children, who often can not achieve their goals and dreams due to their circumstances.
Could we as a society make a difference? Certainly. And there are many who do give selflessly. These are the people who truly demonstrate God’s will for us at Christmas time and all year: to love and to give of our resources and of ourselves.
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