Hello everyone. Happy New Year’s Eve.
I wanted to make sure that I published my #bookofthemonth discussion before we entered the month of January so let’s dive in because I am talking about A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.
I want to take a moment, just like I did when I was discussing The Great Gatsby, to acknowledge the cultural significance of A Christmas Carol. I think that this is a story that has become automatically associated with Christmas time, and Charles Dickens does take some credit for highlighting the importance of generosity and kindness at Christmas time in this novel. This is a story that has been adapted so many times, there is a musical version, there is the amazing Muppets version, there are parodies of this story, there are episodes of many tv shows where a selfish character goes on a journey much like Scrooge does, so this text is really very important. It teaches such a valuable lesson and I think it is a text that everyone should read at least once. I say that about a lot of texts, because I think so many are brilliant, but if I had to pick just one to say this about then I would say that everyone should have to read A Christmas Carol because of what is in this text.
I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge that Charles Dickens was not just a writer, he was a social critic. He used his novels, fiction and journalism to critique the society that he lived in. He highlighted some of the worst aspects of human nature. He spoke about poverty, workhouses, hypocrisy, domestic violence, child abuse, he did not shy away from the dark realties of society and he held a mirror up to society and said we must fix these problems, people cannot and should not live like this, and he does this again in A Christmas Carol.
I am going to take a moment to talk about the style of Dickens. Dickens is a detailed writer. His books are dense, he is very descriptive, in fact I would say that his use of description is so detailed that it allows for very vivid images to be created, and some of them are hard to read but that is the point. He does not shy away from the gritty details. Dickens describes them fully and he makes readers face those issues. Dickens is also what I would call a character writer. I think he is one of the best authors when it comes to creating vivid, well-rounded, different characters who jump off the page. The three characters that immediately spring to mind when I think of Dickens are Fagin and Bill Sikes from Oliver Twist and Ebenezer Scrooge from A Christmas Carol. There are of course other characters that I love but these three are the first three that always pop into my mind and I think it is because these three are so iconic. Bill Sikes is arguably one of Dickens’ darkest characters and I would argue that Scrooge is famous because of his character arc.
So let’s talk about that arc. Scrooge goes through major emotional development in this novel and he is a changed man by the end of the novel and this is crucial because if Scrooge stayed the same, then the events of the entire novel would have been for nothing.
When we meet Scrooge he is a coldhearted man. The only thing Scrooge cares about is money. He does not care that he has no relationship with his only family members, his nephew and his wife, he does not care that he has no friends, he does not care about his employees and he certainly does not care about the poor. He begrudgingly gives Bob Cratchit the day off for Christmas. He outright refuses to donate any money to the poor. He coldly declares that the poor belong in workhouses and if they would rather die than go to a workhouse then they better hurry up and die.
Scrooge is haunted that night by the ghost of his dead partner Marley. Marley is a striking character because he is a tormented ghost who is bound by locks and chains. He warns Scrooge that he wears the chains in death that he forged in life and that unless Scrooge starts to change his selfish ways, he too will wear chains in death as he is forging them in life.
There is an image that I love in this book and it is a moment when Scrooge looks out his window and he sees that the street is full of tormented ghosts, all of them are bound in chains. All of the ghosts are trying to help a homeless woman who is shivering on the street with her baby but it is too late. They sneered at her and refused to help her in life, and now they cannot help her in death because the chains have already been forged. They have seen the error of their ways too late and now Scrooge is going to be haunted by three ghosts. The ghost of Christmas past, the ghost of Christmas present, and the ghost of Christmases yet to come because unless he changes his ways, he too will be a tormented ghost, chained and bound by every cruel decision he’s ever made.
The main themes in A Christmas Carol are poverty, the importance of compassion, and the idea of examining one’s moral compass. Dickens always writes about working-class people in a good light. He reminded wealthy people in his time that poor people were people too and they deserved to be treated with dignity and respect. Scrooge does not view the poor as people until he goes on this journey with the three ghosts, he sees all the things he has lost because of his own greed and he is filled with regret.
The most striking image in the novel is in the ghost of Christmas present section when the ghost shows Scrooge two starving, ragged, sickly looking children. Scrooge is appalled by the sight of them. He asks who do the children belong to and the ghost responds by telling him that they are man’s children. This means that they are children of society. Dickens never shied away from discussing the fact that adults were not the only people to suffer, innocent children suffered too, children who could not help the families that they were born into, children who did nothing to deserve such hard lives and such disdain and the key thing to remember is that every poor adult was once a poor child and Scrooge is horrified when the ghost throws his own words back at him and asks are there no workhouses for these children? He throws back Scrooge’s words about how if they are going to die then they should hurry up and do it, and Scrooge cannot bear to hear or see anymore. He becomes even more appalled when he sees that Bob’s son, Tiny Tim is likely to die and for the first time ever, Scrooge cares about the people around him and he cares about something more than money.
It is at times quite a scathing text. The aim of it was to prick the conscience of upper-class readers, because many of them likely shared Scrooge’s original attitude. It is easy to look the other way and scoff at those who you deem beneath you, but when you are confronted with the image of children who are dying, children whom you could have helped, it is not so easy to look away and Scrooge learns that if he continues to look the other way then chains await him in death so the novel ends with his change of heart.
The change of heart is key to the success of Scrooge’s character. If he did not learn a lesson then his journey through the past, present and future would have been for nothing. It is a heartwarming tale despite the harsh realities of the poor that are highlighted. It is at times hard to read, but that is what makes it so important in my opinion because poverty is not a Dickens era problem, it still exists, as does homelessness, as does greed, and it is so important to remember that we must be compassionate, we must treat others how we would wish to be treated ourselves, we must understand that when we are ruled by greed, we lose so much, it is important to be thankful for how fortunate we are, and we must always remember that those who are less fortunate than ourselves are people who are still worthy of kindness, decency, and respect. No matter what our job or role in life, everyone is entitled to kindness and respect and everyone’s basic needs should be met.
If you have read or watched A Christmas Carol, tell me what your favourite version is, what is your favourite scene etc, I’d love to know.
This has been December’s Book Of The Month.
Happy New Year’s Eve everyone.