Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
“A Christmas Carol” is deeply rooted in the important nineteenth century question of how Christian morality would survive in the face of an increasingly utilitarian and capitalistic world brought on by the Industrial Revolution. The financial success that Scrooge enjoyed is precisely the goal of capitalism, but a fixation on the accumulation of wealth seduced Scrooge into seeing every aspect of life in such terms. Not only Christmas, but his fiancé, his dying friend and business partner, his reputation, his office staff, and his only living family member are all weighed against their financial cost and found unworthy. The costs of such selfishness and bitterness are not borne by Scrooge alone, however. Dickens’s portrayal of the social costs—prisons, workhouses, increased mortality, the creation of ghettos and slums, the miserable state of both wealthy and poor alike—clearly makes a case for morality and social justice on a larger scale.
On the other hand, the solution to social injustice in “A Christmas Carol” is not a social movement but individual redemption. The world becomes a better place almost immediately following Scrooge’s conversion. In fact, the story implies that a renewed connection to humanity is, in fact, the very essence of redemption. Though the Christmas setting invites a traditional Christian interpretation of Scrooge’s redemption, his change is rooted not in a commitment to deeper spirituality or orthodoxy but in an authentic connection to and investment in the lives of other human beings. This “conversion” is not introspective and personal; it is outward-looking and social. While the results seem to change nothing about the social structure itself, the compassion shown by individual people changes the social relationships they share.