A Christmas Carol Themes
The main themes of A Christmas Carol are the importance of kindness, the impact of choices, and the possibility of redemption.
- The importance of kindness: Ebenezer Scrooge, a businessman who is initially only concerned with money, learns that without kindness, material success is hollow and unfulfilling.
- The impact of choices: As the ghosts teach Scrooge, an individual's character and future are shaped by his choices—for better or worse.
- The possibility of redemption: Scrooge comes to realize that one can always change his ways and become a better person, so long as he is willing to try.
Last Updated on April 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 902
The Importance of Kindness
Kindness, and the lack of kindness, is a critical theme in Dickens's short novel, and it is critical to Scrooge's own journey of self-discovery. Scrooge operates in a world that values material success, and as the book opens, Dickens provides a powerful depiction of Scrooge as someone who has achieved all manner of worldly success but remains miserable for it, while spreading misery to the people around him. He lives in isolation, has no friends, and shuns all human connections. He displays little empathy and is uninterested in changing his ways. As his nephew Fred points out in stave 3, all Scrooge's wealth and financial success serves him no real benefit, given that he never puts it to use. He simply compiles wealth for its own sake. He does not use it to enrich the lives of others; he does not even use it for himself.
Dickens lived and wrote in the Industrial Age, a period of history notorious for its brutality and greed, when large amounts of wealth were extracted through the exploitation of the working class. Scrooge's own character contains an indictment of those very same currents prevalent in Dickens's own lifetime. As A Christmas Carol opens, Scrooge is depicted as an exploiter of others who values money more than life. In this sense, moral behavior is twisted backward, as the acquisition of wealth supersedes the fair and humane treatment of others. Wealth on its own has no value, Dickens would argue—not when weighed against real human interactions.
The Impact of Choices
It is important to recognize that Scrooge was not born a miserable, grasping exploiter of others: these qualities have evolved across the course of his life. This message is perhaps most clearly expressed in stave 2, as Scrooge is taken by the first of the spirits on a tour through his own past.
Their journey opens with Scrooge's childhood, before later transitioning toward his apprenticeship under Fezziwig. This is a Scrooge who still knows joy and affection and still has the capacity for healthy and positive relationships with others. Perhaps the most important scene in illustrating this theme, however, can be found with the introduction of Belle, Scrooge's former fiancé.
In this scene, Belle complains about Scrooge's own change in character, as she detects him falling deeper and deeper into his worldliness. Indeed, this complaint is mirrored within the narrative itself, where Scrooge's face (at this point in his life) is described in the following manner:
It had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion that had taken root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall. (Stave 2)
Belle herself is of the opinion that this change in character reflects a change in their relationship, one which would only promise misery if it were to be continued. This is not the same Scrooge she once knew, and the two have drifted too far apart for their affection to survive.
The spirit's final gift to Scrooge is a picture of what Belle's life has since become, and it provides a striking contrast to Scrooge's own loneliness. She has a large family, rich in joy and laughter. She chose to pursue love and family where Scrooge chose to pursue wealth and worldly success, and in this, she has chosen correctly.
It may not be entirely fair to state that Scrooge's failings have been entirely his own doing—to do so would be to underestimate the influence of others and of larger societal forces. Nevertheless, the point remains that Scrooge's present character has been constructed across the course of his life, from the values and lifestyle he has sought to pursue.
The Possibility of Redemption
The opportunity for redemption is the final and closing theme of Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Dickens argues that one's character is actively shaped by one's choices throughout life, so it follows that at any point, anyone can begin making different choices. Thus, the road to redemption is open to everyone: they only need choose to pursue it.
Scrooge's capacity for redemption is embedded across the story. In stave 2, Scrooge is emotionally affected by his tour of his own past, and later, in stave 3, he expresses horror at the thought that Tiny Tim might die, as well as regret and shame concerning earlier, crueler sentiments he had expressed about the plight of the poor. If Scrooge, across the course of his life, has been pushed deeper and deeper into misanthropy, what these scenes express is that this internal transformation has not been a complete or total one. He still retains the capacity for goodness and the opportunity to change his path for the better.
These supernatural interventions are ultimately redemptive in nature, and Scrooge takes the opportunity given to him. His redemption is expressed as a kind of spiritual rebirth:
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. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo! (Stave 5)
To describe this transformation as a mere change of character (or change of heart) would be to underestimate how profound a transformation Scrooge has undergone. The old miser has effectively died, and a new, kinder Scrooge has emerged to take his place.