A Christmas Carol Themes
by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol book cover
Start Your Free Trial

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.

Download A Christmas Carol Study Guide

Subscribe Now


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...

(The entire section is 902 words.)