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  • Fr. Scott Haynes

Charles Dickens' Lessons of Christmas Charity

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a classic Christmas story which contains stern moral lessons, written in 1843. These lessons are designed to make the readers of that time, the Victorians, conscience of the injustices that were present in the rapidly expanding cities of Britain, due to the Industrial Revolution. The story includes three morals, demonstrated by the three Ghosts of Past, Present and Future, which attempt to convert the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge, from his greedy ways. The morals of this novella, as a result, which was originally written to communicate with the Victorians, is just as relevant today, which contributes to the book’s label as a “classic”.

Dickens uses a variety of techniques to convey his morals to the audience effectively. Dickens conveys that the rich have a responsibility to help the poor by depicting them in a very sympathetic manner. This is shown in the middle of Stave 3, where the Cratchet family try to remain merry despite being struck by reduced privileges when Dickens narrates that even Tiny Tim beat on the table with the handle of the knife, and feebly cried Hurrah! The spirits remain high despite the fact that they are poor, as shown by the words ‘even’ and ‘feebly’, which create sympathy because they try to remain upbeat even at times when they are less fortunate than others.


One of Dickens’ messages in A Christmas Carol is that the rich have a responsibility to help relieve the suffering of the poor. Dickens was taken out of school at a young age to work in a filthy warehouse by force, therefore he knows by experience what it is like to work and be poor at a very young age.


This past experience inspired him to write A Christmas Carol in a way to express a message that rich people can use their money to donate to the suffering of the poor. One of the crude ways of which the wealthy ignore the deprived is evident in the middle of Stave 1, whence the Lord Mayor fines the little tailor when Dickens narrates: “even the little tailor, whom he had fined five shillings … for being drunk and thirsty on the streets”.


This gives us the impression that rich people ill-treat poorer people and, in this example, the Lord Mayor fines the tailor for being drunk, at a time when he hould be drinking as well at his Christmas ‘feast’. Dickens displays the need to compensate the poor in A Christmas Carol near the middle of Stave 1 when the charity gentleman offered Scrooge the chance to donate a sum of money to the poor.


Near the middle of Stave 1, the charity gentleman appears after Scrooge’s nephew leaves his counting-house and requests for a donation when he says: “At this festive season … we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute … Many thousands are in need of common necessaries”.


This displays how the charity worker emphasizes the duty of the rich by making the poor sound bad, as shown by the words ‘destitute’ and ‘necessaries’, which convey how the poor are less well-off than the rich. Furthermore, Dickens demonstrates that love of money alienates people from others. This is shown at the beginning of Stave 1, where Dickens displays Scrooge’s vicious behavior as a ‘tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scarping, clutching, covetous old sinner! ’ The use of a list emphasises the extent of Scrooge’s alienation of other people.


The fact that each word ends in “ing” conveys Dickens’ growth in anger at the prospect of this man, until he uses a plosive in “sinner” to conclude his hatred of such a figure. Dickens further describes Scrooge’s alienation of people by displaying the obvious hatred of his close relatives. He does this in the refusal of his nephew’s invitation and dismissal of marriage. Near the beginning of Stave 1, Scrooge rejects the idea of festive celebration when he says: ‘Nephew… keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine. This conveys how Scrooge has made himself further distant from the social world.


The fact that he would rather have his relatives keep Christmas “in [their] own way” displays his lack of love for others, which is a symptom of his loneliness. In addition, Dickens displays Scrooge’s extension of his hatred to the public. This is shown when he rejects the carol singer in the middle of Stave 1, where he gathers rage and lashes out at the poor singer when Dickens describes: ‘Scrooge seizes the rule with such energy and action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog. This outrage shows Scrooge’s hatred of Christmas and festive celebrations expel him from the rest of the world.


The final strand of the sentence, “leaving the keyhole to the fog”, emphasises how Scrooge’s actions leave him isolated and alone. The Ghost of Christmas Past and Future teach Scrooge the lesson to do unto others as he would have done to them. Dickens scares the reader into understanding that doing good to others is in our own interest.


The Ghost of Christmas Past, by showing Scrooge his earlier life, teaches him to show pity for the carol singer and Bob Cratchet when he displays the neglection Scrooge suffered when he says: ‘A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still. ’ This conveys that Scrooge himself felt lonely during his childhood, where the words “solitary” and “neglected” emphasise that Scrooge experienced similar troubles to those he rejects in his normal time. This shows that Scrooge, after knowing the feeling of isolation, cannot treat other people poorly as this is also disrespectful to himself.


Although Dickens depicts the Ghost of Christmas Present as a jolly ghost, he still delivers a stern message. This message appears to be disguised in his jolly character where Dickens creates a physical description of the ghost when he says: “its genial face, sparkling eyes, its open hand its cheery manner, its unconstrained demeanour, and its joyous air. ’ This suggests that he is the personified Christmas, with all the characteristics and expressions to contribute to the Christmas theme of this story, although the message of the story remains.


Despite his jolly appearance, Dickens still uses the Ghost of Christmas Present to deliver a stern message in Stave 3, where the ghost mimics Scrooge’s own words when he says: ‘If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. ’ This technique made Scrooge realize that he has been too harsh with other people, and the use of Scrooge’s own words by the spirit displays his wrongdoing vigorously and has made Scrooge feel ashamed of himself. Dickens expresses his morals to the readers through an uncertain figure in the form of the Ghost of Christmas Future.


Dickens characterizes the Death-like character in the beginning of Stave 4 when he says: ‘It was shrouded in a deep black garment… it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded’. The use of words such as “shrouded” and “darkness” conveys the sinister aspect of this ghost and its effect of scaring the reader. The fact that these attributes compare to the figure of Death, this would have had a terrifying impact on Victorian readers because the death rate was very high at that time and the life expectancy was at least 15.


On the other hand, modern readers would be less frightened because due to advances in medicine and immunity to diseases, the death rate has decreased and a person dying at a young age is very unlikely. The Ghost of Christmas Future conveys the effect of Scrooge’s hatred and neglection of other people through the people’s delight of his death. This is shown in Stave 4 where people gather to discuss the death of Scrooge when a man says: ‘He frightened everyone away when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead! Ha, ha, ha!


This conveys the joy of the people through the exclamation marks, which displays the positive impact Scrooge’s death had on other people, which signifies his ways of isolating himself from the outside world. The “ha, ha, ha” shows the joke and celebration of his death as they now have their freedom from the grouchy old man. Dickens uses the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Future to teach Scrooge to be more charitable and therefore more caring in treating people fairly. He is taught to try and benefit other people’s lives, such as curing Tiny Tim of a disease which is easily treatable.


As a result, Scrooge, from his insight into the future, has learnt to be more gracious to people so they respect him more. It is not difficult for a rich man to help benefit other people’s lives, such as the poor Cratchet family, and respect the works of other people, such as the singing of the carol singer. Dickens, therefore, has created morals and conveyed them in an effect which Scrooge is able to change the errors of his ways. Although Dickens aims to teach the reader valuable and important lessons about life and human behavior through his morals, the tale is still enjoyable and remains popular today.


An example of this is shown when Dickens describes the Ghost of Christmas Present’s background setting, which includes positive imagery such as ‘cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes’. The fact that a list is used conveys the enjoyment the food creates as the author gets carried away as the list progresses. Moreover, A Christmas Carol has remained a popular book because it has a positive ending. Scrooge has been changed dramatically by the ghosts in the sense that he now respects Christmas and the effort that other people commit to ensuring a more special Christmas.


In Stave 5, Scrooge displays his transformation when he says: ‘A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy Near Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo! ’ The word “whoop” conveys Scrooge’s new-found joy of the world, which is further emphasized by the exclamation marks, which underline his change in personality, unlike the grouchy old man who everyone knew him as. In conclusion, Dickens effectively conveys his moral lessons because he mixes joy and hope with social criticism and didacticism.


He shows that the rich people have a responsibility to help relieve the suffering of the poor and contribute money to help those suffering. He shows that the love of money alienates you from your fellow man, displaying the effect of isolating from the rest of the world. He also taught us to do unto others as they would treat you, in a way that the carol singer should be treated with more respect rather than be chased off Scrooge’s doorstep. Overall, this shows how Dickens’ morals and the effect he portrays them has created an effective and enjoyable story for people of all generations.

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