Christmas  Carol  Teacher’s  Edition  

A  Christmas  Carol:  Social  Context     How  Charles  Dickens  changed  Christmas   In  many  ways  Charles  Dickens  helped  create  our  modern  idea  of  Christmas.   Christmas  was  of  course  an  established  tradition  when  he  wrote  his  story,  but  it   was  a  much  smaller  festival  than  the  one  celebrated  in  the  English-­‐speaking   world  today.    For  a  start  it  largely  consisted  of  a  single  day  –  Scrooge  was   expected  to  allow  Bob  the  day  off  –  but  no  more  than  that.  Christmas  Day  was  a   religious  holiday  –  another  Sunday  in  effect.     Dickens  helped  change  this  public  act  of  duty  into  what  historian  Ronald  Hutton   calls  ‘a  family-­‐centered  festival  of  generosity’.    A  Christmas  Carol  created  a  new   approach  to  Christmas  based  on:   • Family  Celebration     • Food  (Christmas  Dinner)   • Charity  –  giving  money  to  good  causes  at  Christmas   • Christmas  greetings  –  (‘Merry  Christmas!)   • Generosity  of  spirit  -­‐    (the  opposite  of  ‘Bah  Humbug!’)     The  Poor  Laws     Charles  Dickens  became  rich  and  very  famous  but  he  never  forgot  the  poverty  of   his  childhood.  When  he  was  eleven  years  old  his  father  got  into  serious  financial   trouble  and  spent  a  short  period  in  prison.  This  resulted  in  Charles  being  taken   out  of  school  and  forced  to  work  in  a  shoe-­‐polish  factory,       Dickens  also  worked  as  a  journalist  during  the  1830s  and  saw  the  result  of  the   disastrous  New  Poor  Law  of  1834.  The  new  poor-­‐houses  were  intended  to  help   control  the  increasing  problem  of  poverty  and  destitution  but  only  succeeded  in   making  the  situation  much  worse.  Scrooge  defends  the  thinking  behind  the  Poor   Law  (‘Are  there  no  prisons?’)  in  Stave  1.  Later  the  spirits  convert  him  to  a  more   generous  attitude  to  poverty.     Thomas  Malthus:  Population   Scrooge  also  defends  the  theories  of  Thomas  Malthus  in  Stave  One  and  these   views  are  quoted  back  to  him  by  the  Spirit  of  Christmas  Yet  to  Come.  Malthus   argued  in  his  Essay  on  the  Principle  of  Population  (1798)  that  population  growth   would  always  outpace  food  supply  resulting  in  unavoidable  and  catastrophic   poverty  and  starvation.         Malthus  supported  the  Poor  Laws  and  the  workhouses,  arguing  that  a  man   unable  to  sustain  himself  had  no  right  to  live,  much  less  participate  in  the   development  of  society.       The  Cratchits  are  Dickens'  counter  argument  to  what  he  saw  as  the  brutality  of   the  Malthus  theory.  We  see  that  Bob  is  a  good  man  in  hard  times  –  and  deserves   support.  It  should  be  remembered,  however,  that  Dickens  is  not  promoting  the   modern  idea  of  state  welfare.  It  is  Scrooge  (the  employer)  who  comes  to  Bob’s   assistance.  A  Christmas  Carol  essentially  deals  with  the  responsibility  of  the   individual  to  the  less  fortunate.     Christmas  Carol  Teacher’s  Edition  

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