In A Christmas Carol, how does Dickens make the reader aware of social conditions in the nineteenth century? How does he make this message palatable? Many of Dickens’ novels are about social reformation and how society in the Victorian era should be more charitable Dickens had a hard childhood he was even forced to work in a shoe-polishing warehouse at his worst time, which he refused to talk about later in his life. He knew of the struggle that many of the people living in that era and wanted to make it apparent to the middle class, who were his target market, what conditions were like for the poor and how the bourgeois can help.
However, he did not want to come off as preachy, and therefore finds a way to integrate his moral into A Christmas Carol without making it too explicit. The preface is to forewarn the reader that the story is not to scare them or unnerve them but simply to get his point across and establish similar ideas in their minds and for it to ‘haunt them pleasantly. ‘ Carol begins with an introduction which sets the scene and tells the reader background information about Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley which is necessary to understand that it definitely is Marley’s ghost that appears to Scrooge in the next stave.
We learn that Scrooge does not correct people if they call him Marley even though he is long dead. This is symbolic because in a way, Scrooge is not truly alive and is buried in his business. Even though Charles Dickens is explaining to the readers that Marley is dead and that Scrooges “lives” a dreary life, the tone of the narrator is informal and almost friendly. Dickens’ confidence in him is seen when he opens the main story with “once upon a time” which is normally ill-advised, but he however executes it successfully.
The conversation Scrooge has with the two ‘portly’ gentlemen that are collecting money for the poor at Christmas show us the conditions in which the destitute lived in. They had to work in union workhouses to survive which offered them no money for any luxuries. The prisons were there for people who were in too much debt. This of course was not helpful in the slightest for they were simply put in a cell, unable to work in order to earn money or become educated enough to get a decent job. Dickens of course had firsthand experience with such scenarios when his father was imprisoned for debt.
The reluctance of Scrooge to donate any money to the cause, or ‘surplus population,’ demonstrates the relationship between the middle class and the poor. They saw them as a burden, waste of resources and generally worthless. Scrooge returns home from business through London which had no light all day, and similarly no warmth or light can penetrate him. He is greeted by Marley’s ghost who is burdened with the weight of long chains and heavy cashboxes. They signify the chains he made doing business in his lifetime which he now has to lug with him wherever he travels.
There is great remorse that he focused too much on his business and didn’t realise that ‘mankind is his business’ when he was alive. This does not tell the middle class directly that they should be more charitable, but puts a slight fear in their hearts that they too may end up like Marley. The fact it isn’t directed at the reader means it’s more digestible and the reader won’t take offence. He warns Scrooge that his chain is already longer than Marley’s and that he must change his way soon and he may be alleviated from the fate that Marley suffers.
Scrooge is genuinely frightened and is apprehensive of the three spirits to come. In the second stave we see the Ghost of Christmas Past which is constantly changing and glowing. Scrooge feels unnerved by the illumination of the ghost. This maybe because he is so used to darkness in his life and he can’t handle the sudden brightness in front of him. Dickens writes about a few instances from Scrooge’s past which show him as a very different person. We see him enjoying a book at boarding school.
This tells us that he was away from his family which may have resulted in him turning out that way. We learn that when’s he’s older and his sister comes to pick him up and take him home that his father is “kinder than he used to be” which suggests that his father was cruel to him which may offer an explanation to why he turns out to be so bitter in later life. The key memory we see is at Mr. Fezziwig’s warehouse where he is hosting a Christmas party. Scrooge and his friend are apprentices of Mr. Fezziwig and after preparing for the Christmas ball they are both invited to it.
This shows us that in the nineteenth century there are richer people who are also generous and kind, like Fezziwig and the two charitable gentlemen previously. This also makes the message more palatable as it good natured rich people who do make a positive impact on the poor by setting aside little time and money for them, but makes the poor ‘full of gratitude. ‘ The next scene in the past is with Belle, his young love. They were both poor, but content but Scrooge wanted more wealth. He let his desire for money overtake his fondness for Belle and therefore she leaves him and calls of the engagement.