Charles Dickens was born into a time that saw great changes in the way that people lived their lives. The majority of the population worked long hours in dangerous factories and workhouses, before going home to filthy and depraved conditions. The wealthy minority lived in comparative luxury. These differences divided the country and therefore created two different classes in Great Britain. Dickens was engaged in promoting social change in his novels exploring areas such as punishment and retribution.
Social changes came about during his lifetime as more people were made aware of the immorality and social injustice taking place in Victorian England. In ‘A Christmas Carol’, the author Charles Dickens highlights the plight of the working classes in Victorian England by highlighting a variety of predicaments in which people from the poorer classes found themselves. Dickens brings out the social conditions of the working classes by describing the situation between Ebenezer Scrooge and his clerk, Bob Cratchit.
In the opening sequence the clerk in his “dismal little cell beyond, a sort of a track” tries to warm himself at a candle with little success. Scrooge’s fire, although it was small, using little of the plentiful fuel he could afford, kept him considerably warmer than his clerk’s mere candle. Dickens used this to illustrate the feeling that the poor were less important than the rich. The conditions which the working classes lived under are described as “terrible”.
However, they would rather die than enter the many workhouses provided by the state. The attitude Scrooge openly expresses towards the working classes was that they should all be placed in “prisons and workhouses” and he refused to help proclaiming, “it is not my business” when a charitable gentlemen asks him to donate to his charity. The gentleman explains that there are thousands in need of “common necessaries and common comforts” and that he wishes the workhouses were not in operation, implying that the conditions are dreadful.
Scrooge’s reply to this is “If they would rather die they had better do it quickly and decrease the surplus population. ” Dickens uses the “Cratchit” family as an example of how the working classes lived in the Victorian era. The working classes in Victorian England were underprivileged and hard workers, who worked long hours and were poorly paid. Bob Cratchit is seen to be contented with his life although his income and work life is subsequently controlled by Scrooge.
The family’s attire is described as “poor, but brave in ribbons which are cheap and made a goodly show for sixpence” which signifies the family’s possibly longing for prosperity therefore they haven’t resolved to being poor, but live in hope of abundance and solely rely on their father’s employment to bring money home. The children’s excitement at the Christmas feast illustrates their lack of year round pleasures as a result of being poor. On this special occasion they are aware of the joy that Christmas brings. Tiny Tim represents the strength in the family’s bond.
He is fragile himself and uses crutches for support. The family seem outwardly optimistic about his ability to grow stronger; however there is pessimism felt by his father that Tiny Tim has little hope of living. This is aggravated by the expenses of medical treatment that they could clearly not afford. Bob Cratchit is seen to favour Tiny Tim as he relies on him as his “blood horse” and promotes Tiny Tim’s apparent “growing strong and hearty” half heartedly with a “tremulous voice” conveying that there is little hope for Tiny Tim.
He attempts to comfort his family with these words to maintain the joyful spirits. When the Christmas dinner is served, the family’s reaction to the goose being served was “such a bustle ensued that you might have thought a goose the rarest of birds, a feathered phenomenon…” adding to the value of which this meal bore each member of the family as a rare occasion. Scrooge has no sentiment towards others plight. His view of Christmas is coloured by his past experiences that have left him bitter and angry at the world.
Scrooge’s lifestyle is that of a “miser” where opulence and dominance reign supreme and he does not use his money for good will or in aid of other people. He is solitary and alone where business, money and power are his only desires for gratification towards himself as he has no partner or family. He bears authority over other people and has a generally bad attitude. He declares what he believes to be nonsense and inferior as a “humbug”. His house is situated where it must have “played hide and seek with the other houses and forgotten the way out again” and was “old and dreary for no one else lived there but Scrooge”.
He feeds on gruel that the poor working classes would tend to eat as they had little money to afford anything else. Scrooge chooses to support his dispute against the working classes by showing that even those with wealth are satisfied with mere gruel as a meal. He sits next to a fire where he has to “brood over it before he could extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel”. Similar to how the working classes live despite the fact that he has enough money to eat well and keep himself exceptionally warm.
Charles Dickens uses Christmas in this novel to draw attention to the plight of the working classes in contrast to the greed and superior attitude of the upper classes. The season of good will, compassion and giving, highlights Scrooge’s tremendous egoism and selfishness. Scrooge, wealthy and affluent chooses to spend Christmas alone. The Cratchits, deprived and poor spend Christmas in celebration with joyful spirits as a family. Dickens describes these two different scenarios.
The Cratchit family and Scrooge in contrasting details where the Cratchit family, pitiful and have more people to provide for, seem happier and contented with their lives. Scrooge, moneyed, alone, miserable and hateful of Christmas, declares that it is all a “Humbug”, a waste of energy. Marley’s ghost warns and directs him on a journey of his past, present and future. Scrooge is shown different scenarios of his life and made aware of how the decisions he has made and is now making, will affect his future.
If he does not change his attitudes he will be doomed for eternity. His realisation that others although poor, are living good and even joyful lives, makes him want to change and help others. He develops a social conscience which leads him to embrace Christmas and give to others. Money is now not the most important thing in his life and this journey of self discovery will lead him to his salvation. “He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. ”