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.