Scrooge’s very name has become synonymous with cold-hearted, miserly behavior, and his actions from the first time we meet him in A Christmas Carol do nothing to contradict this idea. He is seemingly immune to both cold weather and warm—“No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him”—because he himself is cold, his heart icy. This introduction sets up Scrooge to be imperturbable, unaffected by external forces, and removed not just from the suffering of the world around him but from its joys as well.
In the allegory that is A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the very antithesis of the Christmas spirit, symbolizing selfishness and apathy. His character serves as a vehicle by which Dickens is able to critique a more general, but no less cruel, upper class. By making a character as heartless as Scrooge a fierce proponent of the Poor Laws, for instance, Dickens renders both Scrooge and the laws condemnable, along with anyone who supports them. In the 1800s, these laws allowed the poor to receive public assistance only if they lived and worked in established workhouses, and the workhouses were deliberately made to be as miserable as possible to deter the poor from relying on public assistance. That Scrooge believes poverty to be a moral failing, and workhouses and prison to be its solution, allows for Dickens to level an incisive denunciation of the system and society in general.
Because Scrooge has thus far been characterized as someone who is resistant to typical external influence, supernatural intervention is required to reform him. As the ghosts guide him through his journey from merciless misanthrope to charitable benefactor, the audience also witnesses an earlier transformation, one that was particularly formative in making Scrooge who he is. Where now Scrooge is joyless and cruel, he once was a schoolboy who enjoyed the festivities and the company of loved ones at Christmastime. Neglected by his father and desperate to protect himself from the poverty he experienced in his youth, Scrooge became obsessed with money to the detriment of his relationships. Over time, his greed eclipsed his empathy and morality. Scrooge’s descent into inhumanity is yet another criticism of a society that is indifferent to the needs of the poor and of the consequences that follow, indicating that cruelty often begets cruelty. It also enables readers to see a way forward for Scrooge early on. He changed his heart once, and so it seems reasonable to assume he might again. Indeed, at the end of the novel he is as altered by the revelation that no one would mourn him as he is by the many events the ghosts have shown him—his childhood, the loss of his fiancée, the love between the Cratchits, the plight of Tiny Tim. His “rebirth” underscores the goodwill and good cheer inherent in the Christmas spirit, and the completion of his character arc evokes a feeling of hope, love, and community.