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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Student Question

Why is Dickens' work titled A Christmas Carol?

Quick answer:

Dickens called his work A Christmas Carol because he saw it as conveying the same optimism and hope that a Christmas carol does. He hoped the story would transform people's hearts and inspire them to greater kindness and generosity, just as a carol does.

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A carol, as we all know, is a song people sing at Christmas, usually an uplifting song that celebrates the birth of the Christ child. Christ's birth is remembered in these carols as the beginning of a time of transformation for the entire world. With Christ's birth, the earth moves away from hate and towards love, peace, and joy. Traditional carols both solemnly recall the magnitude of this event and joyously celebrate it.

Dickens's story likewise celebrates the way, on Christmas Eve, that the love and joy of the Christian spirit enters into Scrooge's heart with the help of the ghosts and transforms him into a new person filled with love, peace, and joy. It is both a solemn story and a joyful celebration. Like a carol, it is unabashedly optimistic at the end, showing Scrooge's transformation from a hard-hearted man to the best person he could possibly become.

Dickens emphasizes the songlike aspect of his tale by calling the different sections "staves," a name that refers to the lines on which notes are drawn in a musical composition. Each stave (usually called a staff today) has a different tone, as do the different staves of the book.

Dickens hoped that his Christmas carol would turn people's hearts toward goodness and help them to find their better selves. Dickens's work is often called sentimental, and in some ways, he was unabashedly so, because, like many Victorians, he believed that emotion could turn people from evil to good.

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Why and for whom did Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol?

A Christmas Carol was published on December 19 1843, just months after the release of an important government report into child labour. This report was compiled by Dr Samuel Scriven, at the request of the Home Office, and detailed the lives of children who worked in the pottery industry in Staffordshire. 

As well as being a novelist, Dickens was an active social reformer who read this report with a combination of interest and disgust. Through his observation of 173 potteries, Scriven found hundreds of children working upwards of 12 hours per day, in dangerous conditions and for very low wages. The vast majority of these children were barely able to read or write and suffered a number of health and development problems because of their work. According to the report:

"In numberless instances they, are required to labour on to eight, nine, or ten, and this in an atmosphere varying from 100 to 120 degrees; all these extra hours being occasioned, nine times out of ten, by the selfishness or irregularities of their unworthy taskmasters."

Dickens was thus inspired to bring the plight to these children to the public's attention and decided that the best way to do it was through the medium of story-telling. As for the recipients of the story, it seems likely that he wrote A Christmas Carol for those people who were ignorant to life for poorer people in society or, perhaps, for those children in the potteries, to give them a reason to be happy at Christmas. 

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Why and for whom did Charles Dickens write A Christmas Carol?

A Christmas Carol was probably written for a general audience. It was the first of five short books about Christmas, which was becoming more popular in Victorian England thanks to the Royal Family. Prince Albert, Victoria's husband, is credited with bringing the Christmas tree into style in England and the Royal family made quite a fuss celebrating this holiday. Before Victoria, Christmas was often thought of as a rather gaudy, rather pagan holiday because it was celebrated during the winter solstice. Dickens was obviously promoting the celebration of Christmas.

Although the story does contain a moral message about the poor, it was probably written for profit. When he finished the book, Dickens felt his story was so good that he refused to sell the rights of the book to his normal publisher and, instead, published the story himself. This was an excellent decision on Dickens' part. The story sold out soon after it was released and made Dickens quite a bit of money. Dickens would often read an abridged version of the story at public readings where people were charged money for listening to him read from his own works. In keeping with the idea of charity in the story, he would often donate part of that money to charity.

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