In A Christmas Carol, an allegory of spiritual values versus material ones, Charles Dickens shows Scrooge having to learn the lesson of the spirit of Christmas, facing the reality of his own callous attitude to others, and reforming himself as a compassionate human being. The reader is shown his harshness in the office, where he will not allow Bob Cratchit enough coal to warm his work cubicle and begrudges his employee a day off for Christmas, even claiming that his clerk is exploiting him. In the scene from the past at Fezziwig’s warehouse, Scrooge becomes aware of the actions of a conscientious, caring employer and feels his first twinge of conscience. The author suggests an origin for Scrooge’s indifference to others as Scrooge is portrayed as a neglected child, the victim of a harsh father intent on denying him a trip home for the holidays and only reluctantly relenting.
The ghost of Marley teaches his former partner the lesson of materialism, as Marley is condemned to drag an enormous chain attached to cash boxes: “I wear the chain I forged in life,” the ghost explains. “I made it link by link.” Marley warns Scrooge that he is crafting a similar fate for himself and that the three spirits are coming to give him a chance to change. Marley is filled with regret for good deeds not done. This theme is repeated when the first spirit exposes Scrooge to phantoms wailing in agony, many of whom Scrooge recognizes. The phantoms suffer because they now see humans who need their help, but they are unable to do anything: It is too late; they have missed their opportunity.
The novel contains important social commentary. As the two gentlemen are collecting for the poor on Christmas Eve, Scrooge contemptuously asks, “Are there no prisons?” One of the gentlemen says that many of the poor, rather than go to the detested workhouses, cruel and inadequate residences for the destitute, would prefer to die. Scrooge replies that “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population,” a reference to Thomas Robert Malthus’ An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), a treatise predicting that population would soon outstrip food production and result in a “surplus population” for which society could not provide. Later, in response to Scrooge’s plea to allow Tiny Tim to live, the Ghost of Christmas Present throws Scrooge’s words back at him: “What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Observing two ragged children clinging to the skirts of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge asks about them and is told, “They are Man’s. . . . This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.” The spirit has a warning: “Beware them both, and all their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.” This warning suggests that those who do not share in the prosperity may in time prove dangerous to society. The revolution in France half a century earlier may have been on Dickens’ mind. An important idea that the author stresses is that humans are responsible for their own destiny, both as individuals and as a group. He is writing in the tradition of a religion that teaches that people will one day have to answer for their failure to fulfill their responsibility.
The ghost of Christmas present
In Stave 3, which presents the second of the three spirits, The ghost of Christmas present, Scrooge tells the spirit that he has learnt from the last ghost. ‘I went forth last night on compulsion and I learnt a lesson. ‘ Scrooge wants to be taught from this ghost as well. He wants to change his ways. ‘ Tonight if you ought to reach me, let me profit by it. ‘ Scrooge wants to learn and he shows signs that he wants to change. Notably in this stave, Scrooge questions the spirit about the health of tiny Tim. Scrooge asks the spirit this question with an interest he had never felt before.
The reply to Scrooge is negative and Scrooge pleads to the ghost to spare his life. He feels that he does not pay Bob Cratchit enough money. The spirit uses Scrooge’s words ‘If he be like to die he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. ‘ This suggests that tiny Tim will soon die. Scrooge is then overcome with penitence and grief. Dickens then presents a poor family’s Christmas to his readers. The Cratchit family do not have a lot, but what they do have they make the most of. The food they have at the table for Christmas dinner is not nearly enough to feed them all properly.
The goose was cheap, which indicates it was small. Mrs Cratchit is wearing a ‘twice turned gown but brave in ribbons which are cheap. ‘ All these are example’s of how poor the Cratchits are, but they are generous and loving to each other and Bob Cratchit even tries to thank his harsh employer for the holiday in a toast to ‘Mr Scrooge’. Scrooge has been visited by two of the three spirits now. The reader senses that he has learnt a lot and his personality is beginning to change for good. Stave 4 The final spirit the ghost of Christmas yet to come appears in stave 4.
He is described as a ‘phantom’ and was ‘shrouded in a deep black garment’, much like the Grim Reaper. The atmosphere in this stave is extremely dark, especially at the beginning. The ghost is also mysterious and unlike the other ghosts. This one doesn’t speak which adds mystery. Also much like Scrooge, it spreads coldness. This spirit is dark in contrast to the first two, who were bright. We sense that Scrooge is on the road to repentance, but he has not yet transformed himself. Scrooge wants to know if he can change his future, or whether he has already made the chains he will carry in his afterlife.
Some businessmen talk about Scrooge’s death for a short time with no real care. They soon change the subject. This shows that nobody cares if Scrooge is alive or dead. Dickens makes it clear that it is Scrooge’s death they are discussing, but until the end of the stave, Scrooge is shown as not realising that he is witnessing the events after his own death. Later, the spirit shows Scrooge that people were stealing his belongings while he was lying on his bed, dead. One woman stole his best shirt when he was lying dead and another stole his curtains. When they sell these items Scrooge’s reactions show how much he is affected.
The spirit then takes Scrooge to a dead body and a graveyard. Scrooge is then faced with his dead body and his gravestone. Scrooge takes to this very badly and starts to plead with the ghost, ‘I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this if I am past all hope? ‘ This shows that Scrooge’s personality has changed a lot and is continuing to change. He knows he must keep this personality or he will die with a chain. ‘I will not shut out the lessons they teach’. He will not forget what the spirits have taught him.
Stave 5 starts with Scrooge waking up in his bed. He is very jolly and merry. He then opens his window and cries out to the world, ‘A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy new year to all the world! ‘ This is a big contrast compared with stave 1 where Scrooge’s nephew says Merry Christmas to him and Scrooge replied ‘bah humbug’. This shows a complete change in Scrooge’s personality. Scrooge starts his new ways by buying the biggest turkey he can and sending it to Bob Cratchit and his family. This is a big change from when Scrooge argued with Bob about having a day off on Christmas day.
The boy who Scrooge asked to buy the turkey for him was the carol singer that came to Scrooge’s door in stave 1 and Scrooge scared him off with a ruler, but in stave 5 he gave the boy at least a shilling extra to keep. Later that day he met the portly gentlemen who asked him for a donation to charity in stave 1. This time Scrooge gave them a very generous donation. This shows that Scrooge’s happiness isn’t based on wealth anymore and he is much more sharing and giving. Scrooge then remembers his nephew’s invitation for Christmas dinner. He is quite nervous, which is a feeling that we haven’t seen Scrooge have before.
He then had to pluck up his courage to go and knock on the door. He went into the room where Fred was and asked permission to come in. Fred jumped up and shook his hand. This shows that even the worst person can be forgiven. Scrooge is at home in a matter of minutes. This is a remarkable change in Scrooge he now appreciates Christmas. The next morning Scrooge is working and Bob Cratchit comes in late. Scrooge growls, ‘hallo’ Bob then starts apologising. Scrooge then makes it seem like he is going to fire Bob but instead he raises his salary. This also shows that Scrooge’s happiness doesn’t revolve around wealth anymore.
It also says in the book that tiny Tim did not die and Scrooge became a second father to him. Scrooge helps other people and charities. He talks to people in the street and becomes a cheerful man. This is a change from stave 1 where people avoided him in the street and even a blind mans dog stayed away from him. Conclusion In conclusion, the novel carries a powerful message both to Dickens’s original Victorian readers and to us today. It shows us that Christmas is not just about opening presents, but is about being with family and friends who love us and having a jolly time with them.
Whereas today people only seem to worry about what they get for Christmas. Perhaps Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’ still has a valuable message for us all. It is about our responsibility towards those who are less fortunate. Dickens wanted Victorian society to be transformed not just his character ‘Scrooge’. There is a clear resemblance between the deformed children ‘ignorance’ and ‘want’ and the starving children we see in ages of today. Overall this novel clearly has relevance to today’s society