As reflected in the title the theme of Christmas is central to the novella A Christmas Carol. Christmas is a traditional Christian celebration of the birth of Christ. Occurring around the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year) has led to traditions from other cultures and religions being incorporated over time including Pagan, Roman and Greek. Dickens incorporates a number of these traditions into A Christmas Carol, such as the bringing together of family and friends, feasting of food, gathering around a fire, the singing of carols, the figure of Saint Nicholas (also known as Santa Claus/Father Christmas), the giving of presents and attending church. At the start of the story we see the miserly misanthropic character Ebenezer Scrooge reject many of these traditions. He represents the opposite of human traits we associate with Christmas such as generosity and compassion. Through his transformation we see Scrooge adopt the spirit of Christmas such as happiness, generosity and kindness.
Charles Dickens portrays the theme of isolation early on in the novella A Christmas Carol in his descriptions and behaviour of the character Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is described as secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. He is an outsider in society, highlighted by the sentence nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you? We see that Scrooge’s loneliness is self-inflicted. He prefers a business ledger to human company, rejecting the persistent attempts of his nephew Fred to invite him to join his remaining family on Christmas Day and rebuking him by saying keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine. He lives in a gloomy suite of rooms in a run-down commercial yard, described as nobody lived in it but Scrooge. In scenes from his childhood shown by the Ghost of Christmas Past, we see why Scrooge might have developed his misanthropic ways. A school has broken up for Christmas but a solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there. Scrooge weeps as he sees the figure of a lonely boy was reading near a feeble fire and recognises it as himself. Whilst we see other boys happily playing in fields during the holidays, Scrooge was abandoned at the school by his father. In a scene of a later Christmas Scrooge’s younger sister Fan comes to collect him from the school, commenting that Father is so much kinder than he used to be. This sense of being abandoned as a child was one Charles Dickens had personal experience of. When he was twelve, Dickens was sent to work in a blacking factory, initially to help bring in money for the family after his father was imprisoned for debt. However, after his father was released and the debts paid off, the young Charles was still made to go out and work and missed a vital time that he should have been at school. Dickens always resented the way he had been treated by his parents, particularly as his sister was enrolled in a prestigious music school whilst he was forced to work.
Charles Dickens used A Christmas Carol to attack social injustices of the time, particularly the indifference of wealthy people towards the poor. The introduction of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act took away local parish help for the poor and institutionalized the process with Union workhouses. In return for food and shelter, the poor had to live semi-incarcerated lives in institutions where families were often split apart and made to do menial tasks to earn their keep. The businessman Ebenezer Scrooge has more than enough to share some of his money, particularly at a traditionally charitable time such as Christmas as reflected by two visiting charity collectors who explain it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. Not wanting to part with his money, the miserly Scrooge hides behind a Malthusian excuse that if they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Scrooge views the poor and economically inactive (which he terms idle) as a burden to society, better off in a workhouse or even dead. He wants the Poor Law, workhouses or prisons to deal with the destitute, questioning the collectors whether The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then? before commenting that I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. Later on, in a vision presented by the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge will see the impact of poverty in the household of Bob Crachit, his underpaid clerk, and their disabled son Tim. The Ghost warns Scrooge that Tim will die unless his life alters, repeating Scrooge’s callous remarks back to him If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Dickens’s attack on social injustice is most graphically shown by the two figures of an emaciated boy and girl, known as Ignorance and Want, shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Present. They represent contemporary problems in society caused by the attitude of the wealthy towards the poor. When Scrooge is touched by their plight, the Ghost again uses his words against him, saying to Scrooge Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Dickens use of children to represent societal ills of Ignorance and Want suggest that there is time to change. Later in the story, in a vision shown by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, we witness some of the poorest people in society, living in a squalid slum area, dividing up Scrooge’s stolen belongings to make a living, one of them commenting every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did.