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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Examples and analysis of figurative language and characterization in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Summary:

In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens employs figurative language such as similes and metaphors to enhance the narrative, like describing Scrooge as "solitary as an oyster." Characterization is vivid, with Scrooge initially depicted as miserly and cold-hearted, but transforming into a kind and generous man by the end, illustrating themes of redemption and the impact of compassion.

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Can you provide an example and analysis of a metaphor in A Christmas Carol?

Is not the title itself a metaphor?  Carols at Christmas tell stories about the Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; or, they tell of someone's seeing the star in the heavens, or they relate some other facet of Christmas with lyrical lines that form a narrative.  Thus, A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, his heartlessness and his various experiences which effect a powerful change in the character.

At the end of Dickens's classic tale, Scrooge exudes warmth and kindness, much in contrast to his description in Stave One which is an extended metaphor:

A frosty rime [frost] was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and on his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and he didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Scrooge is so unfriendly, cold-hearted, and cruel that the very air seems to chill with his presence.

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Can you provide an example and analysis of a metaphor in A Christmas Carol?

Another metaphor that sets a ghostly mood for this ghostly tale is when Dickens states that because of the dense fog the "houses opposite [Scrooge's office] were mere phantoms." A "phantom" is an apparition or specter, so by comparing the houses to specters, Dickens not only sets a frightful mood, but he foreshadows the arrival of four other specters (phantoms) that will scare Scrooge into becoming a philanthropist and a believer in Christmas again.

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Can you provide an example and analysis of a metaphor in A Christmas Carol?

To find a metaphor in this book, you don't need to go any farther than the second page.  On this page, Dickens is describing Scrooge's physical and emotional characteristics.  He uses a variety of metaphors to do this.

First, he says Scrooge is a "tight-fisted hand at the grindstone."  The grindstone is figurative.

Next, he says that

A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him...

Unless we are to believe that Scrooge literally had a low body temperature and frost on his head and face, this is a metaphor, too.

The purpose of these two metaphors is to emphasize for us how hard-hearted and stingy Scrooge is.  He is a taskmaster with a cold soul.  The metaphors used to describe him help get this point across.

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Can you provide an example and analysis of a metaphor in A Christmas Carol?

The title of this Dickens' novel defies its contents as the wording, A Christmas Carol, invites the reader to indulge him(her)self in the Christmas spirit - or so it is to be believed. Metaphor is therefore used to great effect to reveal teh cold-heartedness of Scrooge in the bitterly cold winter conditions.

There can be no misunderstanding of Scrooge's character when he suggests that "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips"should be "buried with a stake of holly through his heart." If this metaphor about his feelings toward Christmas do not chill a person's veins then nothing will!

The image created by Marley's chains dragging on the floor creates a dark picture and Marley's warning is far-reaching as he tries to warn Scrooge of what will become of him if he doesn't change. Marley is destined to

wander the earth, walking among humanity as he never did in life

and "the chain I forged in life" is destined to remain with him as a burden to show lost opportunities during his lifetime when he could have helped the less fortunate.

When visited by the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge's own words  "Are there no workhouses?"are repeated to show how unnecessary and cruel he is. To name the two children from this image "Ignorance and Want" must surely bring the message home.  

Scrooge is able to change from a misreable person with no appreciation of his own good fortune:"darkness was cheap, and Scrooge liked it" to a worthy citizen who will use his wealth to benefit others. From being perpetually mean and not even treating Christmas Day any differently- "  he didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas" - he has been given a second chance to make things right. The use of the extended metaphor in Stave I (from: " a frosty rime..."makes his transformation all the more poignant.

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What are some examples of figurative language in A Christmas Carol?

In Stave 1, the narrator employs a simile when he says that "Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail." This is a common expression that the narrator sort of plays with on the first page, suggesting that perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that someone is as dead as a "coffin-nail," but of course that's not how the saying goes. He uses another simile when he says that Scrooge is "Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire [...]." He means to suggest, of course, that Scrooge is, figuratively, cold and hardened. Another simile suggests that Scrooge is "solitary as an oyster." The narrator employs a metaphor when he says that Scrooge had a "frosty rime [...] on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin." He implies that Scrooge is so cold that even his white hair makes him seem covered in a frost. The narrator uses personification when he says,

The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a gothic window in the wall, became invisible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head up there.

He gives the bell human awareness and expressions as well as the attributes of teeth and a head. Later, when Scrooge's door knocker turns into his old partner, Marley's, face, the narrator describes it has having a "dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar"—another simile. Another simile describes the loud sound of the door banging shut as "resound[ing] through the house like thunder."

There are so very many examples of figurative language in this text! These are all only in the first chapter.

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What are some examples of figurative language in A Christmas Carol?

Keep in mind that figurative language, or figures of speech, include all similes and metaphors within the text.  Dickens is known (along with Shakespeare of course) as one of the great masters of figurative language in English literature.  Though A Christmas Carol is a shorter story than his others, figurative language abounds in every chapter.

In the very opening paragraph, for example, there is the simile:

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Ironically, the very next paragraph goes into the literal explanation of this figurative phrase, which emphasizes its humor and allows Dickens to get away with using a cliche, even with a modern audience.

The 6th paragraph of the first chapter is full of similes and metaphors used to describe Scrooge.  Notice the ice and cold imagery.  Though the sayings tend to sound old-fashioned now, all of them paint a picture of a cold-hearted and cold-natured man, whose coldness is only made chillier because the weather is physically cold during Christmas time.  Here are a few examples:

he was a tight-fisted hand

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire;

solitary as an oyster.

The cold within him froze his old features...made his eyes red, his thin lips blue and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.

A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin.

he iced his office in the dogdays; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

I see that you are a teacher.  If you are studying this novel with a class, a fun activity might be to have students keep a list of similes and metaphors as they read.  You could then use the list for future classes and create other activities out of it.  Just an idea from one teacher to another.

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What are some examples of figurative language in A Christmas Carol?

Figurative language is defined as language based on some sort of comparison that is not literally true. Such figures of speech allows one thing to be compared with another thing that is entirely different and forcing us to see how the two unlike states or objects are actually similar. The most common figures of speech are similes and metaphors.

In this great Dickensian seasonal classic, therefore, much figurative language is used by the author to help describe the setting and the action. One of the first examples in the novel is a simile, because it compares two objects to each other using the word "like" or "as":

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

This figure of speech compares Old Marley to a door-nail, choosing the "deadness" of both of these objects as the point of comparison. Interestingly, Dickens himself goes on to mock this somewhat clichéd simile, asking what is dead about a doornail, but leaves us with it to describe Marley.

There are a series of similes that are used to describe Scrooge very shortly after this first simile:

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

Note how these similes establish his secretive, hard and unyielding character through the comparison to flint and an oyster.

Hopefully this will help you to identify some more examples of figurative language in this great novel. Good luck!

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What is an example of a simile in A Christmas Carol?

A simile is used in literature to compare two things using "like" or "as."  These things can be quite different, but they can also be similar (a sound appearing like thunder).  

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, similes are frequently used.  When Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, he visits the scene of a party he once attended as a young man.  His old boss, Mr. Fezziwig, is dancing in the scene.  His calves are described as appearing to emit light, so that "they shone in every part of the dance like moons."  Dickens compared the light of the moon to the light that seemed to come from Mr. Fezziwig's legs.

Later in the story, Scrooge observes a scene from Bob Cratchit's house.  Mrs. Cratchit asks her husband how Tiny Tim behaved in church.  Bob Cratchit tells her that he was "as good as gold."  Dickens compares Tiny Tim's behavior to a valuable metal to describe it as excellent.

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What is an example of a simile in A Christmas Carol?

A simile is a literary device used to compare or contrast two things. When irony is also being used a simile could completely change semantic context and this is why it can be used to compare or to contrast depending on what is being said.

The simile usually uses the prepositions "like" or "as". An example of a simile  would be "Your eyes are blue like the ocean.", or "You are cold as ice."

In A Christmas Carol there are several instances of smile that are also great opportunities for the characters to express their emotions, particularly in a story where the main character will undergo dynamic changes. Phrases such as:

I am as giddy as a drunken man

I am as merry as a school boy

I am as happy as an angel

Are good examples of simile where the character gets to explain the extent to which an event has made a mark in his or her life. 

The use of "like" is mainly geared toward a physical comparison. In the case of the ghost of Old Marley, the chain that was attached to the ghost reminds the narrator of a tail, sort of insinuating that this apparition in front of him may or may not demon-like. To add depth to the narrative, and to add mystery and horror to the tone, the chain is described just as such

It was long and wound around him like a tail

Certainly to a reader of Dickens's time, this description would have been powerful, as it was during the Victorian period that Gothic literature flourished with the publications of Dracula, Frankenstein, and the likes. Therefore, Dickens used simile to add that "dash" of Gothic imagery that works so well to create the mood of this particular moment in the story.

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What is an example of a simile in A Christmas Carol?

A simile is a comparison of two UNLIKE objects using the words "like" or "as".  An example would be...... The girl is as pretty as a picture.  the girl is being compared to a picture.  Two unlike objects --- girl and picture are being compared. 

In A Christmas Carol, the very first paragraph gives you a famous simile.  It says

"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail" (pg 5)

The narrator goes on to explain that he doesn't really know how dead a door-nail can be -- that a coffin nail might be more appropriate, but he uses for turn of phrase "dead as a door-nail"

  Another simile is when Scrooge enters his home.  He has seen Marley's face and is denying that fact.  He slams the door shut.

"The sound resounded through the house like thunder" (pg 15)

Here you are comparing the sound of a slamming door to thunder.

When he sees Marley's ghost, he notices the chain coiled around him

"It was long and wound around him like a tail..." (pg 17)

This compares the chain to a tail. 

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What are some examples of a hyperbole in A Christmas Carol?

Dickens makes wonderful use of hyperbole in A Christmas Carol, at times even using very different hyperbolic statements involving similar focuses. Take for example Scrooge's hyperbole in Stave One, when Fred has come to invite his uncle to come to Christmas dinner. Scrooge has turned down the offer, and is in the process of arguing with his nephew when he says "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. He should!” Here Scrooge makes his feelings on the holiday clear to his nephew by taking two of the most well-known symbols of the holiday, the Christmas pudding and holly and, via hyperbole, turning them into instruments of death and destruction.

In direct contrast to Scrooge's scary Christmas is the hyperbole associated with the pudding that Mrs. Cratchit makes in Stave Three. Mrs. Cratchit is clearly very nervous about the state of the pudding, and when the time comes to bring it to the table she "left the room alone—too nervous to bear witnesses." For Mrs. Cratchit, there is a lot riding on this particular pudding. Bob, being the intuitive, wonderful husband that he is, understands this, and responds accordingly. The rest of the family follows suit:

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs. Cratchit since their marriage. Mrs. Cratchit said that now the weight was off her mind, she would confess she had had her doubts about the quantity of flour. Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so. Any Cratchit would have blushed to hint at such a thing.

Bob's initial hyperbole is accentuated by that of the narrator itself. One can also guess that the specific remarks made by the other members of the family were also very hyperbolic, given their love for their mother and their desire for her happiness. 

These two examples show Dickens using hyperbole for both accent and illumination. Through something as simple as a Christmas pudding, the author helps the reader to understand the extremes of the human condition.

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What are some examples of a hyperbole in A Christmas Carol?

Dickens uses hyperbole in many of the descriptive passages in A Christmas Carol to enrich and enlarge the mental picture he is creating in the mind of his reader. Consider his initial introduction of Ebenezer Scrooge:

A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scarping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

Scrooge's first encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Present, which takes place in his own bedchamber, uses hyperbole to contrast the usual dark, dismal, dirty and aged appearance of the room with the vision that awaited Scrooge.

The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there;

The Cratchit's goose was not a large bird in comparison with many geese being consumed on that day. But the Cratchits react as if it was "the rarest of all birds; a feathered phenomenon, to which a black swan was a matter of course." The Christmas pudding, the final jewel in their Christmas dinner, is unveiled by Mrs. Cratchit as the others wait and take in the progression of aromas.

A smell like a washing-day! That was the cloth. A smell like an eating-house and a pastry-cook's next door to each other, with a laundress's next door to that! That was the pudding!

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What are two metaphors in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

Dickens uses lots of metaphors in this story. To find some examples, take a look at stave 1. First of all, Dickens uses a metaphor when describing Scrooge's character to the reader. Specifically, Dickens compares Scrooge's coldhearted miserliness to cold or frost, as shown in the following lines:

He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

This metaphor is effective in emphasizing the negative aspects of Scrooge's character. By portraying him as being so coldhearted that it affects his body temperature, Dickens really highlights this particular character trait.

For another example of a metaphor, take a look at the description of the London streets. Dickens compares the houses, for instance, to "phantoms." By doing this, he emphasizes the impact of the fog. The fog is so thick that it has transformed the appearance of the houses, making them look like ghosts. This metaphor also foreshadows the arrival of the three spirits later in the story.

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What idioms are used in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

Here are a few more idioms used in A Christmas Carol:

Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.

The body of Marley's ghost is completely transparent, so Scrooge can see right through him. As a ghost, Marley lacks internal organs, just as when he was alive he lacked "the bowels of mercy," meaning compassion.

To sit, staring at those fixed, glazed eyes, in silence for a moment, would play, Scrooge felt, the very deuce with him.

Scrooge is staring into the eyes of Marley's ghost. He feels that doing this will "play the very deuce with him," meaning it will do him harm.

The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

The ghost of Marley is warning Scrooge to change his ways in order to avoid his terrible fate, condemned to wander in chains throughout all eternity. Marley makes a distinction between "the dealings of his trade," meaning his business career, and the more important "ocean of business," that is to say compassion for humanity. Marley and Scrooge's business was just a mere drop in the ocean in terms of what's really important in life.

"Yo ho, my boys!" said Fezziwig. "No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer! Let's have the shutters up,” cried old Fezziwig, with a sharp clap of his hands, "before a man can say, Jack Robinson!"

The Ghost of Christmas Past is showing Scrooge how Christmasses used to be when he was a young man working for the kindly old Mr. Fezziwig. It's Christmas Eve, and Fezziwig decides to shut up shop. Contrast that with how old man Scrooge behaves towards Bob Cratchit. In fact, so keen is Mr. Fezziwig to let the celebrations begin that he claps his hands, hurrying up Dick and Ebeneezer to put up those shutters without delay, "before a man can say, Jack Robinson!" This is an expression dating back to the 18th century meaning a very brief period of time.

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What idioms are used in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens?

An idiom is a figurative expression, word, or phrase that is common enough or used often enough in a language that the literal meaning is no longer considered.

A Christmas Carol makes use of several idioms that were perhaps made more popular because of the fame of this short novel.

Here are a few of the more well known idioms used in the story to help you get your list started:

  • Dead as a doornail = irreverent way of saying dead a long time, or very dead.
  • Tight-fisted = cheap; won't open his hand to give money or anything else.
  • Solitary as an oyster = alone but not lonely, oysters have no sense of community.
  • Humbug = a phrase made popular by Scrooge's use of it; original meaning is "hoax" or "jest."  Scrooge uses "Bah Humbug" to declare Christmas a fraud or a hoax (an excuse to give to the poor, stay home from work, and be kind for no reason).
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What are the uses of figurative language in A Christmas Carol?

Since A Christmas Carol is a novel, it would be an arduous task to list every time Dickens uses figurative language. However, here are some examples that give a sense of how the author uses figurative language to create the mood and characterization in the novel.

In the first paragraph of the novel, using a simile, Dickens writes, "Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail." Describing Marley, he uses pathetic fallacy: "No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty." By attributing human emotions to the weather, and then comparing those harsh and obdurate feelings with those of Marley, Dickens gives readers insight into Scrooge's dead partner's character. When the charitable men call on Scrooge in chapter 1, much verbal irony ensues. For example, they state, "We have no doubt his liberality is well represented by his surviving partner," meaning to say that Scrooge is as generous as Marley was. It is true, but not in the way the men think: Scrooge is as tight as his partner was. 

When Marley's ghost confronts Scrooge, Scrooge dismisses him using metaphors and a pun: "You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"

Dickens uses a humorous hyperbolic simile to describe the sound of the fiddler at Fezziwig's party: "[It] tuned like fifty stomach aches." Bob Cratchit uses a simile that is also a cliche to describe the way Tiny Tim behaved: "As good as gold." 

The creatures that hide beneath the robe of the Spirit of Christmas Present are symbols, as he explains: "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want."

The businessmen at the Exchange in Scrooge's future use an epithet when referring to Scrooge: "Old Scratch has got his own at last, hey?" Joe, the man who purchases the goods Scrooge's attendants steal from him, uses hyperbole and colloquialism when he says, "I wouldn't give another sixpence, if I was to be boiled for not doing it." Certainly when Bob Cratchit mourns over his dead child, Dickens means the following statement as irony or understatement: "He was reconciled to what had happened, and went down again quite happy." 

Finally, at the end of the story, Dickens piles up similes to emphasize Scrooge's change of heart: "I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man." 

These examples show Dickens' skill at using figurative language to further the mood and characterization of his story.

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What are two examples of indirect characterization in A Christmas Carol?

Indirect characterization can be described as the author showing you, the reader, what a character is like, rather than telling you. So, instead of saying that a character is greedy (as Dickens, in fact, does in the first chapter of this book), a writer can show a character's personality traits through indirect characterization through what the character says, the things they wear, the things they do, and so on. So, the reader infers from indirect characterization what kind of person a character is.

Looking at Dickens's initial description of Scrooge, then, we can see that a lot of it is direct characterization. There is little for the reader to infer from the statement that Scrooge was "bitterer" than any cold wind: this tells us outright that he was a bitter man. However, there is indirect characterization in the statement that "nobody ever stopped him in the street" to ask him to come and see them or to ask how he was. From this, we infer that he did not have any friends, was not well liked, and did not generally pay visits to people. Later, the behavior of Scrooge's nephew towards him provides us with an indirect characterization of him. Dickens does not tell us specifically what type of person he is, but Scrooge notes that he is "poor enough," so we know that his situation is not like his uncle's. The nephew then states that he married his wife for love and asks Scrooge why they cannot be "friends." He wishes him "a Merry Christmas" repeatedly after Scrooge has stated that he thinks Christmas to be a "humbug" and has no use for it. From this, we can infer that Scrooge's nephew is resilient, open-hearted, cheerful and good spirited. He wants to extend his hand to his uncle despite the fact that his uncle does not seem to deserve it. The nephew embodies the spirit of Christmas, whereas Scrooge, of course, does not.

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