illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge in silhouette walking toward a Christmas tree and followed by the three ghosts

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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What is the role of the Cratchit family in the novel A Christmas Carol?

The Cratchit family provide a foil for Scrooge and a focus for his generosity after his conversion in A Christmas Carol. They also contribute to the atmosphere by showing the importance of a single, joyful holiday to those whose lives are hard on every other day of the year.

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The Cratchit family plays a significant role in Scrooge’s transformation by enabling him to feel empathy and sympathy. Bob Cratchit is employed by Ebenezer Scrooge as a clerk, and early on in this great novel, we see Bob face Scrooge’s wrath after he quietly applauds the inspiration defense of Christmas that is given by Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, when he stops by their London office on Christmas Eve.

On the tour that the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge on, they go around the dirty-but-cheerful neighborhoods of London where Christmas is being celebrated, and the two visit the Cratchit household. They witness the family enjoying the festivities together and being a real family, despite the fact that there isn’t enough mood for the celebration to have been called a Christmas feast. Scrooge feels remarkable emotion at the scene, particularly by the sight of Cratchit’s youngest son, Tiny Tim, who is crippled and whom, according to the spirit, will die soon if he does not receive the medical help that he needs. Scrooge is touched to hear the toast that Bob Cratchit offers to him and shocked to discover the disdain that Bob’s family has for him as a result of the way he has treated his employee.

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The Cratchit family has several roles in A Christmas Carol. They provide a foil to Scrooge by being poor but happy, enjoying Christmas as much as the circumstances allow. They also have a key role in the plot, not only by illustrating the effects of Scrooge's meanness, but, crucially, by providing a practical focus for his generosity at the end of the book.

Perhaps the family's most important contributions to A Christmas Carol, however, are to its theme and overall atmosphere. The word "Dickensian" is used in two contrasting ways. In the first place, it refers to the horrific conditions in Victorian slums, factories and orphanages. In the second place, particularly with reference to Christmas, it evokes an atmosphere of merriment and plenty, with a happy family sitting down to a vast and splendid meal. These two associations with Dickens's name are obviously very different, but they are not incompatible. Dickens excels at describing the occasional joy of those whose lives are hard and grim most of the time. The Cratchits are one of the best examples in all Dickens's works of a group of people who are enjoying a day of excess and hilarity precisely because it is such a contrast to their everyday existence. Their role in creating the unique atmosphere of the most famous novel ever to be written about Christmas is, therefore, a vital one.

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The Cratchit family represent the 'real life' people to whom Scrooge could be kind and charitable, which for Dickens in this novel is a time of giving and generosity more than a Christian religious festival.  Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's clerk, is a poor man with a large family to support. In Stave 1, he is underpaid, and overworked, and bears...

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Scrooge only goodwill, especially at Christmas time. Cratchit uncomplainingly bears with Scrooge's meanness, and is contrasted with Scrooge's nephew, Fred, who is relatively well-off, and only wants to invite his Uncle to a family Christmas party, an invitation which Scrooge rebuffs.

In Stave 3, the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge images of starving children, and mockingly asks Scrooge 'Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?' The Ghost then reveals the reality of the Cratchit's poverty at home, and we understand that Scrooge has no idea until now of the Cratchit family struggles, including the care of their crippled son, 'Tiny Tim'. Still, he is dismissive. The Ghost indicates that the crippled child will be dead by next Christmas.

The Cratchits represent both a moral and political crux for Dickens: Christmas is or should be a time of generosity, materially and emotionally, and in the course of the tale, Scrooge undergoes a moral and emotional transformation and ends by treating the Cratchits to a good Chistmas and - we can infer - saving Tiny Tim's life.

The novel was written (in 1843) at a time when the Poor Laws in England were especially severe - condemning even men with (underpaid) jobs to imprisonment for debt. You should look up the writings of T.S.Malthus on 'The Principle of Population' (1798 - but still a work of note 50 years later) - whose treatise on the ratio of food production to consumers considered those unable to support themselves as virtually unfit to live. It was a well-endorsed political notion at the time, and the workhouses were full of men like Cratchit. Dickens reveals the Cratchits as the human face of these innumerable, dismissable 'poor' and gives them an individual, if highly sentimental, human family life.

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If you look at Scrooge as the dynamic protagonist in A Christmas Carol, that is, the main or primary character in a work who undergoes change throughout the story, then the character of Bob Cratchitt (and his family) would be a foil.  He doesn't fit the definition of an antagonist because he isn't working against Ebeneezer Scrooge, but his presence in the novel serves to highlight Scrooge's cruelty and miserly personality. The two are opposites, and the Cratchitts serve to show an example of the virtuous poor.  One of the many themes in A Christmas Carol is that of the perils of wealth vs. the virtuous poor, and it would be impossible to fully explore that without an example of each.  The Cratchitt family exemplifies the virtuous poor - never as clearly as during the Christmas feast when Bob Cratchitt toasts to "the founder of the feast."  Although the rest of his family, especially his feisty wife, is incredulous that Bob wished to bestow blessings on him, they nevertheless did so.  You can't have a Scrooge without contrasting him to a selfless clerk and his son, Tiny Tim.

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How does Dickens use the Cratchits in A Christmas Carol?

Dickens uses the Cratchits in two primary ways within the text.  The first is to establish that having money is not a prerequisite for being happy.  While the Cratchits have little food for a Christmas feast, must wear ill-fitting hand-me-down clothing, and must work in demanding jobs, they are still able to maintain their love for each other and their general happiness.  This calls Ebenezer Scrooge's value system into question, as Scrooge values money above all else.

The Cratchits also put a face to the nameless poor.  Earlier in Stave One, when Ebenezer is asked to donate money to the poor, he refuses, saying that he supports only "prisons" and "workhouses."  It is clear from his response that he does not have a clear idea of the plight of London's poor people, and that he is largely unsympathetic.  Showing the Cratchits permits Dickens to highlight what the tribulations of the poor looked like in practical terms.  This, in turn, causes Scrooge to fully understand the situation of poverty at the time, and changes the way he views his role in the situation.

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Discuss the importance of the Cratchit family in the novella A Christmas Carol.

The Cratchit family provides the contrast to Scrooge's character.

When Scrooge's nephew comes to the office and invites Scrooge to spend Christmas with him and his wife, Scrooge pronounces the entire idea of the Christmas holiday as being "humbug" and expresses his complete disgust at the celebration.

If I could work my will...every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.

As the nephew departs, he extends Christmas greetings to Bob Cratchit, "who, cold as he was, was warmer than Scrooge; for he returned them cordially."

And so the contrasts are established. Scrooge lives by himself, has gruel by his very small fire in his very dreary quarters, while the Cratchit household was small and simple but overflowing with life and love. Scrooge threatens to find a new clerk when Bob affirms that he would like to have the entire Christmas Day off work, but Bob insists that the family drink a toast to "Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast."

In the end, Scrooge learns the lessons taught by the three visitors, and the Cratchit family - in particular Tiny Tim - present him with immediate and first-hand opportunities to demonstrate that he has learned the lessons of generosity and kindness toward all.

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What is it like to be in the Cratchit family in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Bob Cratchit works for Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge makes Bob work long hours but pays him little. The Cratchits therefore, are very poor. They often do not have enough to eat, and they wear patched, hand me down clothing. Despite all this, they are a happy family, who love one another immensely. They always make the best of what they have. For example, during the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge is taken to the Cratchit household, where he sees the family bustling about to get ready for Christmas dinner. Everyone is excited, and everyone pitches in to make it a good evening. The children play a joke on their father, pretending that their oldest sister, Martha, isn't coming.  Martha, however, can't bear to see her father disappointed, so she quickly appears, and they all have a good laugh. The youngest of the six children, Tiny Tim, is ill and though he is a constant worry because the Cratchits cannot afford a doctor, everyone does his/her best to be positive and happy. Tiny Tim, himself, is positive and cheerful. This family is very grateful for all that they have.

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