What do the charity workers symbolize in A Christmas Carol?

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The charity workers who approach Scrooge at the beginning of the story are supposed to represent the approach Scrooge should be taking to Christmas. Charles Dickens was a keen reformer and often used his novels as platforms from which to explain to the middle classes how dire the situation in cities for the poor, and also to give examples of how to help. These charity workers have dedicated themselves to helping "the Poor and destitute," and Dickens makes it clear that he thinks men like Scrooge, who are wealthy, should do the same with their money. Scrooge, however, makes his cynicism and mean-spiritedness very clear, in contrast to their open-hearted appeals to his charity. He suggests that the "treadmill" and the "Union workhouses" should be provision enough to the poor.

The charity workers counter that "Christian cheer of mind" is as important to the poor as absolutely basic bodily needs; they also serve as Dickens's mouthpiece to others who think like Scrooge, pointing out that many are unable to go to the workhouses, because the workhouses are already overly full. It is not enough to rely on these miserable institutions to take care of the poor; people like Scrooge should care about their fellow man, as a duty to the society they live in.

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The charity workers are not intended to symbolize anything but the Christmas spirit. There were many such people who raised money for the poor at Christmastime, and these portly gentlemen were the ones who had been assigned to approach Scrooge and Marley, not knowing that Marley had been dead for seven years. The author wanted to show Scrooge's cold-hearted character before the experiences with the ghosts recorded in the story. And, incidentally, Dickens wanted to make it clear that Marley was dead, because Marley will appear later in the story and will undoubtedly be a ghost.

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.
“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.
“Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

Scrooge, of course, is being disingenuous. He is well aware that all the miserable institutions for the poor are in full operation. Scrooge will undergo a great transformation during his encounters with the ghosts. The change in Scrooge's character is the most important thing in the entire short novel. It is the best Christmas tale ever written. What everyone remembers about it is how Scrooge woke up on Christmas morning a changed man. But Dickens felt it necessary to emphasize his meanness in order to make the transformation that much more dramatically effective. Scrooge is not only selfish and miserly, but he enjoys mocking those who are unable, like himself, to keep themselves warm, comfortable, and well fed. He shows his cruel sense of humor to the two gentlemen who approach him for a donation. It is significant that they know nothing about him. His is just a name on a list of people they have been assigned to call upon. Therefore the effect of Scrooge's personality is more strongly felt by these two callers than it was by Scrooge's nephew, who was also used in this scene to bring out his uncle's selfishness and bad disposition.

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