Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • A Christmas Carol is a novella, or short story, written by Charles Dickens and first published in the Christmas of 1843. The allegorical tale tells the story of the transformation of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge through the visits of the spirit of his former business partner and three ghosts over the course of a Christmas Eve night. It remains a much-loved traditional Christmas tale.

Context.

This quotation is a description of a mining family that are grouped around a fire at Christmas time.

The Ghost of Christmas Present has taken Ebenezer Scrooge on a journey to see visions of people enjoying Christmas time. This includes people in the city, two lighthouse keepers, a ships crew and the family of a miner in a house on a moor described in an area described as barren waste.

Despite four generations of one family cramped in dwelling described as just a hut with walls of mud and stone and surrounded by bleak weather conditions, the household is full of cheer. The family have dressed up gaily in their holiday attire and are singing to each other.

The scenes are in contrast to Scrooge’s own view of Christmas. Instead of celebrating the occasion he regards the festive time as ‘a poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!‘.


Illustration from Stave 3 of the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing the Ghost of Christmas Present visiting Ebenezer Scrooge.

Symbolism in A Christmas Carol: Fire.

Charles Dickens uses the imagery of fire to symbolise greed and generosity within the story of A Christmas Carol. Fuel was an expensive commodity for many at the time the novella was written so the amount burnt, reflected by the size of a fire, reflected the generosity of a character. The image of small fires at the start of the story reflect the mean-spirited characteristic of Ebenezer Scrooge, who keeps a very small fire at his place of work, and for his clerk Bob Cratchit‘s he was even meaner as his fire resembled a lump of coal despite it being a bitter cold Christmas Eve. Scrooge keeps the fuel in his own room, frightening Cratchit into wearing extra clothing and trying to warm himself by a candle. When he gets home, Scrooge would rather save money and live in discomfort, keeping a very low fire for himself, described as nothing on such a bitter night to which he is forced to lean over just to extract the least sensation of warmth from such a handful of fuel. By contrast scenes of happiness and generosity are represented by large fires, such as that of a party in a scene from the past held by Fezziwig, where fuel was heaped upon the fire, so much so that the generous host had a positive light reflect from his legs which shone like moons. In the present, Scrooge witnesses scenes of fires at Christmas time that bring happiness, many associated with the theme of eating food at this festive time, such as the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful and the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, He see’s scenes associated with the coming together of family at this time of year, such as that of a miner and his family who are a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. Through Scrooge’s transformation in this allegorical tale we also see his attitude to using fuel change. After emerging from a night when he is visited by the spirits of his former business partner, Jacob Marley and three ghosts, Scrooge asks to make up the fires and even tells Cratchit to buy another coal-scuttle, suggesting he now wants to pay for more fuel.


Literary Technique.

This is an example of the figurative language Charles Dickens uses in his works, here the literary technique of alliteration. Alliteration is a stylistic device in which a number of words, having the same first consonant sound, occur close together in a series. In this example, Dickens uses the words cheerful company to highlight the happiness of the four generations of a mining family singing around a fire at Christmas time, despite being surrounded by poor conditions.

Ghost of Christmas Present.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is the second of the three spirits that haunt the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, in order to prompt him to repent. He appears to Scrooge as a jolly giant with dark brown curls, wearing a fur-lined green robe and on his head a holly wreath set with shining icicles. He carries a large torch, made to resemble a cornucopia, and appears accompanied by a great feast, and a scabbard with no sword in it, a representation of peace on Earth and good will toward men. The spirit transports Scrooge around the city, showing him scenes of festivity and also deprivation that are happening as they watch, sprinkling a little warmth from his torch as he travels. Amongst the visits are Scrooge’s nephew, and the family of his impoverished clerk, Bob Cratchit and hs disabled son Tiny Tim. The spirit finally reveals to Scrooge two emaciated children, subhuman in appearance and loathsome to behold, clinging to his robes, and names the boy as Ignorance and the girl as Want. The spirit warns Scrooge, ‘Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom unless the writing be erased.‘ The spirit once again quotes Scrooge, who asks if the grotesque children have ‘no refuge, no resource,‘ and the spirit retorts with more of Scrooge’s unkind words: ‘Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?‘.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Stave 3 (The Second Of The Three Spirits) of A Christmas Carol:

By this time it was getting dark, and snowing pretty heavily; and as Scrooge and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the roaring fires in kitchens, parlours, and all sorts of rooms, was wonderful. Here, the flickering of the blaze showed preparations for a cosy dinner, with hot plates baking through and through before the fire, and deep red curtains, ready to be drawn to shut out cold and darkness. There all the children of the house were running out into the snow to meet their married sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts, and be the first to greet them. Here, again, were shadows on the window-blind of guests assembling; and there a group of handsome girls, all hooded and fur-booted, and all chattering at once, tripped lightly off to some near neighbour’s house; where, woe upon the single man who saw them enter—artful witches, well they knew it—in a glow!

But, if you had judged from the numbers of people on their way to friendly gatherings, you might have thought that no one was at home to give them welcome when they got there, instead of every house expecting company, and piling up its fires half-chimney high. Blessings on it, how the Ghost exulted! How it bared its breadth of breast, and opened its capacious palm, and floated on, outpouring, with a generous hand, its bright and harmless mirth on everything within its reach! The very lamplighter, who ran on before, dotting the dusky street with specks of light, and who was dressed to spend the evening somewhere, laughed out loudly as the Spirit passed, though little kenned the lamplighter that he had any company but Christmas!

And now, without a word of warning from the Ghost, they stood upon a bleak and desert moor, where monstrous masses of rude stone were cast about, as though it were the burial-place of giants; and water spread itself wheresoever it listed, or would have done so, but for the frost that held it prisoner; and nothing grew but moss and furze, and coarse rank grass. Down in the west the setting sun had left a streak of fiery red, which glared upon the desolation for an instant, like a sullen eye, and frowning lower, lower, lower yet, was lost in the thick gloom of darkest night.

“What place is this?” asked Scrooge.

“A place where Miners live, who labour in the bowels of the earth,” returned the Spirit. “But they know me. See!”

A light shone from the window of a hut, and swiftly they advanced towards it. Passing through the wall of mud and stone, they found a cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire. An old, old man and woman, with their children and their children’s children, and another generation beyond that, all decked out gaily in their holiday attire. The old man, in a voice that seldom rose above the howling of the wind upon the barren waste, was singing them a Christmas song—it had been a very old song when he was a boy—and from time to time they all joined in the chorus. So surely as they raised their voices, the old man got quite blithe and loud; and so surely as they stopped, his vigour sank again.

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A cheerful company assembled round a glowing fire.
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