How does Dickens examine the social problems of his age in A Christmas Carol?
Ever the social reformer and champion of the poor, Charles Dickens depicts his Victorian England with all its ills in A Christmas Carol: The Industrial Revolution brought many people from the countryside into the city of London, and this growing urban population brought with it squalid conditions and mistreatment of children who were made to work, as well. There were debtors' prisoners and many homeless and orphaned. In fact, Dickens was himself one of these children who had to work because his father was in debtors' prison.
In his novella, then, Dickens alludes to these social problems of his beloved London. Portraying Scrooge as the aloof miser, who gives no thought of the plight of the poor in Stave I, he responds curtly to two gentlemen who tell him they are trying to make
"...slight provision for the Poor and destitute who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries...
"Are there no prisons?" asked Scrooge....."And the Union workhouses?....The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigor, then?
He repels the men, saying that he cannot afford to "make idle people merry."
Of course, the Spirit of Christmas Present shows Scrooge the ills of his time, Misery and Want, and uses the miser's own words against him after he asks "Have they no refuge or resource?" quipping, "Are there no prisons?....Are there no workhouses?"
The insight into the Crachit family with their ailing boy Tiny Tim, whose future threatens to be cut short visibly, moves Scrooge. Without medical care and proper nutrition, Tim will not live. This scene again puts poverty and want into focus. Finally,in Stave IV, the heartlessness of the ragpickers who steal from Scrooge's corpse points to the dehumanization of poverty and the detachment of feeling for others.
I think that one particular way in which Dickens is able to examine the social problems of the Victorian time period is through Scrooge, himself. Scrooge is presented as someone who does not value human beings and human contact. His emphasis on money is so profound in the initial introduction because he values material reality over an emotional one. Scrooge has become a temporal figure that sees contingency in wealth as universal. In this, Dickens is making a statement about the industrialist time period that has gripped England. Dickens makes mention of this in his depiction of Scrooge and the way in which he treats individuals. For Dickens, Scrooge is not an outlier, as much as a reflection of how wealth controls people and how material wealth can be spiritually destructive. Dickens had much with which to work. In his day, London was overcrowded, filthy, and replete with human rights violations in the way in which workers were treated. It is here where Dickens is able to bring attention to the social problems of Victorian England. In bringing attention to them, Dickens is able to suggest that what exists can be transformed into what can be. In this, Dickens is able to use the narrative of Scrooge to demonstrate a domain of social change.