Carol Essay, Research Paper
How Dickens Criticizes Victoriana In A Christmas Carol
Everybody has an obligation to scrutinize, dissect, or otherwise work towards reform in his or her given society. The status quo should always be held up to a highly critical eye, as it is perpetually flawed. Dickens, more so than most people of his time, was well aware of this duty to arrest the progressively growing feeling of complacency within his culture. He saw the danger in contentment (especially how it would hinder growth and betterment), and decided he had to do something to undermine its adverse effects. So Dickens used his literary prowess to appeal to the masses, thus awakening them from self-satisfaction. In his landmark work, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens focuses in on three ills co-existing in Victorian society: callousness toward the poor, the purity of youth being subdued in adulthood, and the plight of not seeing one?s own evils.
When asked to contribute to a fund for the destitute, Scrooge implies that they are already sufficiently taken care of by taxes. He says that if they would rather die than live in poor houses and work the Treadmill, then perhaps that is for the best (Dickens). This is a prime example of how Scrooge, symbolizing all Victorians, has little concern for anyone but himself, and for anything but his own ?problems.? On a more drastic level, Dickens is saying that many sheltered (read: inconsiderate and apathetic) socialites would rather have indigence eliminated by death of the poor than by contributions of the wealthy. Also, Marley?s ghost has a small soliloquy about altruism being his business: ?Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.? After this chastising speech, aimed at Scrooge, he implores Marley to not be ?hard upon? him (Dickens). This indicates that Scrooge views these virtues as foreign, and never before expected of him or his opulent counterparts. Another one of the myriad of examples Dickens uses to exemplify the destitute conditions the poor must suffer is the detail he uses when describing the state of the Cratchit household members. ?Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit?s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap?? (Dickens). This is all a result of Scrooge?s parsimony in paying Bob.
Another notable theme in Carol is the importance and rectitude of youth. In the story, Ignorance and Want are the penultimate symbols of innocence, while Tiny Tim is the very personification of it. Plus, when was the only time Ebenezer was amiable? During his childhood. The formative years marked the beginning of his moral degeneration, as Heaman eruditely points out: ?Scrooge has sacrificed joy, love, and beauty for the pursuit of money and is representative of a society whose economic philosophy dooms the less fortunate to lives of want and oppression.? Also, Ian Scott-Kilvert notes that, ?The return to childhood restores him to the first springs of love?? (57). Additionally, Dickens was well known for his adamant support of education for the poor as a means of eventually improving their situation. ?The first idea Dickens had for A Christmas Carol took root from a talk he had given earlier that fall, which was about educating the children of the poor,? Rose McIlveen observes.
Charles Dickens, perhaps most of all, castigated affluent Victorians for the ignorance they harbored toward their immorality. They seemed, to Dickens at least, to be singularly unconscious of their wrongdoing. This is illustrated when, in the beginning of the story, Scrooge tries to fend off the donation collectors by telling them that already pays for establishments in which the poor reside and work by paying his taxes. He feels that this is more than charitable on his part, while clearly he is doing the very minimum required (by law no less) to ?help? the needy. Plus, after refusing to give alms to the collectors on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is said to have ?returned to his labours with an improved opinion of himself.? Now going back to the time when Marley laments his missed opportunities, Scrooge tries to comfort him by replying, ?But you always were a good man of business, Jacob,? (Dickens). This, too, is a lucid example displaying the lack of awareness of what the upper class hath wrought.
Charles Dickens knew his soapbox well, and was an expert at applying it to his literature. The main reason for his instant success with A Christmas Carol was his adroit meshing of the moralistic and the entertaining with such fluidity that the common people were happy to accept his assertion to care for the poor and keep the spirit of Christmas. His thinly disguised message railing against social and economic injustice was well taken, and Dickens? work has become a cornerstone of classical literature as a result of it. The ageless ideals presented in Carol may seem saccharine or even maudlin to some, but to Dickens they were of the highest import. An author?s work is directly indicative of his or her values, and in A Christmas Carol it is more than evident that Charles Dickens was writing to exhort his audience of the societal pitfalls that had arisen from the wide-spread passivity of the day.
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McIlveen, Rose. ?Dickens? Social Message Clear in A Christmas Carol.? Bloomington, Ind.
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Scott-Kilvert, Ian. British Writers Volume V. New York: Charles Scribner?s Sons, 1982.