In what way is A Christmas Carol an allegory? What are the symbolic meanings of the main characters?
A Christmas Carol is an allegory in that it features events and characters with a clear, fixed symbolic meaning. In the novella, Scrooge represents all the values that are opposed to the idea of Christmas—greed, selfishness, and a lack of goodwill toward one's fellow man. The Ghost of Christmas Past, with his glowing head symbolizing the mind, represents memory; the Ghost of Christmas Present represents generosity, empathy, and the Chri stmas spirit; and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come represents the fear of death and moral reckoning. The Cratchits represent the poor, whom Dickens portrays with warmth and sympathy while seeking to draw attention to their plight.
Read about another allegorical work, Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Masque of the Red Death.”
How does the time scheme of A Christmas Carol function? Why might Dickens have chosen to structure his book in this way?
Time is very important in A Christmas Carol, which is structurally centered around distinct elements of Past, Present, and Future. But, the time scheme of the story itself seems to make little sense. On Christmas Eve, Jacob Marley's ghost tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts on three successive nights. On Christmas morning, Scrooge awakes, having already been visited by all three ghosts. The three nights seem to be compressed into a single night. The presence of the spirits apparently bends the normal flow of time. A view further supported b y the fact that Scrooge goes to bed at two o'clock in the morning after Marley's visitation and awakes at midnight the same night—two hours after he fell asleep. Dickens uses the tem poral inconsistencies to emphasize the supernatural powers of the spirits—when they are around, normal earthly standards, including the flow of time, have no effect.
Read a mini essay about the effect of non-linear time in Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town.
What role does social criticism play in A Christmas Carol? To what extent is the story a social commentary?
Social commentary—particularly those statements directed at the Poor Laws governing the lower classes during Dickens' time—plays an important but not a central role in A Christmas Carol. Dickens often uses Scrooge as a mouthpiece to express the more callous justifications and excuses used to defend the harsh treatment of the poor. Malthus' theory that anyone who could not support himself did not have a right to live is a good example of these outrageous claims. Asked whether he wishes to sup port a charity, Scrooge replies that he does support charities—prisons and workhouses, which are all the charity the poor need. Dickens harshly criticizes these attitudes and presents a highly sympathetic view of the poor through his depiction of the Cratchits. On the whole, however, the numerous messages of A Christmas Carol expand far beyond this narrow political critique of Victorian society.
Read about the related theme of the failure of charity in Charles Dickens’s more explicit social commentary, Oliver Twist.