Explain why Dickens' A Christmas Carol is still relevant and popular today.

Expert Answers
enotechris eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The 1840s, when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, saw immense social dislocation and turmoil as a byproduct of the Industrial Revolution.  The development of mass commercial communication during this time is the key influence on how we now conceive Christmas. As an example, Queen Victoria displayed an evergreen tree in honor of her Germanic consort Prince Albert, and immediately the tradition caught on due to improvements in lithography and telegraphy.  From the link below:

Part of the reason winter festivities went global can be found 150 years ago, at the tail end of the Industrial Revolution. It was then that "Christ's Mass" (Cristes maesse in Old English), the church service that celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, along with a wealth of other traditions, entered the scientific age of mass communications, transport, and other technologies. 

Dickens, writing at this time, found his works mass produced and these found their way into people's concept of the holiday:

the greatest and most influential of all Christmas books made its first appearance in a crimson and gold binding.

    A Christmas Carol was published by Chapman and Hall on December 19, 1843. By Christmas Eve it had sold six thousand copies, the most successful publication that season. Within two months eight pirated theatrical productions had been staged.

    The genesis of this work of popular genius dates back to around 1840 and Dickens's correspondence with the philanthropist Lord Ashley. Dickens was horrified by the impact on society of the age of machines, notably the appalling conditions endured by children working in coal mines and factories. He started work on the book to make a sledgehammer blow against these evils of the industrial age.

The popularity of the novel endures, as we have had to endure the rigors of the post-industrial or the Information Age, with its own set of rapid changes and social dislocations.

afi80fl eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Another way in which this novel is still popular today is its message that anyone can change their situation, outlook, or mentality.  Surely Scrooge is just about as anti-humanist as one can become; he trusts no one, scorns nearly everyone he meets, and looks out only for himself.  He sees no potential in anyone, as he feels no one can benefit him in terms of fulfilling his true needs.  While some of this may be blamed upon his job (what money lender or creditor wouldn't have a difficult time believing in people when he/she spends all day dealing with those who cannot meet their commitments and obligations?), he also chooses to view all people as untrustworthy and overly sentimental where no reason for sentiment exists. 

However, even Scrooge can change his life.  No one would expect someone so selfish and negative to become a champion for charity and a hero for humankind.  Yet Ebenezer does just this, and it inspires all of us to look into our own lives and begin the reformation of our "inner Scrooges", so to speak.  How can we improve our attitudes?  Are there ways in which we can better the lives of those around us?  What small things can we avoid leaving undone? 

I think the major appeal of this novel is that it presents a message of hope and redemption.  If Scrooge can do it, so can you.  With New Year's just around the corner, many people are already in a mindset of establishing resolutions. Perfect timing for a novel such as this!

fezziwig eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One very important issue that A Christmas Carol addresses which connects with today's society is the issue of the

many thousands [who] are in want of common necessities; hundreds of thousands [who] are in want of common comforts.

During the Victorian era, there were many who became poor or homeless because of over-population and not enough jobs, much as we see today.

With this in mind, this historical model, A Christmas Carol, teaches us that we must care for each other as Marley tells Scrooge,

 Mankind was [his] business. The common welfare was [his] business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all [his] business.

To Dickens Christmas represented this love for each other, and he felt that it was

a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

A Christmas Carol then, is more than a story of a man's salvation. It is a story about the saving of each other. I think that is still relevant today. Wouldn't you?

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This brilliant and heartwarming book is clearly universal in terms of its themes and relevance for any age, not just for Victorian times or even for today. The central concept of a man who has become so miserly that he has become disconnected from humanity and is unable to participate in the joy of the festive season clearly says volumes to our culture today, when we are faced with a global economic crisis where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The transformation that occurs in Scrooge at the end of the novel after his ghostly vistations and his desire to not let it be too late to undo some of the wrongs he has been responsible for is a challenge for all of us who live in a world dominated by materialism. Note Scrooge's response when the visitations had all finished and how important such words are to all of us today:

"I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!" Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. "The Spirts of all Three shall strive within me."

Although it sounds as if it could emerge from the mouth of a meditating Zen monk, this is a piece of excellent advice that we all need to heed as we live our lives aware of both the past, our immediate present, and the possible futures that could occur. In short, this novel is universal in its theme and application.

engtchr5 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Even in today's society, we still have "Scrooges" that detest the hustle and bustle of the holidays and all associated with them. Whether it's the rush of last-minute gift-buying, the necessary cooking and homemaking that are part of receiving company, or just the abundant happiness that accompanies Christmas, people find many different reasons to become "Scrooges" at this time of year.

The idea of a person being "cranky with Christmas" is universal in appeal, and has remained so since the time of Dickens. Likewise, the turning of a person's heart and feelings around the holidays (like Scrooge's did) has also remained wildly popular. Think for a moment of other holiday specials: The Grinch undergoes a change of heart thanks to Christmas, and so do other characters (like George Bailey in It's a Wonderful Life) from stories far younger than Dickens' A Christmas Carol.

This story and its associated effects will continue to stand the test of time, so long as people search for the "spirit" of the holidays. 

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Although it was published in 1843, A Christmas Carol remains popular because its key messages are as relevant today as they were in the Victorian era.

Take, for example, the character of Scrooge. Although his character is Victorian, his story highlights the importance of being kind, compassionate, and generous to others. These traits are timeless. No matter what era you live in, transforming your character to become a better person is just as important today as it was then. Scrooge's journey, therefore, remains a source of inspiration to others.

Similarly, A Christmas Carol remains relevant today because readers can identify with its portrayal of Christmas. Being surrounded by family and food, as we see in the Cratchits' celebration of Christmas in Stave Three, is very similar to how the holiday is celebrated today. Very little has changed, making it possible for modern audiences to relate to Dickens' portrayal of Christmas.

dbello eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The beauty of perfection of A Christmas Carol lies in its power to undermine what seems to have happened to that which is fundamentally important. As Ben Franklin said, we had better all hang together, or we will all HANG separately. Dickens wrote about what he witnessed. It is true that Charles Dickens wrote novels, yet it is also true that through his novels he subjected his readers to commentary. It was perhaps not conventional history but a self-witnessed one, and to historians this has its own merit. Period novels can never be dismissed as 'complete fiction' for from no fault of their own, most hold 'essence,' something the facts are sometimes incapable of grasping. A Christmas Carol still 'holds water' because it strikes at the core of what it means to be human. Let's face it, as long as humanity places value on humanity  A Christmas Carol will never fall out of favor. 

coachingcorner eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Traditionally, down through history, the Christian celebration of Christmas (and Easter as it happens) was always a time not only for celebration but also for re-examination of conscience. In A Christmas Carol we see this ability to view ourselves as others see us dawn in Scrooge for the very first time - somehow in previous seasons it has passed him by. The title 'carol' reminds us of the religious element of Christmas - a time when people should be thankful for what they have and for God - and what is more - going out to spread that joy and share it with others. This theme still connects with us today as a timeless current. In society - however sophisticated-love can remain the same. Scrooge had no joy or love to share- until he was redeemed by Tiny Tim and his empty chair. When Scrooge asks what is to become of Tiny Tim, it is the first time he shows interest in anyone but himself.

Michael Foster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a roundabout way, A Christmas Carol is still popular today because it has heavily influenced the way we think about Christmas.  The image of Victorian carolers, abundant food, and family gatherings are idealized in Dickens' story.

The theme of self-reflection, a practice forced upon Scrooge by the three spirits, is appropriate for the closing of the year.  Like Scrooge, we are examining the impact we've made on the world throughout the year, and how the world has impacted us.

The theme of compassion for those less fortunate (e.g. The Cratchit family) also establishes the custom of giving to others.  The Salvation Army bell ringers are an indirect off-shoot of the Victorian era that still remains.

Above all, Scrooge's turning from commercialism to the true meaning of Christmas serves as a reminder for our own time.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While the themes of the previous post resonates quite powerfully, I would say that within the Holiday season, the work acquires even more relevancy.  The redemptive spirit of the season is something that echoes within the days leading to Christmas.  It seems like each season, we are reminded of Dickens' idea that the holiday spirit is something that anyone can embrace.  In smaller forms, this is seen in the workplace with gift exchanges and office celebrations.  Additionally, the idea of charity towards others in multiple forms seems to find a home with the themes from Dickens' work.  The idea that those who have been fortunate can lend a hand to those who are in need is something that becomes louder during the holiday season, serving as a testament to the lasting impact of Dickens' work.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I guess you could say that this book is timeless -- it can apply to any time in history.

What connects the book most to our society is the idea of selfishness and the idea that we need to not be so greedy if we are to be happy.  Any capitalist society (and I suppose others) will have this problem.  People can get to be so driven to pursue money and power and such that they forget to have human relations.  You can see that in cases such as the football coach who recently resigned (and then didn't) because he had forgotten to pay attention to his family while he became rich and famous.

So in that sense, it is a timeless story.  People will always need to be reminded that there is more to life than money and possessions.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most powerful connections to contemporary life that I ever made with A Christmas Carol occurred when I was seeing the Alliance Theater production of it in Atlanta several years ago. The scene where Scrooge is confronted with the two pathetic children symbolizing abject poverty was strikingly similar to a cartoon that had been published by Mike Luckovich in the Atlanta Journal & Constitution. Luckovich depicted Reagan-era Attorney General Ed Meese claiming that he saw no evidence of hunger in the U.S. Meese was caricatured to emphasize his heavy frame, and his stomach blocked his view of two small, malnourished children standing right in front of him.

parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens, the master storyteller of his time, was also a shrewd businessman. He capitalized on the good will of the season to publish end-of-the-year bestsellers, with contracts booked up in advance. These chronicles were later compiled into an anthology known simply as The Christmas Books. "A Christmas Carol" remains by far the favorite of this selection, primarily for its strong characterization and universal thematic appeal.

An interesting side glance at the reference below explores Dickens' use (perhaps to excess!) of sentimentality for emotional appeal.

alohaspirit eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well it's the theme of giving and being there for your family and friends.  It's a timeless theme and the movie has a wonderful heart.  There are lots of layers to this movie such as money does not buy happiness, and greed will only leave you alone and miserable.  If you are not there for others, no one will be there for you, or miss you when you're gone.  It's not just a story that finds its place around Christmas time, but it's a life story and can be enjoyed all year round.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens's famous tale coincides with the mood of the Christmas season.  The charity of Bob Cratchit and Fred, Scrooge's nephew, in the face of such coldness and cruelty when confronted with the curmudgeon is encouraging.  Likewise is Scrooge's reformation before it is too late.  The poignancy of the tale as well as the light-heartedness, the charming story of Tiny Tim, and the reformation of Scrooge make for a very heart-warming experience.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The theme of redemption is a powerful one.  We all like to believe that people can change.  This book makes us consider the factors that make a person who he or she is, but does not excuse bad behavior because of it.  Scrooge is old, and he has been a bitter miser for much of his life.  Yet he still has time.  He can still change.  What a beautiful idea!

lolguys | Student

Thank you



High School - 10th Grade

Editor Emeritus, Debater, Expert, Educator

mkcapen1 | Student

The play "A Christmas Carol" is as relevant today as it was when it was written.  If you want an example of this look at how many times it has been performed for audiences since its creation.  It has also been made and remade into movies that still draw a crowd at the box office.

We live in a very busy and competitive society.  There are people who spend most of their lives in search of money and wealth.  They obtain the wealth but at a cost.  The other end of the spectrum is those people who have little but know the joy of caring for others.  They go to menial thankless jobs, but they come home to the family they love. 

Yes, the book connects to present day society.