illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge in silhouette walking toward a Christmas tree and followed by the three ghosts

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

Start Free Trial

How is Bob Cratchit's family presented in stave 3 of A Christmas Carol?

Quick answer:

Dickens presents Bob Cratchit's family in stave 3 of A Christmas Carol as being poor but happy. Although the Cratchits have little or no money, they are still a loving, mutually supportive family. As Scrooge sees for himself, there's a lot of warmth in the Cratchit household, despite the absolute pittance he pays Bob. Scrooge also gets to witness the joy of Christmas at first hand, something he hasn't experienced for many years.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In stave 3, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who takes him to the Cratchit household in the poorest section of town, where the family is celebrating Christmas dinner. Dickens humanizes Bob Cratchit and his family by portraying them as grateful and joyous for the opportunity to celebrate the Christmas holiday together. Despite their poverty, cramped home, and humble meal, the members of the Cratchit family demonstrate their happiness and inherent joy by laughing and entertaining each other around the dinner table. The Cratchit family embodies the light-hearted Christmas spirit and thoroughly enjoys each other's company as they discuss their future circumstances with optimism and faith. Although their living conditions are depressing and their financial situation is unsteady, the Cratchits possess infinite hope, and their love seems to keep them balanced and fulfilled.

Their warm, friendly environment stands in sharp contrast with Scrooge's current situation. Despite having significantly more money and financial security, Scrooge lacks everything the Cratchits have in abundance, which is joy, companionship, and love. Among the thankful members of the Cratchit family is Tiny Tim, whose memorable character evokes the audience's sympathy. Upon witnessing Tiny Tim, Scrooge becomes emotional and inquires about his health and future. Bob then praises Scrooge as the "Founder of the Feast," which influences Scrooge to reflect on his unfair treatment of Bob and entertain the possibility of changing his lifestyle. Overall, Dickens humanizes the poor by depicting the Cratchits as a grateful, pleasant family, who thoroughly enjoys each other's company and embodies the Christmas spirit.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this particular scene, one could say that Dickens is attempting to humanize the poor. In Dickens's day it was all too common for people to blame the poor for their own sufferings. According to the prevailing prejudice of the time, poverty was primarily due to moral failing; if you were poor, so the argument went, it was your own fault.

This unpleasant attitude is shared by Scrooge, who sees no reason why the poorest members of society shouldn't be sent to prison or to a workhouse if they need something to eat. Scrooge's heartlessness was by no means unusual in those days, as Dickens would've been all too aware. And so Dickens challenges this prejudice, held almost certainly by many of his readers, by showing the poor in a positive light.

That's where the Cratchits come in. They are presented to Scrooge and the reader in stave 3 as a happy, loving family, despite their poverty. The Cratchits may have nothing in material terms, but that doesn't stop them from excitedly preparing for the Christmas holidays. And even though poor Tiny Tim's health continues to deteriorate, he still plays a full part in the family's preparations.

It's clear that Tiny Tim is a loved and treasured member of the Cratchit family, and through him and his family Dickens conveys the important message that the weakest and most vulnerable members of society are human beings, too.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Stave III describes Scrooge's encounter with the spirit of Christmas Present. The spirit takes Scrooge to observe the Cratchit family celebrating Christmas in the here and now.

Dickens presents the Cratchit family as having a life very different—opposite, in fact—from the life Scrooge leads. He has all the money he could possibly need and more, but he is alone and has rejected all overtures of friendship. His heart has shriveled up through both isolation and his fixation on making money.

In contrast, the Cratchits are very poor, without enough material resources to get proper medical treatment for Tiny Tim or have more than a very modest Christmas feast. Unlike Scrooge, however, they have love for each other and the joy of companionship as they celebrate the holiday. Their hearts are large and generous, even if they suffer from want. While Mrs. Cartachit has hard words about Scrooge, Bob doesn't want to hear these on Christmas.

Until this time, Scrooge has been unable to perceive his poor clerk as fully human, as a man with a family to support, a person with real wants and needs that might not be covered by the tiny bit of pay Scrooge offers him.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Stave 3 of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," Bob Cratchit's family is presented as an extremely poor, but mostly joyous family. The spirit of Christmas present has taken Dickens to watch the family's evening festivities. Dickens uses great detail to describe the family's living situation, their home, clothes and food. Details describe the family's thread-bare clothes in particular but also the sparse furnishings of their home and slight indulgences that even their Christmas dinner holds. However, Dickens also goes to great lengths in Stave 3 to describe the family's demeanor as one filled with love, affection and joy that the family is together on Christmas. The only low point for the evening occurs when the family mentions the mean-spirit of Scrooge. This is short lived however and the family returns to being happy and sharing laughter in front of the fire. Dickens makes it clear that this joy and laughter remains with the family despite their poor living circumstances, the harshness of Scrooge as a boss and the poor health of Tiny Tim, the Cratchit's son.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

With the presentation of the Crachit family, Charles Dickens dispels the notion that poverty makes people worthless and demeaned. He presents a sentimental depiction of a family, portraying their love and affection for one another as well as the harsh reality of their poverty.

In an effort to expose Victorian class prejudice, and inform his readers that poverty is no crime, Dickens presents a poignant scene with the Crachit family's celebration of Christmas. When the Spirit of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to the Crachit home where he witnesses the joy and excitement of the children and parents alike, Scrooge cannot help being drawn into their exuberance. This family is a loving one, filled with individuals of distinct and worthy personalities, especially Tiny Tim, whose little spirit is cheerful and kind, despite his misfortune.

The loving family of the Crachits becomes Dickens's defensive argument against the Poor Laws of England, in which families, like his own, were separated as parents were imprisoned for debt. Moreover, Dickens uses the scenes with the Crachits to argue against the prevalent theory of Thomas Robert Malthus in Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), who contended that population growth would supersede food supply, so the poor had no right to live if they could not contribute to the economy and sustain themselves.
Especially moving is Bob Crachit's telling of how Tiny Tim hoped people in the church would see him and recall that Jesus cured the lame and the sick. Even Scrooge is moved by this frail little boy and asks the Spirit if Tiny Tim will live; however, the Spirit informs Scrooge that without the necessary care he needs, Tim will die. He then uses Scrooge's own words about decreasing the surplus population, which echo those of Malthus. When an ashamed Scrooge hangs his head, the Spirit scolds him,

"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."

Then, after the meal in which all have delighted, they gather around the fire with chestnuts and fill their cups with the "compound from the jug." Bob Crachit makes a toast to Mr. Scrooge and suddenly the delight leaves the faces of everyone. Mrs. Crachit does not want to toast him, but Bob insists "It's Christmas," so she does, although adding some of her thoughts. The children, too, begrudgingly toast their father's employer. But, soon the gloom cast upon them by Scrooge's name is dispelled and the family joyous once again.
As the Spirit whisks Scrooge away, 

...they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit's torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last.

Truly, Scrooge is moved both by the love and happiness in the Crachit family despite their material needs, and by the goodness of all, especially Tiny Tim. whose little frail body does not impair his Christian charity and love for all. 


See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial