A Christmas Carol has attracted generations of readers with its clear parable-like structure and compelling ghost story. It’s a moral tale that has proven timeless, but Dickens also wrote the story with a very present problem in mind, and his structure was designed to make the real issues of Victorian London stand out and provide greater awareness in the reading masses. For instance, the two gentlemen that ask for Scrooge’s charity are kindly but unable to inspire Scrooge’s sympathies. In Scrooge’s easy assurance that the poor not only belong in but actually deserve to live in the poor house, the story conveys a message about the visibility and effectiveness of charity being swamped by common misconceptions that the poor house is a functional institution keeping poor people usefully employed. In fact, the poor house was an institution that did nothing to help the poor. Rather, it was a terrible place that served primarily to keep the poor out of view of those who were better off. Scrooge’s repetition of his dismissive phrase “Humbug!” is a symbol of the insensitivity and ignorance of the middle class looking down on and dismissing the poor.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows us not only Scrooge’s miserable future but also the future of his contemporaries, the traders and bankers that are discussing his funeral lunch and not caring at all that he has died. Dickens shows us that meanness is often connected to the pursuit of wealth. Further, he shows how such meanness is a cycle, almost catching. Scrooge, then, transforms a larger fate than his own when he discovers charity.
In fact, A Christmas Carol has had a tangible effect on poverty, at least on a small, individual scale – stories abound of factory owners and merchants being so affected by readings of A Christmas Carol that they sent their workers gifts and changed harsh conditions.
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws ThemeTracker
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws Quotes in A Christmas Carol
Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.
'Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'
The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch.
'If he wanted to keep them after he was dead, a wicked old screw,' pursued the woman, 'why wasn't he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.'
He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk – that anything – could give him so much happiness.