Allusion in A Christmas Carol
Allusions (references to other works) serve many functions in texts, and those in A Christmas Carol are no different. As is common in Western literature, many of the allusions Dickens makes in A Christmas Carol are to Shakespeare’s works, stories from the Bible, and tales from Greek mythology.
Allusion Examples in A Christmas Carol:
"Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode?..." See in text (Stave One)
Marley makes an allusion to the biblical story of Jesus’s birth to lament his single-minded pursuit of wealth. As the story goes, there were three wise men who followed a star to the baby Jesus, who was born to poor parents in destitute conditions. The men, who were well-off and generous, brought expensive gifts to Jesus. Marley’s allusion is relevant to Christmas—which celebrates the occasion of Jesus’s birth—and to Scrooge’s economic state. Marley regrets that he never took notice of the poor around him, and he wants to save Scrooge from a similar fate.
"Belshazzars..." See in text (Stave One)
According to the biblical book of Daniel, Belshazzar was the last king of Babylon. In the fifth chapter of the book of Daniel, Belshazzar holds a grand feast during which he sees “the writing on the wall” that Daniel interprets for him to be predicting the coming fall of Babylon. However, the Medes and Persians have already begun their attack on Babylon by the time Daniel reads the writing on the wall, and Belshazzar is killed during battle.
"Abrahams..." See in text (Stave One)
Abraham’s story is told in the biblical book of Genesis. He was the first of the patriarchs of the Bible and known for his obedience and loyalty to God. God prompted Abraham to leave Mesopotamia (modern day southern Iraq) in order to found the country of Canaan (roughly modern day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel.) According to Genesis, Abraham obeyed this and other various requests from God without question and was ultimately rewarded by God for being a devout and dutiful.
"Queens of Sheba..." See in text (Stave One)
The Queen of Sheba is another biblical figure who visits King Solomon, believed to be a great scholar, in her search for wisdom. The Queen of Sheba brought with her spices, stones, and gold, which led many people to wonder if trade was her main goal. However, the Bible says that she mainly wanted to test Solomon’s rumored wisdom and asked him to solve riddles to do so. Solomon did not disappoint, and the Queen of Sheba left confident in his knowledge and wit.
"Pharaoh's daughters..." See in text (Stave One)
“Pharaoh's daughters” is a reference to the biblical book of Exodus in the Old Testament. When the Egyptian Pharaoh ordered that all newborn Jewish boys be killed, Moses’s mother Jochebed built a small ark and sent the baby Moses down the Nile River so that he might be saved. Later, the Pharaoh’s daughter, Bithiah, finds Moses and raises him as if her were her own.
"Cains and Abels..." See in text (Stave One)
The story of Cain and Abel in the biblical book of Genesis is about the two sons of Adam and Eve. God asked that the sons each sacrifice a lamb to show their devotion. Abel chooses to sacrifice his very best lamb, but Cain gave God an offering of fruit. God regarded Abel’s sacrifice more highly than Cain’s, leaving Cain feeling angry and envious. Cain murders his brother, committing the first murder on Earth, and God banishes Cain for his crime.
"Prophet's rod..." See in text (Stave One)
The “Prophet’s rod” refers to the staff that God transforms into a snake for Aaron, the brother of Moses, in the book of Exodus. The snake immediately swallows up all of the staves that Pharaoh's men carried during the Plagues of Egypt.
"If we were not perfectly convinced..." See in text (Stave One)
Dickens alludes to Shakespeare’s famous play Hamlet in order to set the reader up for a ghost story of redemption—one that contrasts the seemingly cheerful title of A Christmas Carol. Shakespeare takes great pains in the opening scene of Hamlet to be sure his audience is "perfectly convinced" that Hamlet’s father is dead by making the ghost look exactly like Hamlet's dead father. Since Dickens takes the time to express that he also wants his readers to be convinced of Marley’s death, is an important means of foreshadowing his eventual return from the grave.
"unlike the celebrated herd in the poem..." See in text (Stave Two)
The poem referred to here is William Wordsworth's "Written in March," in which he describes the passing of winter and the arrival of spring. He also depicts a herd of cattle all feeding together in peaceful unison, which is why Dickens states that the children are the opposite of the herd, but just as uproarious as forty cows could be.
"A golden one..." See in text (Stave Two)
While she literally is referring to Scrooge's pursuit of gold, this statement also serves as a biblical allusion. When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments, he saw that his fellows were worshipping a golden calf—a false idol. The girl's calling Scrooge's idol "a golden one" speaks to his pursuit of wealth as being as equally sinful as the behavior of the Hebrews.
"“ ‘And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them.’ ”..." See in text (Stave Four)
This is a biblical reference to the gospel of Mark (9:36). In this story, Jesus instructs his listeners that in order to reach heaven, believers must embrace a childlike spirit and care for the weakest among them. In essence, to be childlike is to be divine. Using this passage, Dickens reminds both Scrooge and his readers of the often exploited and overlooked members of society, attempting to spur change in his audience.
"“Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey?” “So I am told,” returned the second. “Cold, isn't it?”..." See in text (Stave Four)
“Old Scratch” is a name for the Christian devil, likely originating from the Scandinavian root “skratti,” which means demon. The first man greets the other by saying that Scrooge has finally been taken away by his own kind—the evil and demonic devil, the antithesis of Christmas joy. The second is unaffected by Scrooge’s death and moves the conversation away to the casual topic of the weather. That the two men are people with whom Scrooge believes he has a cordial and friendly relationship is enlightening to readers—who discern that Scrooge is not well-liked—but not yet to Scrooge.
"Laocoön..." See in text (Stave Five)
According to Greek mythology, Laocoön was a Trojan priest of the god Apollo who, along with his two sons, was attacked by giant serpents sent from the gods. Here, Dickens alludes to a sculpture depicting the death of Laocoön and his sons by three Rhodes sculptors: Hagesander, Athenodoros, and Polydorus. Scrooge compares himself to Laocoön because while he is trying to get dressed in haste, he becomes entangled in his clothing in a way that resembles Laocoön's being entangled by serpents in the famous statue.