"There were great, round, potbellied baskets of chestnuts..tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence." What does this quote mean?is he trying to say the chestnuts are apologetic of...

"There were great, round, potbellied baskets of chestnuts..tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence." What does this quote mean?

is he trying to say the chestnuts are apologetic of their "wealth" ? please help !

Expert Answers
fezziwig eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are many reasons to admire and enjoy Dickens's writing, and this passage from A Christmas Carol reveals this. To establish the jollity of this Victorian Christmas, Dickens likens chestnuts to "the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen" who, because of the Christmas spirit, go "tumbling out into the street in their apoplectic opulence." 

The jollity is clearly revealed in the phrase "apoplectic opulence." Apoplectic means a sudden loss of bodily function due to rupture or occlusion of a blood vessel. However, Dickens doesn't use it denotatively; the true meaning is in its connotation to a sudden fit of laughter and jollity brought on by the Christmas spirit. And the noun "opulence" can mean wealth or abundance; so either would fit in interpreting the amount of jollity that is being felt during Christmas.

Therefore, the meaning of this passage is found in the imagery of the chestnuts that represent the effects of the Christmas spirit, which we see so vividly by the Ghost of Christmas Present; when we first meet him, he is sitting on a throne of food. And guess what? One of the items of foods is chestnuts.


pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that you can not understand this quote if you do not understand what "apoplectic" meant in Dickens' day.  In those days, one of the major meanings of the word was to refer to strokes (the medical condition).  If a person was "apoplectic" he was likely to have a stroke.  This was likely to come either from being angry or from being too fat.

Look at the rest of the sentence about the chestnuts.  It is comparing them to rich men in their vests (waistcoats are vests worn under a jacket like in a three piece suit) and with their potbellies.

So, to me, what this is saying is that the chestnuts were so round and plump that they looked like fat old men who were likely to have strokes.


rdcoverley | Student

The other answers given are great.  The last time I read a Christmas Carol was in the summer of 1968 -- I was in seventh grade and really couldn't make heads or tails of much of Dickens, but have the story engaged me so that I have never let a Season pass without watching productions of the novel and its five staves.  Somehow over the years, the copy I read disapparated between colleges, wives, and travels.

Then this year, a friend gave me her old paperback copy of Carol for Christmas.  Now, some 42 years later, I began reading it as a cross reference for all the different movie versions of the Dickens original.  I made time to read the entire novel, and as you might expect, was rewarded many times over by Dickens' insight and foresight of a world of Ignorance and Wont. 

Fascinating as this Christmas pasttime was I kept coming back to the turn of phrase that has raised the question and answers about apoplectic chestnuts.  So today I found my way to this site!

I found the posted answers to be very insightful and they lead me to another observation -- the genius of Dickens and his command of the language.  For not only does he conjugate stroke (apoplexy) with visible wealth (opulence) in what seems to be a paradox, but he engages onomatopoeia by emulating the sound of chestnuts as they roast and pop on the fire!

So to you all, great and small, God Bless Us Down to Our Chestnuts!


mkcapen1 | Student

In the play "A Christmas Carol" the writer contrasts the things available to those who have money and things that almost taunt the poor.  Dickens was well aware of those differences and often presented the issues in his works. 

When we look at the dictionary definition of the word apoplectic we see that it can mean to be furious or over come with anger.  Opulence can be used to mean a lavish display of wealth or a rich supply.

By looking at the true definitions of the words, one can surmise one of two things: the chestnuts are hot and angry (personification) after being cooked and since there are so many in the display they are falling out; or there are so many shoved into the container that the wealth (volume) of the chestnuts has caused them to fall out of the baskets demonstrating that there is a rich supply of them.

It is more reasonable to choose the second sentence as hot chestnuts fresh from the fire would be more likely to set the baskets on fire.


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A Christmas Carol

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