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Themes in A Christmas Carol

Gothic and the Ghostly

At the time of writing, there was a demand for gothic and ghostly texts; they had become popular. Dickens likely appealed to the readers’ ‘trend’ to spread his moral message far and wide. In the preface of the book, he declared his desire to “haunt [people’s] houses pleasantly.”

Structurally, Dickens repeats that “Marley was dead” in the opening paragraphs, making it even more shocking and ‘gothic’ for readers when Marley’s ghost later appears. The novella contains pathetic fallacy and dark, shadowy descriptions:

“It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal”

This prepares readers for Scrooge’s nature – there is no warmth from this character in the first stave.


This really is a story about morality transformation and a shift in outlook. Scrooge’s character starts out as cold-hearted and parsimonious (tight with money), but he becomes concerned for others by the end. Dickens has Scrooge mirror the harsh attitude held by some in Victorian society, saying:

“if [the poor] would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.”

Through this, Scrooge is shown as ignorant of the social hardship and issues experienced by many. Instead, Scrooge blames ‘the poor’ and London’s population increase.

Dickens made his novella short enough that Victorian families could read it aloud in one sitting, perhaps on Christmas Day. However, there is hope as the tale unfolds: Dickens writes that the Ghost of Christmas Past had “a clear, bright jet of light”. This was a light to ‘shine on’ or spotlight Scrooge’s immoral ways.

Scrooge realises the impact his behaviour has on Belle and the Cratchit family. In contrast, nearly every other character in the narrative is portrayed positively and ‘morally.’ This in itself emphasises Scrooge’s need for redemption.


An important line from the text uses a simile to describe Scrooge as “solitary as an oyster”. He is as distant as the bottom of the sea, and rooted in his miserly (stingy) ways.

Scrooge is a character who is both physically and emotionally isolated from others at the start. Perhaps his isolation from humanity deepens when he defies time, being supernaturally taken by the ghosts of Past, Present and Yet to Come.

Dickens’ distaste for greed is shown when he juxtaposes lonely Scrooge against the family-focused Cratchits (who are much more content with life).

Social Responsibility

Early in the novella, we can see Scrooge’s rejection of social responsibility when two charity workers visit the office, and our protagonist replies with:

“are there no prisons…And Union workhouses?”

Dickens highlights the importance of social responsibility through characters like Fred and the charity workers. The charity worker advises Scrooge, “we should make some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time,” but Scrooge holistically rejects this view at the beginning.

The alternative for many was to be exploited at work, like Bob Cratchit, who had to succumb to his employer’s poor conditions and demands, or else lose the job. Bob worked in “a dismal little cell beyond”. Dickens illustrates how the poor were not provided with the resources to help themselves. The Cratchits’ eldest children, Martha and Peter, must sacrifice childhood by financially supporting their family, working at a young age.

Dickens also uses ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’ to allegorically show desperate poverty; they represent children who were forced to live in awful conditions.

Family and Tradition

Charles Dickens uses the Cratchits as a reminder of humanity and love. Despite Scrooge’s cruelty towards Bob, and Mrs Cratchit’s anger towards Scrooge, Bob still raises a toast to his employer on Christmas day, calling him: “the Founder of the Feast!” The exclamative sentence serves to emphasise Bob’s gratefulness and sincerity. This enforces his likeability even more for readers.

Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, says: “I mean to give him the same chance every year [at Christmas], whether he likes it or not…” which is another sign of Dickens’ message that family love is unfailing. Given that Dickens’ own father had been sent to a debtor’s prison and that Charles himself had to give up his education to work in a factory at a young age, the central role of family in the novella seems especially significant.

It would appear that Christmas was the obvious choice when writing the novella: a time traditionally symbolic of faith, love and family. By the end of the novella, Scrooge “was a second father” to Tiny Tim. Despite being published in 1843, the fact that Dickens wrote a ‘Christmas story’ meant that it had the potential to be read year after year. It has arguably become ‘tradition’ itself. The message of compassion, kindness to others and redemption still prevails through Dickens’ story today.

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