Charles Dickens, writing in England in the nineteenth century, would be no stranger to effects of atmosphere on mood. A Christmas Carol is an obvious example of how atmosphere can influence mood in literature as well as in visual arts. Dickens’s story takes place in London during the cold winter months. It is, after all, the Christmas season, and the author was determined to incorporate weather and atmosphere into his theme of a miserly old man overtly and inwardly hostile to the merriest of seasons. Note, for example, in the following passages from early in A Christmas Carol Dickens’s use of fog and cold to suggest a bleaker atmosphere than otherwise would be the case:
Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.
The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.
Dickens used the cold and fog of a London winter to create the atmosphere in which his story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the path to moral redemption begins. Scrooge has nary a word of praise or optimism for anyone, including his faithful assistant Bob Cratchit and the two gentlemen who visit Scrooge in search of financial donations for the less fortunate—a plea to which Scrooge responds with the cold-heartedness and cynicism for which he is known about town.
On the question of redemption, A Christmas Carol is, as noted, a story of one man’s transition from uncaring and cynical to loving and gracious, all the courtesy of those famous nocturnal visits from a series of ghosts. As with quotes supporting the thesis of weather as an instrument of setting, so is Dickens’s story replete with examples of Christmas as a time of merriment and, for Dickens’s protagonist, redemption. The association of the Christmas season with merriment, kindness, and charity is unmistakable in this story, from its title to that early interaction between Scrooge and the two men seeking charitable contributions for the needy. Scrooge’s obsession with business at the expense of humanitarian considerations and the association between Christmas and such considerations is presented clearly in the ghost of Jacob Marley’s angry response to Scrooge:
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Marley’s visit to Scrooge serves both as an introduction to the subsequent appearances of the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future and as the direct connection between Christmas and redemption. Any doubt about that would soon be dispelled by the following confession on the part of Marley:
“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode!”
The reference to the “blessed Star” and “the Wise Men” leaves no doubt as to the connection Dickens makes between the Christmas season, the theme of redemption, and the precipice upon which Scrooge stands. Another quote that suggests the redemptive nature of the season is provided by Scrooge's nephew, who attempts, initially unsuccessfully, to redeem his angry, bitter uncle in the spirit of the season:
“There are many things from which I might have derived good,
by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew.
“Christmas among the rest."
There are a myriad of examples of the redemptive nature of the Christmas season for Scrooge, but the final passages in which the former miser now munificent philanthropist visits the Cratchit family on Christmas Day with news of a much improved temperament and commitment to charitable activities is as good as it gets:
Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.
The visits of the four ghosts has spurred Ebenezer Scrooge to mend his ways. He will henceforth no longer allow an obsession with making money to taint his perspective of mankind; rather, he will go forth with a renewed spirit of generosity and kindness. The association of Christmas with redemption is a major theme of A Christmas Carol. That is, after all, what this story is about.