Victorian Britain saw the birth of the industrial revolution with the invention of steam power. This changed millions of lives as people flocked to the cities from the countryside in order to find work in the factories and mills. This caused terrible overcrowding and congestion in the cities. As so many people were packed into such a small space living conditions were terrible. This led to health issues, such as outbreaks of cholera and other diseases, along with the social issues that Charles Dickens so strongly objected to.
The biggest factor in a person’s social status in Victorian Times was the quantity of their wealth. The poor were seen as inferior to the rich people of the time and they were treated as such. Before Dickens emerged into the public eye as a writer and become popular, there was no real incentive among the wealthy citizens of the country to attempt to change the flawed social situation. As a child Dickens was very poor, he spent much of his childhood with his father in prison and he had to work in a blacking factory.
This meant that when he grew up and made his fortune he possessed a strong sense of social awareness that others lacked due to their own self-centredness. His objections to institutions such as the workhouses were made clear in many of his writings, specifically his book ‘Oliver Twist’, one of his most famous works. He brought these issues to light among the wealthy sector of the population and in a way made the qualities he makes a point of promoting in ‘A Christmas Carol’ such as goodwill, celebration and care for those who need it, somewhat fashionable.
The central character of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol represents the views of the rich in Victorian times and to help convey to the reader everything that is wrong with these views he fits the stereotype of an old, cold-hearted, selfish man. Dickens’ description early in the story does well to portray this. ‘Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features,’ Dickens makes good use of similes to aid the reader in building a strong imagery of Scrooge’s character.
This extract also displays Dickens’ tendency to use semi-colons heavily throughout the book. What is also interesting in this quote is how Dickens uses the coldness of the season to reflect with the cold nature of Scrooge’s personality. I think this may have been a factor as to why Dickens chose to use Christmas time as a setting to display his moral opinions other than the obvious fact that Christmas is supposed to be a time of goodwill, generosity and kindness, none of which are demonstrated by Scrooge at the beginning of the story.
To help exhibit his point even clearer, Dickens introduces the Cratchit family to provide a strong contrast between the rich and the poor members of society. Bob Cratchit works for Scrooge in his counting house for very little pay and therefore suffers the full extent of Scrooge’s punitive regime. He is a very content and joyful man who leads a happy although humble life with his loving family. This may explain some of the contempt and disregard shown towards him by Scrooge.
I think that in the early stages of the novella Scrooge harbours a strong resentment towards Bob Cratchit and his optimistic outlook on life. This is displayed by Scrooge’s rudeness and complete disregard for Bob’s wellbeing. This resentment seems to be grown from a jealousy Scrooge feels towards the cheerfulness with which Bob conducts himself and the respect felt towards him by others. Scrooge holds this same jealousy towards his nephew Fred, who is constantly trying to persuade him to change his ways and embrace Christmas.
I am unsure as to whether Dickens intended this jealousy to lie in Scrooge’s conscious mind or in his sub-conscious but either way it plays an important part in communicating Dickens’ message that money is not directly related to a persons happiness otherwise a rich man could never envy a poor man in the way that Scrooge appears to envy Bob Cratchit. It is, however, not until Scrooge can understand and accept this envy that he can begin to change himself.
In Stave 3 The Ghost of Christmas Present comes to Scrooge to explain to him the meaning of Christmas and to show what a positive effect this understanding could have on Scrooges life. The spirit does this by showing Scrooge a number of scenes depicting the way others spend their Christmases and the joy they receive from these festivities. This Stave acts as the centrepiece of the novella and marks the real turning point in Scrooge’s attitudes and opinions towards Christmas cheer and goodwill.