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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How does Dickens depict fog in A Christmas Carol?

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It would be a challenge for any author attempting to capture the atmosphere of London in the winter to ignore fog. London’s fog is a character, it is so pervasive a part of that city’s environment. Descriptions of Victorian-era London invariably make note of the prominent role fog plays in the city’s atmosphere, darkening the sky, adding to the chill, and providing a sense of foreboding ideal for multiple genres of literature. Arthur Conan Doyle regularly referenced England’s foggy climate in adding to the threatening nature it adds to the local landscape, as did Bram Stoker in Dracula, especially in the way the author established the atmosphere in which horrific action takes place, as when the count’s coffin in transported to England. The fog limits visibility, concealing untold dangers. Charles Dickens, writing in the Victorian era, similarly referenced fog as a way of establishing atmosphere. In A Christmas Carol, the fog is ever-present, obscuring vision and casting a pall over the city. Note, early in the story, Dickens’s description of London in winter and his protagonist’s demeanor:

Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

That is a lengthy passage, but it is cited to illustrate the way Dickens used London’s fog to establish the brutal and foreboding conditions under which his tale would occur. As A Christmas Carol progresses, the fog continues to define the atmosphere, as when the story’s narrator notes that

the fog and darkness thickened so . . . 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 . . .

Again, the fog is an integral part of the generally cold, damp, unpleasant atmosphere in which the world around Scrooge exists. As Scrooge walks towards his front door, before he is visited by the spirits that will haunt and educate him, he must first navigate through the fog which “hung so about the black gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the Weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.”

If fog represents the cold, dark, damp atmosphere in which Scrooge exists, its disappearance is synonymous with the old miser’s transformation following his night of peculiar dreams. As he wakes from the nightmare of the spirits, especially the final one that posits a lonely decline into death, he is rejuvenated to discover that he had, in fact, merely been dreaming. He is elated and has turned a new leaf. Note how Dickens envelopes the transformed figure into an entirely new persona:

Running to the window, he opened it, and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring, cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sunlight; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!

“Golden sunlight” has replaced the gloom that permeated the preceding story's atmosphere. The fog has literally and figuratively lifted from Scrooge’s eyes. An angry miserly old man is now a happy, smiling, benevolent figure. The fog is gone.

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In Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, the fog is a metaphor for Scrooge's willing and deliberate blindness towards the spirit of the holiday, his own selfish ways, and what his real priorities should be at the time. Scrooge, old, bitter, and miserly, notices that the fog is incredibly heavy when he is walking home on Christmas Eve, though he knows nothing of the visitors he is about to receive that will attempt to lift his spiritual fog and break his self-imposed isolation.

After being visited by the ghost of his business partner and the three ghosts of Christmas, he wakes up on Christmas morning to find himself a changed man. Filled with the spirit of compassion and giving, he notices that the fog has cleared completely.

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The fog represents Scrooge's spiritual blindness and isolation. He is a miserable old man who does not realize how twisted his soul has become by a love of money and disdain for his fellow man. (The idea of Scrooge being blind to his moral failings reoccurs during Marley's visit, when he tells Scrooge that he wears a chain far longer than Marley's, only he cannot see it while he is a mortal human being.) The fog is also a good atmospheric touch, lending a sense of eeriness to Scrooge's walk home.

On Christmas morning, the fog has lifted, and so too has Scrooge's moral blindness. Scrooge sees the world more clearly than he did before and is finally able to rejoin the human race.

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Just as the fog prevents people from seeing clearly in the literal sense, the fog seems to be presented as symbolic of Scrooge's inability to see in a figurative sense: he cannot see what his real priorities ought to be or that the choices he has made in his life have actually caused him to be alone.  As he walks home on Christmas Eve, the fog is especially thick, just as Scrooge's selfishness and lack of compassion are at their height.  When he wakes up on Christmas morning, one of the first things he notices is that the fog has lifted, and it is a bright and clear day.  Scrooge's mental fog, if you will, has also lifted, and he now understands how he should view his fellows, that he should live to help them in every way that he can, and that he should reach out to his nephew, Fred, his only living family. 

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