A Christmas Carol: Critique Of The Victorian Era Society
The Victorian Era has been appraised as the peak years of the Great Empire, but with such success came with many underlying faults. During the same period, Charles Dickens, the author of the well-known novella, The Christmas Carol, created a story about a cold-hearted old man named Ebenezer Scrooge who learned about different themes and messages which helped him reevaluate his behavior towards others through the visits from the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come. Ultimately, he made the book in hopes to shine a light on the ignored precedents of the Victorian era. Although people think The Christmas Carol is intended to be a story about redemption and forgiveness, there are multiple other messages which Dickens portrays within the text, such as critiquing the function of society that is shown through the levels of impacts the upper-classes hold and how their pretentious lifestyle affects lower-classes while questioning one’s ability to change their way of life in a short period.
To begin with, Charles Dickens critiques society by presenting the power that the upper-class people hold which can impose difficulties on the lower-class. For example, Scrooge is encountered by two men who are trying to raise some money to help those who are less fortunate. Dickens (1843) illustrates, “If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they better do it and decrease the surplus population,” (p. 6). The mindset that Ebenezer Scrooge had introduces the reader to the type of person that he is. He presents himself as a harsh and merciless man who does not take the time to care about the well-being of others; particularly the lower class. With his power, he can create difficult situations for others to overcome without any repercussions. Dickens connects Scrooge’s overall persona to the way the upper-class would hold themselves and treat other people; showcasing on a bigger scale how this would happen during the Victorian era. At that time, the upper-class would ignore the lower-class’ way of life and the poverty they face, despite seeing it happen daily in their lives. Another aspect that Dickens reveals to occur during the Victorian era is Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism in simpler terms is ‘survival of the fittest’. In Scrooge’s perspective, only the wealthy deserve the right to live since they are the only group of people that live up to the ideal standards that society has created. His mindset shows that the poor are unfit to live if they continue to leech off of others. He believes society will benefit overall without them, but this can’t occur since the social structure is dependent on all working parts to function as a whole. The reader can link this example of upper-class behavior to Scrooge and his actions towards other people. Two men come in and ask for him to donate since it is the holidays. He doesn’t see a good enough reason as to why he should and tell them he’d rather be left alone (Dickens, 1843 p. 5). When he quickly dismisses them and goes on with his work, Scrooge displays how he has prioritized his profession to come first before others. Considering the actions he made, this also reveals how he disregarded the situation that was placed before him. He had the opportunity to take part in a cause that would help benefit the livelihood of others since the winter holiday was around. But Scrooge’s selfishness and desire for more than he already had ultimately kept him from donating towards a greater purpose since he knows that the government provides amenities specifically to those in need of any help. Through the actions and dialogues of Ebenezer Scrooge, Dickens sets him up as a character to represent the upper-class and the typical mindset they have about others.
Subsequently, Dickens develops his critique on society is by arranging his thoughts to form an idea of how the upper-class affects the lower-class. Scrooge’s maid comes into view when the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come introduces him to another event that takes place. He gets the chance to see how things unravel once he realizes that it is his death that is going to happen soon. According to Dickens (1843), “Every person has the right to take care of themselves. He always did that,” (p. 54). After the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge’s fated death, his maid ends up stealing some of his items from his house. Through this statement, he wanted to demonstrate how everything comes full circle once Scrooge dies. When he passes, this is the treatment he will receive because of the way he treated everyone else with a terrible demeanor. Since the actions, he did lead up to this point, cause the lower class people whom he has encountered to steal and survive off of his stolen goods. From this, the reader will be able to notice the reactions surrounding his death. Instead of being sad or remorseful, they are one of many people who are not bothered by it and go on with their life. The couple rejoiced as they didn’t need to worry about their debt anymore as their collector had just passed (Dickens, 1843 p. 58). The author displays another contrasting reaction from what is usually to occur when someone has died. This couple has been greatly impacted by Scrooge’s unapologetic attitude. They rejoiced upon hearing the news of his death. The reader can infer that the heavy weight on their shoulders has been lifted because his death has made them happy at a time like this. Just from this event, the couple’s life has the chance of changing for the better. The author linked this example of Scrooge’s power over people’s fate and the power the upper-class has in society. His presumed death has created multiple scenarios where it has benefited the lives surrounding him. Dickens forms his critique on society by voicing his concern for the way lower-classes are affected the way they are due to the upper-class’ overbearing lifestyle and mental outlook through Ebenezer Scrooge’s life.
Furthermore, Dickens reevaluates the standards of society through an important theme that was conveyed through the idea, “how is it possible for someone to change their mindset in a short time?” For a man who had been out of practice for many years, it was a splendid laugh (Dickens, 1843 p. 63). Before what had just occurred, Scrooge finished his session with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge laughs out loud which makes it seem as though he is exhilarated and excited. In reality, he’s laughing more out of relief more than anything because now he has the opportunity to fix his mistakes. But it is hard to believe how someone will outwardly forgive another person who has treated them horribly after such a long time. It also states that he hasn’t sincerely laughed in such a long time, which the reader can concur that nothing has truly made Scrooge happy. Considering how human nature never fails to disappoint us, his deeds on Christmas Day will most likely fail to become permanent as it takes time, effort, and practice to change yourself and your mindset. Dickens wants to depict how unrealistic it is for a person to change their manner so quickly by implementing these techniques into the story’s plotline. Additionally, Dickens (1843) illustrates, “The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again and chuckled till he cried,” (p. 65). Dickens applies repetition to the phrase ‘the chuckle’ to symbolize the ‘adrenaline rush’ that Scrooge is going through when he is doing good deeds. Similar to the previous quote, he reacts to the entire situation as if he’s hiding behind a mask trying to shield his true emotions. If one were to be put into a similar situation like Scrooge’s, they would most likely take some time to process what had just taken place and rationalize what would be the right thing to do next. Though it may seem generous of him to give back, his job as a banker has allowed him to charge interests whenever he lent money out to other people. In a sense, he is just giving back what the people owed him when they initially asked him if they could borrow money. This is the only way he can compensate for everyone whom he has impacted. Overall, Charles Dickens critiques the exaggerated transformation that Scrooge experiences as it is unrealistic and an unreachable goal for someone to recreate as an individual within a society dominated around power and wealth.
All in all, throughout The Christmas Carol, many dismissed themes get the chance to surface through Charles Dickens’s writing in response to his critique of society. The themes he has created within his work have a universal message as it is something that comes across as relatable to most people. People can easily associate with his work because behind it is the hardships that life has thrown at him, presented in the form of a story. His words reflect the idea of how privileged some people lead their life and how it can affect others surrounding them. Connecting back to Scrooge’s character, just like him, one might find themselves to form a quick judgment and assess another’s lifestyle without the true intent to learn about their life.