How is Scrooge portrayed as an outsider in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol?

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is portrayed as an outsider through his isolation on Christmas Eve, his obsessive pursuit of money at the expense of all else, and the negative reaction of others to him, including his relatives. Later, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows him his servants and business associates treating his death callously, with none of them caring that he has died.

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Dickens establishes from the beginning of the novel that Scrooge’s character is defined by its self-imposed isolation and estrangement from the individuals closest to him, and from any ciivic engagement with the London society into which he was born with wealth and status. Despite Scrooge’s inherited privilege that puts him on top of the social hierarchy, his lifelong pain and sorrow have embittered him in ways that have poisoned his soul and rendered him an outsider among his community. Scrooge’s outsider status is demonstrated with his interactions with nearly every character he encounters, especially Cratchit, Fred, and the gentleman collecting for charity.

In general, Scrooge lives in a malignant emotional exile from the world around him because he has no capacity for empathy, compassion, or tolerance—all selfless, essential human virtues that constitute a well-integrated person. Dickens portrays Scrooge as more than just indifferent to the plight of others, which in itself would violate the expected attitudes and behavior of the British upper classes with its adherence to the dictates of the Protestant tradition of social morality. In Victorian-era Britain, where social class was an organizing force as powerful as gravity, a high-status individual like Scrooge ’s turning his back on his social obligations for the sake of the empty pursuit of more money designates him as deeply disconnected from the prevailing ethical and spiritual codes that would otherwise provide social unity and civic strength.

In Dickens’s time, the Industrial Revolution in the British countryside meant booming financial markets and services in Old London’s “Square Mile,” where Scrooge’s wretched reputation precedes him. While wealth had long been a factor of British high society, social norms declared the subjects of work and money to be vulgar and beneath polite conversation. In Scrooge’s days of increasing fortunes from investments and other ventures, the generous and benevolent example of his mentor Old Fezziwig has been consumed by Scrooge’s trauma and resentments. It is crucial to Dickens’s own moral objectives with the tale that it function as a critique of Victorian society and a parable in which empathic human community prevails over singleminded and ruthless capitalism.

With Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s indifference to his clerk’s health and comfort at work is emphasized by the physical arrangement in which Cratchit is himself isolated in a cell-like corner to suffer through. This lack of basic human decency transcends mere cheapness to a level of cruelty that indicates the moral remove at which Scrooge exists. His imperviousness to Cratchit’s good nature provides a contrast between the young apprentice Ebeneezer and the vituperative old miser who is too uncaring to express concern over Cratchit’s real human woes. Dickens suggests that more than the loss of his mother in childbirth and his subsequent ostracization by his father, Scrooge’s emotional emptiness stems from the death of his beloved sister Fan, Fred’s mother.

Scrooge’s outsider alienation from his kin deepened because he was unable to process and own his painful feelings, which he suppresses by shunning all reminders of his past. Years before Fan’s death, Scrooge had lost only women he had ever loved romantically when Belle left him in disgust over his growing obsession with money. Since then, any room in his heart that Scrooge might have had for any warm feeling or shared regard has been filled with coldness alone, which has been like a prison in which he has volunteered for solitary confinement.

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Scrooge has made himself an outsider through his obsessive focus on moneymaking and rejection of sociality.

Early in the book, Scrooge's isolation marks him as an outsider. He rudely turns down the overtures of his nephew Fred, the one person who reaches out to him, and we see him sitting alone at home on Christmas Eve when Marley's ghost makes its appearance.

His outsider status is emphasized during his travels with the ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come. Mrs. Cratchit has unkind words for him, and Fred laughs at him for choosing to be alone in his "moldy" office when he could be with his relatives. His relatives express their dislike:

"I have no patience with him," observed Scrooge’s niece. Scrooge’s niece’s sisters, and all the other ladies, expressed the same opinion.

The most chilling portrayal of his outsider status comes from the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. We as readers realize before Scrooge does that he is being shown his own death scene. He dies alone, and his body is hardly cold when the servants in attendance steal everything around him, including his bed curtains and nightshirt, and quickly pawn the items: they have no lost love for a man who never showed them any humanity. His former business associates, when they hear of his death, are equally callous:

"It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral," said the same speaker; "for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer?"

"I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided," observed the gentleman with the excrescence on his nose. "But I must be fed, if I make one."

Another laugh.

Scrooge sees that if he doesn't change, his self-imposed isolation, greedy pursuit of money, and hardhearted lack of generosity will leave him unloved and unmourned at his death. All of what he is shown becomes a wake-up call for him to transform his life.

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Before his character is reformed, Scrooge is portrayed as cold-hearted and miserly man who values money over friendship. As such, we see evidence of his status as a social outcast and outsider in the first stave (or chapter) of the story. In the opening paragraphs, for example, Dickens' writes that Scrooge is as "solitary as an oyster" and that he very little to do with the rest of society:

"Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, ``My dear Scrooge, how are you...No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o'clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge."

Dickens also states that Scrooge spent all of his days in his counting-house. He never visits other people and he even turns down his nephew's request to spend Christmas Day together. 

Later, when visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, some of the images shown to him demonstrate his status as an outsider. At Fred's house, for example, the game of Yes and No shows how little he is valued by other people. They compare Scrooge to a "disagreeable" and "savage animal" because they cannot relate to him as a fellow human. Similarly, at Old Joe's Shop, in stave four, the women find it morally easy to steal Scrooge's possessions and sell them. Again, these women cannot relate to Scrooge because his values and character are so different to their own. His material focus and emphasis on wealth alienated him and made him stand out:

"Every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did!"

"Why wasn't he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself."

It is only when Scrooge is redeemed, in the fifth stave, that he loses his outsider status. By reconnecting with people like Fred and Tiny Tim, he becomes a well-liked and respected member of society. 


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