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‘A Christmas Carol’ was immediately popular in Victorian England and soon, the rest of the world. It became a cultural icon, sparking a tradition to be read every Christmas Eve in many households. The relevance of the novella, even in the 21st century is testament to its immortality and ability to resonate with people decades later. The tremendous reception of A Christmas Carol can be attributed to Charles Dickens’ ability to paint a perfect portrait of what Christmas should be without eschewing from reality entirely. Readers could identify with the characters and their plight and celebrate Scrooge’s fanciful redemption. This earnest piece of literature Dickens offers was an escape from the depressing reality of the social disquiet in 19th century Europe, primarily in the ‘Hungry 40s’ that encompassed the Great Irish Famine, atrocious prisons and workhouses (Poor Law Amendment Act 1934), the grotesque prevalence of Malthusian principal, severe privation and the dichotomy between rich and poor progressively stretching. The struggling majority were thirsty for social reform. Dickens offers a simple solution: “to honour (his version of) Christmas in their hearts and try to keep it all the year.” Because Scrooge is the only character who undergoes a drastic transformation in the story, Dickens conveys this message primarily to the disconnected wealthy like him, because they have the greatest potential to create a world full of benevolent, reformed Scrooges who share their riches with the poor, simultaneously receiving inner fulfilment and an abundance of emotional wealth.
Writing at a time when social anarchy was at its peak, many escaped to the fictional world of literature. In this literary piece, Dickens seizes the opportunity to envisage a utopia through his idealistic depiction of Christmas, which was an amalgamation of the morals and ideals that society lacked but Dickens longed for. This perfect Christmas promotes the poor man to a level equal to that of an aristocrat, where bosses and their employees could dance shoulder to shoulder in a ball-room like Fezziwig and his apprentices had, as well as “the housemaid, the baker, the cook and the milkman” and everyone is deserving of being wished “A merry Christmas to you!” The boisterous analeptic scene describing a “wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, wonderful happiness!” in the montage Scrooge views by the Ghost of Christmas Past abjures the religious underpinnings of Christmas for a more secular, contemporary celebration that everyone can enjoy. Dickens does not make the rich feel guilty for being able to afford feasts of “turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, meat, pigs, sausages, oysters, pies, puddings, fruit, and punch” while others are “merry with a meagre goose”, only if they generously open their doors and share it amongst everyone to promote communal brotherhood and equality. Hence through his depiction of an extravagant, “lavish” Christmas, Dickens empowers the rich with an honourable onus and instantaneously elevates the poor, explaining the novella’s universal adoration and popularity amongst all.
The inception of the Industrial Revolution stimulated an increasingly capitalist society, ultimately increasing “avarice”, exploitation and the corollaries stemming from an opportunity to make money. However, Dickens envisions a perfect Christmas where everyone takes “a day off” the world of financial business for the “business” of “mankind”. He normalises such idealistic notions, such as elite creditors donating a “prize turkey” that is “bigger than” a human boy to his diminutive clerk’s family, to set the bar high for other aristocrats to try to aspire to. Dickens delivers a message of hope to the poor with the highly sentimentalised portrait inside the Cratchit family’s small, ‘four-roomed home’, where they are “poor and content to be so,” “made merry” by the mere spirit of the day. Christmas is enough for them to reunite and be “so gallantly attired” and wish “good health and a “long life” upon everyone, even an “odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man as Mr Scrooge” for being the “founder of their [meagre] feast” despite being “the ogre of the family”, casting a “dark shadow” on the ostensibly non-extinguishable light they emanate. Dickens employs pathos to soften the heart of Scrooge and interchangeably upper class readers to “sprinkle” their wealth upon the destitute, abandon their “tight-fisted” ways and conversely keep an “open hand” like the Ghost of Christmas Present does. This ‘clad giant’, the original ‘Father Christmas’ possesses a “genial face”, “unconstrained demeanour” and “joyful air” and represents everything Dickens wanted Christmas to promote: empathy, generosity, good-will and all the values Scrooge adopted post-transformation.
There is no denying the unrealistic, far-fetched nature of the transition Scrooge undertook. However, despite how exaggerated, fantastical and dazzling Dickens concocts this, it indeed culminate to a great deal of the story’s success. Mankind finds comfort in the notion that a fate of “incessant torture of remorse”, being weighed down with a “ponderous chain” can be “avoided” if you “shun the path you tread” and enact Dickens’ portrayal of Christmas “all year”. They seek comfort and relief in the fact that even “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” can be saved from a death where “the only emotion caused by the event was one of pleasure.” People thrived on hope in depressing, hard times and adored the novel for the message: if the courses (of man) be departed from, the (doomed) ends will change” and that it is not too late, no one is “past all hope”. The final stave is contagiously cheerful and uplifting because Dickens seeks to inspire others to find joy in their milieu like Scrooge does, leaving them “glowing with good intentions” to their own benefit. Society was chaotic, but doesn’t have to be as success lies in the fairy-tale ending of the novella. Dickens empowers the people to create this perfect Christmas for themselves and that it doesn’t have to be confined to fiction. The before and after of Scrooge represent the current dismal state of society versus what society could be if everyone, especially the more domineering, governing rich transform to even a fraction of a degree that Scrooge did.
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