Charles Dickens wrote a large number of novels but this particular novella was very popular as it told the story of a typical Christmas in Victorian times. The word 'Scrooge' derives from the character Scrooge in this novella, which proves that Dickens' story really did make an impact on the reading public. In 'A Christmas Carol' there are three main themes that would have been influenced by the times when Dickens was writing, the themes are: Poverty, ignorance and happiness (Christmas spirit). In the following paragraphs I am going to study the themes and see what symbolism is used.
I am going to write about the symbols as I go through the novella. The counting house is an example as it symbolises slave labour with its dreadful conditions. Also this is where we first learn how mean Scrooge is when two charity workers come into the counting house asking for money, but Scrooge refuses to give the gentlemen anything, saying that he helps the poor already through supporting prisons and workhouses. This symbolises ignorance, as Scrooge does not even want to listen to what the men have to say. We also learn that one of Scrooges' friends' Jacob Marley had died seven years ago on Christmas Day, but when reading it this doesn't sound too important. In this chapter Scrooge's nephew Fred comes to visit him and invites him to eat at his house for Christmas, which we later find out, is an important part of the novel. Bob Cratchit (a poor clerk working for Scrooge) asks for Christmas Day off, which Scrooge allows but tells Bob that he has to be in early on Boxing day. This is another symbol of ignorance, as Scrooge does not care about Bob or his family, only himself and his money. Another use of symbolism is the weather, because the weather is cold it symbolises the coldness of scrooges' heart due to his selfishness.
Later when Scrooge gets back to his lodging he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley who was wearing a "massive chain made up of cashboxes", keys and some padlocks. This symbolises the slave labour that was going on at that time and how Scrooge's money making is what is weighing him down. Jacob tells Scrooge that if he does not change his ways and mix with people in life then he must travel among them after death. He also warns him that he too wears a chain larger than his and that he will be visited by three spirits who will try to help him change his ways before it is too late.
When Scrooge is visited by the first spirit (Christmas Past) he is shown things that had happened in his own past. The first thing he is shown is when he was a boy at boarding school and the second is when Scrooge is a young apprentice for Mr Fezziwig. Mr Fezziwig is described as: "a large kind man whose jollity is infectious. He is best judged by the company he keeps - almost every deserving poor person is welcome at his ball." This symbolises the happiness felt for other people when Christmas comes around. Scrooge also tells us how Mr Fezziwig has the power to make people feel happy or unhappy. Scrooge has the same power but he and Fezziwig use it in opposite ways.
The next use of symbolism is when Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, a giant, surrounded by food. This symbolises the greed that Scrooge has. This spirit takes Scrooge to the Cratchits house where he sees how, even though they have little food for the family of eight, they can still have a happy Christmas, again symbolising happiness. Even though Tiny Tim is a cripple he still manages to have a merry Christmas, which brings the whole family hope. When Scrooge sees Tiny Tim he feels sorry for the family and asks the spirit if Tiny Tim will die and the spirit tells Scrooge that he will die, unless something changes. When Scrooge protests he remembers when he said, "If he be like to die he had better do it and decrease the surplus population." I think this is the moment when Scrooge realizes what he has done.
The next place the spirit takes Scrooge is to his nephew's party where Scrooge hears him say that he should not be despised but pitied, as "his money does not do him much good." This shows that even with little money the family can enjoy their Christmas because the family has the Christmas spirit. The spirit then takes Scrooge back home but when he opens his cloak there are two small children standing there. The spirit tells Scrooge that "This boy is ignorance and this girl is want." This symbolises Bob Cratchits' job, which is a form of ignorance and want as the conditions are abysmal (slave labour). Scrooge is told to watch out for them both, and when Scrooge asks if anything can be done the spirit replies with Scrooges' own line, "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" This symbolises Scrooges' past ignorance and Scrooge is ashamed by this.
The last of the three spirits takes Scrooge to a place he does not recognise and Scrooge is puzzled by the group of wealthy men who are discussing someone who has died. Scrooge asks to see some emotion caused by the death so the spirit takes him to a young couple who owe the dead man money, but are glad that he is dead as they know the person taking over will have more mercy. The second place the spirit takes Scrooge is to Bob Cratchit's house where they too are talking about death and preparing for a funeral. Tiny Tim has died and Bob Cratchit comes home and sits with Tim. Scrooge is horrified to find out what has happened, but still wants to know who the other dead person is. When Scrooge visits the graveyard where the mystery person is buried he reads on the gravestone his own name and starts pleading with the ghost. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come symbolises the fact that if Scrooge does not change his ways then he and Tiny Tim will die.
The last stave in the book is where Scrooge finally returns to his house and wonders what day it is so he shouts out of the window to a boy who answers that it is Christmas Day. He tells the boy to go and get the biggest turkey he can find and send it to the Cratchits, while the charity collector whom he turned away was surprised when he donated money to charity. This symbolises happiness and the Christmas spirit as Scrooge has seen the error of his ways and now is trying to make a fresh start. Scrooge then goes to Fred's Christmas party and enjoys himself immensely. When Bob Cratchit turned up for work on Boxing Day Scrooge tells him that he will "not stand for this any longer" and tells him that he needs a pay rise. This is obviously a joke as Scrooge is overwhelmed with happiness and can't help, but give Bob a pay rise but makes it look like he is extremely angry with him.
In conclusion I have to say that each stave has its own particular symbol and this helps to contribute to the themes. This book would reflect on Dickens own life as he spent a lot of his time surrounded by poor people and shows that Dickens thought that poor people should be treated a lot better. In my opinion the main theme of this novella is that you should not take for granted what you have, because there are people like the Cratchits living in poor conditions who are much worse off then yourself.