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Victorian society was rampant with inequality, hunger, and poverty. Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol both as an indictment of his society and a plea to it. He wanted people to stop their materialistic, cold, harsh ways, and he wanted them to open their eyes to the poor. In Ebenezer Scrooge, he personified and epitomized society’s harsh careless disregard for poverty, and in Tiny Tim he humanized the struggle of the poor.
Dickens wanted to change people’s mindsets, and in this he was wildly successful. He not only changed how we view Christmas, he also changed how we view the poor at Christmastime. You can hardly walk into a store without someone asking for a donation for the poor at that time of year. This is a good tradition, and highly influenced by Dickens, as you will see in my link below to the article on “Fathering Christmas.”
Dickens was particularly critical of the idea that the poor were lesser humans. When Scrooge makes a heartless comment about the poor being “surplus,” the Ghost of Christmas Present throws it back at him with these scathing words.
Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? It may be that in the sight of Heaven, you are more worthless and less fit to live than millions like this poor man's child. (Stave 3)
Dickens was an adamant supporter of the poor, himself supporting and founding many charities. He had known poverty in his own life as a child. He was a generous soul, and sought to use fiction to teach his public that there is no such thing as a surplus population. All people have value. The poor may be struggling financially, but that does not make them less valuable. When Scrooge sees Ignorance and Want, the two wretched children under the Ghost of Christmas Present’s robe, he asks who they belong to. The ghost responds that they are man’s.
Beware them both, and all of their degree; but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. (Stave 3)
If we ignore poverty and hunger, we are doing our whole society a disservice.
Dickens’s most important lesson is that we all need to take care of one another. We are all “fellow travelers to the grave,” he said. In the beginning of the book, men come to ask Scrooge to give to the poor. At the end, Scrooge finds one of the men and gives him and generous donation. Scrooge has realized that people need to take care of each other.
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