A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol book cover
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Themes at a Glance

This morality tale is centered around the experience of Scrooge, a misanthropic miser, as he is forced to reevaluate his life. A Christmas Carol explores several key themes.

  • The importance of kindness: Scrooge learns that without kindness, material success is hollow and unfulfilling.
  • The impact of personal choice: An individual's character is shaped by their choices—for better or worse.
  • The possibility of redemption: One can always change for the better, so long as they are willing to try.

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Themes

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 Importance of Choices in Shaping Character

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...

(The entire section is 1,185 words.)