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 quote is from a paragraph describing Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a cold-hearted tight miser who prefers his own company and has few friends.

The quote is part of a three-part statement describing Scrooge as secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster‘, presenting an image of the protagonist of A Christmas Carol as a misanthropic character but the reference to an oyster alludes that, like a pearl, there may be a pleasant surprise hidden within.

Charles Dickens uses a number of comparisons (known as similes) to emphasize the characteristics of Ebenezer Scrooge early on in the novella, such as hard and sharp as flint, and this one, solitary as an oyster.

Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley.
Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge (left), here being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, bound by the chains he forged in life.

Literary Technique.

This is an example of the figurative language Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using the literary technique of hyperbole (exaggerated language) in the form of a simile to compare Scrooge to an oyster. The use of similes helps an author to strengthen a description, and for the reader helps to better visualize a character or scene in their heads. Oysters live a solitary existence (at the bottom of the sea bed). Dickens is highlighting to the reader that Scrooge chooses to live an isolated life. A Christmas Carol is an allegory and the growth of pearls within oysters may also hint at the transformation of Scrooge as the story develops.

Themes in A Christmas Carol: Isolation.

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.

Source.

Taken from the following passage of Stave 1 (Marley’s Ghost) of A Christmas Carol:

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

Characters.

Ebenezer Scrooge.

Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous characters created by Charles Dickens and arguably one of the most famous in English literature. The protagonist of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a cold-hearted and mean-spirited accountant. His business partner, the equally mean Jacob Marley, died seven years previous and he lives alone, having never married. Through a visit one Christmas Eve by the ghost of Marley and three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meanness and the impact it has on others.

  • The term Scrooge has entered the English Language to represent a mean person, known as a literary neologism. Neologisms are relatively recent terms, words, or phrases in the process of entering common use. Other examples of Dickens’s neologisms include butterfingers (to mean a clumsy person) and doormat (a metaphor for taking advantage of a person).
  • In screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol, the character of Ebenezer Scrooge has been played by actors that include Alastair Sim (1951 film), Albert Finney (1970 musical film), Michael Hordern (1977 TV Movie), George C. Scott (1984 TV Movie), Michael Caine (1992 musical fantasy film), Patrick Stewart (1999 TV Movie) and Guy Pearce (2019 TV Mini-Series). Michael Hordern had previously appeared alongside Alastair Sim in the 1951 film (titled Scrooge), this time playing the character of Jacob Marley.

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Solitary as an oyster.

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