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 is the theme of isolation presented in A Christmas Carol?

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The theme of isolation is presented in A Christmas Carol through the character of Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is isolated from the rest of society by his selfishness and lack of humanity. Dickens wants to convey to his readers the message that we all have obligations to each other.

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At the time when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, the prevailing spirit in England was one of fierce individualism. People generally believed that you should look after your own interests and let others get on with living their own lives. In one respect, this is an admirable way of...

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thinking, but it also has a downside in that it can so easily pass into a general indifference towards the poorest members of society.

That's precisely what happens in the case of Scrooge. His lack of concern for the poor is on display for all to see when he sends the two charity collectors packing after they try to hit him for a contribution. Scrooge doesn't believe in helping the poor; he'll attend to his own business, thank you very much.

Such a heartless attitude leaves Scrooge a lonely, isolated man. He has no friends, no social life, and no one to care for. He has money and lots of it, but that's no substitute for human connections. In portraying Scrooge this way, Dickens hoped that his readers, many of whom will have harbored similar attitudes to Scrooge, will realize that such rampant individualism and contempt for the poor can leave one feeling isolated.

Above all, Dickens wants his readers to recognize that all of society has an obligation to others, not just to ourselves. If we can change our attitude towards our fellow man, as Scrooge so spectacularly does after the visit of the ghosts on Christmas Eve, then we will develop greater empathy and emerge from out self-imposed isolation to share in the joys of mutual respect, care, and concern.

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What are some quotes that describe the theme of isolation in A Christmas Carol?

As the novel opens, Scrooge feels beset by Christmas visitors either wanting to invite him over on Christmas or asking him to donate to the poor. In response, Scrooge expresses his desire for isolation:

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry."

The effect of the above on the reader is to create a feeling that Scrooge is a cold, selfish, and hard-hearted person who is missing out on the best of what life has to offer. Mixed in, perhaps, is our disgust that he won't help the poor or enjoy Christmas is pity for his way of life.

When Scrooge revisits his youth with the Ghost of Christmas Past, we are able to witness what a lonely child he was during the Christmas holidays. In the passage below, he glows with happiness remembering a time when visitors came in costume to see him:

“Why, it’s Ali Baba!” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’s dear old honest Ali Baba! Yes, yes, I know! One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy!" [ ... ]

To hear Scrooge expending all the earnestness of his nature on such subjects, in a most extraordinary voice between laughing and crying; and to see his heightened and excited face; would have been a surprise to his business friends in the city, indeed.

This passage raises our sorrow and sympathy for the lonely little boy Scrooge once was. We also see from the second paragraph that Scrooge changes into a different person, one who can feel emotion and remember joy, as he remembers what it feels like to have company. This shows that sociality has a beneficial effect.

In a third quote about his childhood Christmas experiences, we learn:

there he was, alone again, when all the other boys had gone home for the jolly holidays.

Once again, we feel sorrow for the neglected child. However, his sister comes to take him home, and we feel and enjoy his deep delight at being pulled into the world of human community.

All of the quotes show the negative and corrosive effects isolation has on a human soul. Being in community raises Scrooge's empathy and softens his heart.

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