Part of the reason that ‘A Christmas Carol‘ is so widely studied is the abundance of different themes that it touches upon. Below one can explore the themes, symbols, and more that appear throughout the novel.
A Christmas Carol Themes
Meaning of Christmas
With the title of the book being ‘A Christmas Carol‘ you would expect Christmas to feature prominently throughout the novel. What is interesting is that a lot of the traditions that Dickens writes about weren’t quite so commonplace before his novella. So while he did not invent these particular traditions many people credit him with popularizing them. The book also explores what you might call “the true meaning of Christmas” and while this might not be true from a Christian standpoint, from a morality/spiritual view, you could claim that it really does help to make that point.
The Poor in Victorian England
Of course, there is still a massive equality gap between the rich and the poor. I’m sure you will all e familiar with the “one percent” statistic. However, how the poor were treated was far more extreme in Victorian England. Any study of the time will tell you about the working conditions for the lower classes. Workhouses were a terrible place and menial and dangerous jobs such as sweeping chimneys still existed.
Charles Dickens only really scratched the surface of this. I think he wanted to make it accessible to all classes so he could better spread his message. I think this is why the character of Fezziwig exists to show that Scrooge is not representative of all the upper classes. He is designed to show that the wealthy can make a significant difference.
‘A Christmas Carol‘ is rarely classified as a gothic novel. Partially because of the nature of its main character. But it does share a lot of gothic conventions. For a start, there is the use of ghosts throughout. Ghost stories were very popular during the Victorian era. Then there are some of the settings contained in ‘A Christmas Carol‘. Such as the graveyard at the end.
A Christmas Carol: Key Moments
Being such a short story there is very little that is extraneous. Of course, Dickens does use his trademark lengthy descriptions but nearly everything has a point. However, some of the scenes are to help develop Scrooge’s character and add backstory. So we have tried where possible to focus on the most vital sections of the novella.
Scrooge meets the charity collectors
At this point, Scrooge’s character has become fairly well established but the reason that this particular meeting is of such importance is that it highlight’s Scrooge’s outlook towards the poor as well as provides his comments about how the poor should be treated. These words are then used against him by the ghost of the Christmas present.
Scrooge meets the ghost of Jacob Marley
Jacob Marley’s demise is possibly part of what shaped Scrooge into the person that he is. Losing a business partner around Christmas time could not have been easy. That being said the fact that Marley is suffering damnation suggests that he too led a similar path to Scrooge. Marley’s ghost is the one that kicks everything off but also acts as a mirror to Scrooge to show him the error of his ways. However, this in itself would probably not have been enough to alter his ways.
Fezziwig’s character is an understated part of the story of ‘A Christmas Carol‘. It acts as a mirror for Scrooge’s wealth and position but also as a stark contrast in approach. Fezziwg really represents what Scrooge has and what he could (and eventually does) become. This scene is very clever as well because not only does seeing the Fezziwig’s party give Scrooge’s character the chance to see how much power he wields and how that influence could be used but it also offers us the opportunity to see some of the aspects that shaped Scrooge into the person that he was.
Seeing Tiny Tim
If you watch any of the adaptations of ‘A Christmas Carol‘ Tiny Tim is almost always one of the loveable characters and with good reason. In many ways, it is the child who can most tug on Scrooge’s heartstrings.
We see when Scrooge is presented with the poor children (Want and Ignorance) how instinctively and perhaps despite his character that he is compelled to want to help. However, these are two children that he has no control over. When he sees Tiny Tim and his jubilance despite his disadvantages, Scrooge cannot help but feel compassion and by association guilt, as he has seen from the effect Fezziwg had on his staff that he could have a similar influence on Tiny Tim.
Hearing comments made about himself
Dickens is very clever in his use of dialogue in this section of the story as the Ghost of Future Yet To Come shows Scrooge the people that are talking about his death. There is a very real suggestion that Scrooge knows that the people are describing him. And perhaps it’s because we know the story so well, or maybe because it is pretty obvious, most readers will probably understand that they are in fact commenting on Scrooge. Of course, the suggestion that people might be talking about him is beastly to Scrooge.
The idea that anybody would be so callous about the dead is quite jarring and would have been especially impactful with a conservative Victorian readership. Of course, the fact that this is obvious does not detract from the big reveal due to the way that Dickens masterfully creates tension.
Being given a second chance
You could make a strong argument for this being a tale of redemption. Scrooge can see the error of his ways and then acts accordingly to become a better person. Of course, these changes seldom happen so quickly in reality and perhaps that’s part of the reason that ‘A Christmas Carol‘ does not receive the critical acclaim that you could argue it deserves.
What I think is really clever is that the story is framed so that when we see the ghost of Christmas past, seeing the things that shaped Scrooge into the man he is at the beginning of the play starts to let us feel sympathy for him so that when he is offered a second chance as a reader, we are glad he gets to redeem himself.
Style, Tone, and Figurative Language
The style of ‘A Christmas Carol‘ is conversational and direct. His narrator describes events as they happened and doesn’t spend a great deal of time on extraneous details. The tone is impatient as he does so. The speaker is clearly fed up with Scrooge’s behaviour and wants him to get to the end of his journey and realize his mistakes as soon as possible.
Throughout the book, Dickens makes use of metaphors, personification, imagery, and more. For example, the first ghost is a metaphor for how memories and the past shape one’s experience, while the last ghost is a metaphor for death and one’s legacy.
A Christmas Carol Symbols
Marley’s chains symbolize the mistakes he’s made in life and the greed that controlled him. They now drag him down in death, and he’s forced to wander the earth, unable to undo what he did before.
The Ghost of Christmas Future
The ghost of Christmas future symbolizes death and the mistakes that are sure to haunt him after his death. Without the ghost of Christmas future, Scrooge would’ve been unlikely to change.
The Ghost of Christmas Past
The ghost of Christmas yet to come is a symbol of the effect that memories have on someone as they age. Without the trauma from Scrooge’s youth and the death of his sister, Fran, it’s unlikely that he would’ve become the person that he did.
What are the 4 major themes of A Christmas Carol?
4 major themes of this novel are forgiveness, the influence of the past, greed, and poverty.
What does fire symbolize in A Christmas Carol?
Fire symbolizes emotion and warmth. The dying fire at the beginning of the novel symbolizes Scrooge’s lack of either.
What is the problem in A Christmas Carol?
The problem is internal, within Scrooge’s heart. He begins with no compassion for others but eventually learns a better way to live.