How does Dickens present Scrooge's character in stave one of A Christmas Carol?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In stave one of A Christmas Carol, the reader is presented with a number of scenarios which Dickens uses to convey Scrooge's character. 

In the opening paragraphs, Dickens talks about Marley's funeral. Scrooge was Marley's only friend in life and sole mourner at his funeral. But he appeared to feel no emotion about Marley's passing:

"Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral."

We see Scrooge, then, as a cold and calculating administrator who values his business affairs over his relationships with others. This is further emphasised by Dicken's description of how other people in society view Scrooge. Children and beggars, for example, do not stop to talk to him in the street, nor did anyone ever enquire about his health or well-being. He even spurs his own nephew who invites him for Christmas dinner. 

Further on, two gentlemen call on Scrooge to ask for a charitable donation to the city's poor and needy and this provides us more key information on Scrooge's character. His response is characteristically miserly: he feels nothing for the plight of the poor and, in fact, believes that their deaths would be useful in "reducing the surplus population." For Scrooge, poverty is the result of idleness and the gentlemen cannot inspire in him any feelings of empathy or philanthropy: 

"It's not my business,'' Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!''




Further Reading:
favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens presents Scrooge's character through exposition, dialogue, and point of view.  Early on in the stave, Dickens gives us some background information about the main character, referred to as exposition, including that the feeling he most cherished on the day of his sole friend's funeral was the satisfaction that he "solemnised it with an undoubted bargain" on the ceremony and proceedings.  Scrooge is further described as being unaffected by either heat or cold.  In fact, 

No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him.  No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.  

Thus, we learn fairly quickly that Scrooge is uncompassionate, marked by bitterness, inexorable, and inflexible.

The dialogue with his nephew—as well as the dialogue with the two gentlemen soliciting donations for the poor—helps us to understand Scrooge's character.  He calls Christmas a "humbug," insults his nephew, and suggests that every "idiot" who goes about wishing people a "Merry Christmas" should be murdered with dessert.  To the gentlemen, he insists that he pays enough for public institutions like the prisons and workhouses (both truly terrible places), and he says that poor people should go there if they need help—a rather cruel perspective.

Finally, Dickens also uses a third-person omniscient point of view to help us further understand Scrooge's thoughts and feelings.  We do get the thoughts and feelings of many characters, and this has the effect of helping us to better understand all of them.  

Read the study guide:
A Christmas Carol

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