Themes in A Christmas Carol
The Relationship Between Money and Happiness: At the center of Dickens’s famous tale is the conflict between money and happiness. The narrative reflects a growing concern that the financial motivations of capitalism and the industrial era will overshadow Christian morality and social justice. Scrooge judges the people around him based on their monetary value and is singularly fixated on the accumulation of wealth. Money becomes associated with selfishness, bitterness, and greed. Dickens also highlights the disparity between rich and poor, such as when Scrooge refuses to donate money to the poor.
The Ability to Transform and Change: The narrative contains a number of supernatural and spiritual, or moral, transformations. However, the two most major transformations both occur to Scrooge himself: firstly, from young, lonely boy to embittered old miser, and then the challenging transformation of this miser to a man of kindness and empathy. As such, the theme of transformation and change is inextricable from the virtues of compassion and forgiveness which also appear central to the narrative.
The Influence of Memory and Time: Dickens deliberately employs time as a key motivator for Scrooge’s development and transformation. Scrooge does not merely remember his past, but is physically guided through each memory. This process allows readers to view Scrooge in a different light in order to humanize him and feel hopeful for his redemption. Time also creates a sense of urgency in the narrative, as both Tiny Tim’s illness and Scrooge’s own eventual death force readers to feel as if the characters are in engaged in a race against time.
Themes Examples in A Christmas Carol:
"The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever..." See in text (Stave One)
Though Dickens makes it clear that Scrooge is not alone in his lack of charity, he also cleverly emphasizes that these people have had a change of heart after their death. This contributes to the theme that attitudes can change drastically if only people would recognize their error and try to change hard enough. Dickens thus eliminates the potential for readers to conclude that significant change is hopeless and this ultimately functions to hold the reader accountable.
"what reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough...." See in text (Stave One)
Another example that reveals Scrooge's character, this statement shows that Scrooge thinks his nephew foolish to be merry when he does not have a lot of money. This belief reinforces how much value Scrooge places on physical wealth, and it serves as another example of how greed affects all aspects of Scrooge's life.
"but though Scrooge pressed it down with all his force, he could not hide the light..." See in text (Stave Two)
The light shining from the Ghost of Christmas Past symbolically represents all of Scrooge's memories. These memories pain him so much that he tries to rid himself of them. He struggles to hide the light (repress his memories) but is unable to do so, as they shine through the extinguisher-cap in full force. This symbol supports the theme of the importance of memory and its ability to cause change.
"There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that's all.”..." See in text (Stave Two)
Up until this point, Scrooge has shown compassion and sympathy towards his younger self, but this is the first time that we see him extending those feelings towards others. Dickens thus introduces a theme about the importance of memory: there is productive power in reflecting upon our past in order to learn from our mistakes in order to positively impact our present.
"precepts..." See in text (Stave Three)
“Precepts” are principles that guide one’s actions and thoughts. The precepts that the Ghost of Christmas Present teaches Scrooge align closely with what the ghost symbolizes. For example, Scrooge is taught the precepts of aiding the sick and poor by giving them “greater hope” and “cheer.” Dickens introduces the theme that charity takes many forms; “abundance” does not necessarily mean monetary abundance, but rather an abundance of care and compassion.
"It was a worthy place...." See in text (Stave Four)
The implication of this phrasing is that the neglected churchyard is a suitable place to bury the man since his life had been so wretched and unimpressive. It contrasts with the lush greenery that surrounds Tiny Tim’s grave. Despite all of the man’s money, his gravesite reflects his character rather than his wealth.
" and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk—that anything—could give him so much happiness...." See in text (Stave Five)
Now that Scrooge treats others with generosity and kindness, he finds beauty in the little things in life, and appreciates the world in a new way. Here, Dickens introduces the theme that satisfaction and happiness come with the knowledge that we have helped those around us. Dickens points out that when we give to those in need, we are better able to reflect on our own privileges in life. We feel grateful for the simple things, and we notice the good in the world.
"“They are not torn down,” cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms, “they are not torn down, rings and all...." See in text (Stave Five)
Recall that the thief in the fourth stave tore down Scrooge's bed curtains after his death. Scrooge's overwhelming relief that the curtains have not been torn down indicates just how terrified he was that this future was unavoidable—that his efforts would be futile. Not only does Dickens emphasize Scrooge's emotional state at this moment of revelation, but he also reminds us that working for positive change is never futile—that no one is beyond reclamation.
"“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!”..." See in text (Stave Five)
Here, Dickens explores the theme that our relationships with time dictate our thoughts and actions in our daily lives. Scrooge's relationship with time has changed drastically. Throughout the novel, we have seen Scrooge attempt to forget the past, ignore the present, and focus only on earning and keeping money for the future. Dickens emphasizes the importance of a good relationship with time in order to live a meaningful life that is beneficial to ourselves and others.