A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Poverty In A Christmas Carol

In A Christmas Carol, where does Dickens portray poverty? Please include quotes. 

Quick Answer

Within A Christmas Carol there are many instances of poverty described. For example, look at the description of the Cratchit family in the third stave: "They were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty." In this same stave, Ignorance and Want appear to Scrooge; they are children who have been badly scarred and taken from the world too early due to their poverty. In the fourth stave, we get a description of the poor communities: "Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery."


Expert Answers info

Scott David eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write962 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

Poverty is a critical theme embedded across A Christmas Carol, as is society's blindness towards the suffering of the poor. This blindness is an attitude that is practically incarnated in the character of Scrooge, as he appears in the book's beginning. This lack of empathy is expressed as early as Stave 1, when a pair of solicitors comes to Scrooge, requesting a donation in the name of charity:

"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge.

"Plenty of prisons," said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

"And the Union workhouses?" demanded Scrooge. "Are they still in operation?"

"They are. Still," returned the gentleman, "I wish I could say they were not."

"The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?" said Scrooge.

"Both very busy, sir."

"Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course," said Scrooge. "I'm very glad to hear it." (Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Stave 1)

Ultimately, this book follows Scrooge through a series of supernatural encounters, encounters which instill in him a change in attitude, becoming more charitable and empathetic to the suffering of others.

Interestingly, Scrooge himself emerged from poverty, as readers learn in Stave 2, where Scrooge revisits various scenes from his past. His recollections provide readers insight into the choices and influences that turned him into the miserly misanthrope he is when the book begins. Among these scenes is a conversation with his former fiancée, where she ends their relationship and provides her reasons for doing so. Here, she tells him:

"Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man."

"I was a boy," he said impatiently.

"Your own feeling tells you that you were not what you are," she returned. "I am. That which promised happiness when we were one in heart, is fraught with misery now that we are two. How often and how keenly I have thought of this, I will not say. It is enough that I have thought of it, and can release you." (A Christmas Carol, Stave 2)

We see in these scenes a striking contrast, because despite the poverty and even misery in his youth, there is also a vibrancy there which Scrooge, in his advanced age, despite all his wealth and success, lacks. This is a theme which is reiterated with the Cratchitt Family, who despite their poverty, likewise live their lives with a sense of vibrancy against which Scrooge's own existence looks empty by comparison. That being said, you should not read Dickens as romanticizing poverty by any means: consider the Cratchitts themselves, for one example, and the fate predicted for Tiny Tim:

"I see a vacant seat," replied the Ghost,...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 957 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now


check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Kelvin Brakus eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2010

write2,259 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial