Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • Slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled‘ is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 3).
  • 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 humourous description of potatoes being cooked for a Christmas festive dinner in the Cratchit household. Financially poor but emotionally rich the loving Cratchit family have prepared a meal to celebrate Christmas Day. They have very little food to accompany the meat (a goose) yet rather than a bleak portrayal of the situation, Charles Dickens injects humour into a depiction of boiling potatoes, almost giving them their own personality. This imagery adds to the perception of emotional warmth inside the Cratchit household despite the family having few possessions or decent clothes.

The Ghost of Christmas Present, the second of the three spirits that haunt the miser Ebenezer Scrooge, in order to prompt him to repent his selfish ways, has taken Scrooge to see the family of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. There, he witnesses the Cratchit family enjoy a Christmas meal.


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: Food.

Food is used within A Christmas Carol to highlight individual characteristics and complement some of the themes that run through the story, such as Christmas and the importance of family. At the start of the novella, imagery of food is used to show characteristics of the protagonist Ebenezer Scrooge as a closed, self-isolated character when he is described as being as solitary as an oyster. On Christmas Day morning, Scrooge is shown city streets full of delicious food prepared for the festive period. Charles Dickens pays detailed attention to describing some of the food and often adds humour to the depictions, almost giving them their own personality such as great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waistcoats of jolly old gentlemen, and ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed Spanish Onions, shining in the fatness of their growth like Spanish Friars. We read of the Cratchit family sitting down to a small roast goose dinner on Christmas Day. Goose was a cheaper meat than Turkey, reflecting the poverty of the family. The meat is eked out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, reflecting the Cratchit’s making do with cheap accompaniments. Poor households did not have their own ovens so the goose is cooked in the ovens of a local bakers and a clothes-washing pot is used to cook the small pudding for a large family, causing the cloth to have a smell like a washing-day! Bob Cratchit makes a festive punch-type drink of a hot mixture in a jug with gin and lemons, gin being a cheap alcoholic ingredient to add. Despite the meagre meal the dinner at the Cratchit’s shows Christmas tradition of bringing the family together and the emotional warmth within the household. After he is visited by the spirits of his former business partner, Jacob Marley and three ghosts, we see Scrooge, a changed man, purchasing a large turkey to for the Cratchits, symbolising his transformation from miserly to a generous character.


Bob Cratchit.

The abused, underpaid clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit is a kind but very poor man with a large family and a very sick son, Tim. He works for Scrooge, copying letters in a cold dismal room, so small it is described as a sort of tank. Bring winter time, he is forced to try and stay warm with thick clothes and heat himself by the flame of a candle. He wears tattered clothes as he cannot afford a coat. Cratchit is treated poorly by Scrooge and given a weekly salary that is insufficient to provide his family with a proper Christmas dinner. Despite these circumstances, Bob Cratchit represents the opposite qualities to Scrooge including kindness, generosity and a love of his family members.

Source.

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

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”

Scrooge promised that he would; and they went on, invisible, as they had been before, into the suburbs of the town. It was a remarkable quality of the Ghost (which Scrooge had observed at the baker’s), that notwithstanding his gigantic size, he could accommodate himself to any place with ease; and that he stood beneath a low roof quite as gracefully and like a supernatural creature, as it was possible he could have done in any lofty hall.

And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to Scrooge’s clerk’s; for there he went, and took Scrooge with him, holding to his robe; and on the threshold of the door the Spirit smiled, and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the sprinkling of his torch. Think of that! Bob had but fifteen “Bob” a-week himself; he pocketed on Saturdays but fifteen copies of his Christian name; and yet the Ghost of Christmas Present blessed his four-roomed house!

Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons; while Master Peter Cratchit plunged a fork into the saucepan of potatoes, and getting the corners of his monstrous shirt collar (Bob’s private property, conferred upon his son and heir in honour of the day) into his mouth, rejoiced to find himself so gallantly attired, and yearned to show his linen in the fashionable Parks. And now two smaller Cratchits, boy and girl, came tearing in, screaming that outside the baker’s they had smelt the goose, and known it for their own; and basking in luxurious thoughts of sage and onion, these young Cratchits danced about the table, and exalted Master Peter Cratchit to the skies, while he (not proud, although his collars nearly choked him) blew the fire, until the slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.

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Slow potatoes bubbling up, knocked loudly at the saucepan-lid to be let out and peeled.
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