Question: How does Dickens present family as important to society in A Christmas Carol?
Dicken’s presents family as incredibly important in his allegorical novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ as Dicken’s own father was put in prison when he was young, having a profound effect on him. Scrooge juxtaposes other characters as he rejects the possibility of his own family, we see joy in the Cratchitt’s (despite their poverty) and finally Fred’s kindness is also shown towards his family.
In Stave 2 Scrooge rejects his fiancée by not protesting that he will love her and care for her. Belle uses the metaphor “a golden idol has replaced me” when she “releases” Scrooge from his engagement to her. This suggests that money and wealth are infinitely more important to him than his own family. The Ghost of the Past is instrumental in showing Scrooge what could have been when Belle is described as a “comely Matro” by the omniscient narrator to suggest that she has aged well, is happy and content due to her family. Furthermore, she is “surrounded by children” which shows her large family and how this could have been Scrooge’s fate if he had not loved wealth as much. Family was comforting in the Victorian society as the Welfare State was not in existence meaning families has to look after their elderly relations or they would end up in workhouses (which was the worst fate for the poor). In Stave one Fred is also introduced to us as Scrooge’s nephew and also rejected by him with the repetition of “Good Afternoon” showing how dismissive Scrooge can be when there is no financial gain. Fred shows kindness and caring towards him, but he rejects his offer of “Christmas Dinner” and to “dine with us” suggesting Scrooge likes his isolation and lonely, money-filled life.
Throughout the extract the family is seen as paramount to the happiness of the Cratchitt family. Bob is crushed with disappointment when he thinks Martha is not coming for Christmas dinner suggesting love, tenderness and a family bond towards his child. The adjective in “sudden declension in his high spirits” shows how disappointed he is. Tiny Trim and his siblings are extremely caring towards each other when the younger one “spirit him off” so he can “hear the pudding sing” which seems a simple pleasure, but shows that the little things in life matter and that siblings kindness is important, especially as Tiny Tim is the “cripple” and represents Christian goodwill and charity. Perhaps, Dickens was showing the effects of poverty through the presentation of the symbolic Tiny Tim who encourages the people in church to see him as Christmas is about Jesus and he “made beggars walk and blind men see” showing that although Tiny Tim is crippled he is the heart of the family and represents the way people should be towards each other. Christianity is a recurring theme in the novella and Dicken’s may have been highlighting the juxtaposition in the teachings of the bible and the actions of the wealthy in Victorian London and how Christian values were often bent to suit the opinions and thoughts of the wealthy. Dicken’s appears to be criticising through the charitable and kind and loving Cratchitt’ s the way family is rejected by Scrooge, due to his avarice, while those with the least are celebrated and celebrating Christianity and Christian values. It is ironic that Scrooge covets money and wealth more than he covets family and humanity. Further focus on the love and happiness reflected in the Cratchitt household is the way they all join together and share in the chores “in high procession” is used by Dickens to reflect the joyful atmosphere that is created in the small household when the “goose” is brought in for carving. The enthusiasm with which the goose is met is contagious and all the Cratchitt household join in the celebration of the goose “one murmur of delight” describes vividly the whole family gasping in joy at the sight of the food they have for Christmas dinner, despite the clear evidence of poverty that abounds in the household. Mrs Cratchitt is “brave in ribbons” which metaphorically describes the way she has made do and mended her dress to make it appear more festive as a piece of ribbon would have been a relatively cheap way of dressing up, while a new dress would have been an unquestionable expense and out of reach for the family. Although, poor she shows pride in her appearance and wants to look her best for the festivities and not disappoint Bob, her loving husband. Family here is shown as important as they all collectively share in the hardship and even though they are poor they don’t complain or grumble, they just focus on making the best of their situation. Symbolically, the Cratchitt family are the antithesis of Scrooge and his cruel hearted rejection of his own family.
Earlier in the novella, when the Ghost of the Past took him to the boarding school, we see a glimpse of humanity and caring towards family when “Little Fan” arrives to “take him home”. He exclaims that she is “quite a woman” showing his admiration, love and affection for her and his sadness at the reminder that she “died a young woman” which implies that perhaps, like many women at the time, childbirth was too much for her and she died. Dickens doesn’t explicitly state that childbirth was the cause of her death but there is the implication that Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, is a painful reminder of his loving sister to Scrooge and this could be why Scrooge continues to harden his heart against Fred. Alternatively, his hardened nature and his inability to love could be a mechanism that he has used over the years as he became more and more isolated and less interested in sharing experiences with other people. Scrooge’s behaviour, therefore could indicate fear and an unwillingness to open himself up to loss again, as in Stave 2 it is incredibly evident that Scrooge does have a heart and is capable of love and Fan, his sister, has experienced this love and attention from Scrooge. Scrooge’s nephew Fred is also an excellent example of how family should stick together through all the pain and heartache life can throw at people. Fred arrives at the “counting-house” on a bleak, dark and foggy Christmas Eve in stave one with the pathetic fallacy reflecting the inner sadness and miserly nature of Scrooge. Fred is cheerful and welcoming towards his grumpy uncle, who rejects the offer of Christmas dinner and in Stave 3 we see Scrooge become the butt of the joke during a game of “Guess Who”. Scrooge watches amused and seems to ironically miss the fact that he is being compared to an animal of some sort “Uncle Sccccrooooogggeee” is used in the game, too much hilarity as an example that no-one can guess initially. Scrooge watches on with the Ghost of the Present wistfully and plays along with the games, even though he can’t be seen or heard by Fred and the other guests. Although, they are being slightly unkind and poking fun at Scrooge there is some clear evidence of affection for him, due to the fact that he is family. In this scene family is again seen to be normal, caring and loving and everyone is together, looking out for each other and enjoying each other’s company. Dickens presents Fred’s Christmas as a larger and more opulent affair than the Cratchitt’ s but the day seems to represent a wider sort of family gathering with friends and nieces invited to the festivities as well, suggesting that we are all part of the same human race and that there are more similarities between us than differences.
Dickens towards the end of the novella introduces us to the idea that Scrooge has changed and has reflected on how family is important and why he should join in and become a part of the family, both the Cratchitt family and his own nephew Scrooge. At the end of the novella Tiny Tim utters the phrase that is synonymous with his good nature “God bless us everyone!” which summarises the change that overcame Scrooge. Tim lived because Scrooge changed and became a better man. Scrooge vowed after seeing the Ghost of the Future, the death of Tiny Tim and the death of himself that he would “live in the past, the present and the future” showing that he understood the importance of being a better person. His first act of kindness after this proclamation is to send a “Turkey to the Cratchitt family” which was a huge gesture and showed that he valued their family and really did not want to see Tiny Tim die, he asks the Ghost of the Future “Will Tiny Tim live?” and this rhetorical question reveals that he already knows the answer to this. Without Scrooge’s epiphany and change Tim will die, so Scrooge shows that he recognises how pivotal to happiness Tiny Tim is by sending the food to them. Due to the way family is presented throughout the novella it is obvious that Scrooge begins to understand that family keeps people together and makes them more humane. In the end Scrooge goes to Fred’s house and is invited in. He also becomes “like a second father” to Tiny Tim and shows that he understands the importance of being a better person and the role that having a family plays in this.
Evidently, Dickens felt that family was centrally important to the novella as he places the Cratchitt family in the heart of it. They are show to us in Stave 3 during the Ghost of the Present’s revelations to Scrooge and arguably the scene with the Cratchitt family helps to change Scrooge from being a unkind, miserly and covetous man to a more charitable, kind and loving man. The presentation of family was extremely important in showing Scrooge that he could be a much better man.