What is the role of Tiny Tim in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol?    

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Tiny Tim represents all the many innocent victims of the heartless economic system which has made Scrooge an incredibly rich man. In writing A Christmas Carol Dickens would doubtless have been aware that many of his readers will have shared Scrooge's prejudice that poor people only had themselves to blame for their misfortunes.

So, in order to make his critique of contemporary Britain more persuasive, he uses a small, disabled boy to show the evil consequences of the prevailing system. This way Dickens hopes to make his readers more sympathetic to the plight of the poor. Whereas many of his readers could easily have attributed such poverty in able-bodied adults to moral failings, they would not have been able to do so with a disabled child. In the figure of Tiny Tim, Dickens is essentially remaining his readers that poverty has little or nothing to do with being lazy; all too often it's a case of simple bad luck, and it's innocent children like Tiny Tim who are the main victims.

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Tiny Tim’s purpose is to pull on the reader’s heartstrings, and Scrooge’s!  He represents all of the children living in poverty in the “surplus population” that Scrooge refuses to help.  Dickens desperately wanted to help the poor, and children most of all.  He made Tiny Tim as pathetic and sympathetic as he possibly could. 

There is also a dramatic purpose of creating Tiny Tim.  By making us feel sorry for the cute and cuddly Tiny Tim, and then announcing that he will die if Scrooge does not intervene, there becomes a real pressing need for Scrooge to reform.  He is no longer just saving himself, he is also saving the boy’s life.

When Tiny Tim is first introduced, his Christ-like personality is revealed. 

[He] hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see. (Stave 3, p. 32)

There is nothing at all objectionable about the boy.   He is clearly the apple of his father’s eye and the baby of the family.  Dickens further memorializes him in the last line, further demonstrating Tim’s importance to the book.

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One! (Stave 5, p. 56)

Tim is not just a symbol to us; he is a symbol to Scrooge as well.  Scrooge is unaware that Bob Cratchit has a crippled son.  He asks the spirit if Tiny Tim will live, and becomes upset when he hears the boy will die.  The spirit angrily throws his earlier words back at him.

[If] man you be in heart, not adamant, forbear that wicked cant until you have discovered What the surplus is, and Where it is. Will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die? (Stave 3, p. 34)

By emphasizing “What” and “Where” here, Dickens reinforces that idea that Tim represents all of the poor and needy.  Scrooge does regret saying this, and one of the first things he does when he recovers is send Bob Cratchit a turkey—probably thinking about how Tim will be eating it. 

In the end, Scrooge becomes a “second father” to the boy, loving him like the son he never had and basically becoming a beloved member of the Cratchit family.  Thus Tim symbolizes Scooge’s transformation, reformation and reclamation as well.

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