Around the time when Charles Dickens wrote the now world famous novel a Christmas Carol, Britain was divided into ‘two nations’ – the rich and the poor. At the height of the industrial revolution many people had moved from the country to the city, making larger cities populations increase rapidly over a short period of time. As a result of this enormous population increase people were forced to live in extreme poverty; enduring cramped living conditions with little food and possessions.
Many people were un-employed or found it hard to keep a reliable source of income as the population increase brought competition , however even the employed were made to work exceedingly long hours in dangerous conditions for insufficient pay. Victorian England was facing an uncontrollable crisis, yet the ‘rich nation’ was unwilling to help as they viewed the poor as the ‘great unwashed’ and saw them as inferior.
Many of the rich, just like Scrooge, saw the poor as idle and believed that Union Work Houses were sufficient help to those dealing with severe poverty. However many of the rich had not fully seen or experienced the living conditions the poor had to cope with. Up until the age of ten Dickens family was moderately wealthy, however, this time of prosperity came to an abrupt end when his father, after spending too much money entertaining and retaining his social position was imprisoned at Marshalsea debtors’ prison.
From then on, up until a long time after his father had been released, Dickens had to endure a working class life in order to help support his family. The resentment of his situation and the conditions under which working-class people lived then became major themes of his works. Dickens believed that the conditions in which the poorer classes had to cope with were unacceptable but also preventable if the upper classes were willing to help, and therefore as well writing he became a strong social campaigner.
When a Christmas carol was published it became it affected the way many people saw Christmas and it brought back the true meaning of that day; celebrating Christ’s birthday but it also showed how it should be a time for giving. The first description of Scrooge emphasises his harsh, unforgiving personality, which is mirrored in his physical features: ‘the cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue.
‘ Dickens lists adjectives such as, ‘grasping’ and ‘clutching’, which conjure up an image of Scrooge in the readers mind. From the beginning we are told that he is a greedy and heartless character with a lack of social responsibility and this is portrayed through the way Scrooge treats his clerk – Bob Cratchit, his nephew – Fred and the charity collectors which visit him on Christmas Eve.
Dickens purposely created characters that contrasted with Scrooge like Bob and Fred as it accentuates his ‘Odious and covetous’ nature. From the beginning of the novel we know that the way Scrooge treats Bob Cratchit is extremely unfair, for example, ‘Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerks fire was so very much smaller that it looked like just one coal’, however as an audience we know that one of the reasons Bob has put up with Scrooges ‘tight-fisted’ ways is because he is part of the ‘poorer nation’.
When Scrooges nephew visits him on Christmas Eve Dickens shows again how different Scrooges views are on Christmas and the ‘poorer nation’ to even those of his own family members, for example, Scrooge explains how ‘every idiot who goes about with merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a steak of holly through his heart’ in contrast to this Fred tells his uncle that especially at Christmas time Scrooge should ‘think of people below them’.
However Fred’s talk with his persistent Uncle could do no help and when charity collectors arrived at Scrooges door they were not welcomed by the warm hearted spirit of Christmas but a cold hearted old man instead, who believed, just like many of the richer people of this era that the poor and destitute were ‘idle’. He believed that it was not his business and that is they would rather die ‘they had better do it and decrease the surplus population’.
Throughout the beginning of the novel Dickens reinforced Scrooges views on Christmas to show how his ‘….. ‘ personality had drastically changed after being visited by the series of ghosts on Christmas Eve. When scrooge is visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, Scrooge tries to convince himself he is suffering from a ‘slight disorder of the stomach’ however the truth was that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and this again reminds the reader of Scrooges persistent and stubborn nature.