Why does Dickens use humor in "A Christmas Carol"?

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kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"A Christmas Carol" is a story with a strong message about the importance of reformation, but despite its sincerity, it is littered with instances of humor and light-heartedness. Arguably, Dickens uses this method for two reasons.

First of all, Dickens employs humor in the characterization of Scrooge to make the reader like him. After all, if the reader felt no empathy or warmth towards Scrooge, then the story of his reformation would not be so powerful. We see examples of Scrooge's wit in Stave One during his conversation with Marley:

"You travel fast?'' said Scrooge.

"On the wings of the wind,'' replied the Ghost.

"You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,'' said Scrooge.

Scrooge's witty retorts, therefore, add a human element to his character and make him more likeable.

Secondly, looking at Dickens' preface to "A Christmas Carol" offers a glimpse into another reason for his use of humor:

I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it.

In other words, Dickens wishes to present his message of social and personal reform in a manner which captures the joy and happiness of the season, not in a manner which comes across as demanding or oppressive. Through Scrooge, Dickens speaks directly to his readers: he wants them to consider the plight of the industrial poor—of people like the Cratchits—and act to improve their conditions. He is advocating an inclusive Christmas, where all members of society come together in harmony, and Dickens knows that humor is the only means by which he can transcend the existing social boundaries to make this happen.