An Analysis of the Use of Tone in A Christmas Carol, a Book by Charles Dickens
Literary Appreciation of the Reader’s Response to the Use of Tone in Charles Dickens’s
“A Christmas Carol”
Charles Dickens’ successful control of the narrator’s and characters’ tones in A Christmas Carol evokes a variety of responses from readers. The literary devices used in A Christmas Carol work together to create a certain emotional atmosphere through the narrator’s tone. The first tone that evokes a response in the reader is in the very beginning of the novel; the narrative voice switches up its tone to reassure readers that the story will not be too serious and will have a positive outcome. The second case of tone that will be noted is when the Ghost of Christmas Past brings Scrooge back to a night at Fezziwig’s and the party that ensued. There is a wonderful application of tone that sets a fast-paced and jovial atmosphere as Scrooge recollects his past. The third example of tone in A Christmas Carol is when the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Ebenezer Scrooge on a walk through the city streets on Christmas day, taking in the jumble of activity. Dickens, in his lively description of the present, implements a variety of literary devices that conjure a positive and excited response from readers. The last example of tone is the dialogue and narrative voice in the scene at Bob Cratchit’s house where Scrooge realizes that since he did not pay Bob Cratchit enough money to take care of all of his family, he caused the death of Tiny Tim.
Charles Dickens begins A Christmas Carol with Stave 1 “Marley’s Ghost” where the first sentence is “MARLEY WAS DEAD: to begin with” (Dickens, 1). Dickens reinforces the fact that Marley was indeed dead and that all the officials have signed off on papers stating that he was dead. The repetition of the statement “Marley was dead” causes readers to question why the statement “MARLEY WAS DEAD,” is not “MARLEY IS DEAD.” Once someone has died they are quite dead, or as Dickens puts it in the first paragraph, “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail” (1), after which the narrative voice goes off on an almost comical tangent questioning why a doornail is the deadest piece of iron. The sudden split from the first paragraph that held the main idea that Marley was dead is written so that readers are reassured that the story will not be as serious as Dickens first made it out to be. The narrative voice begins the second paragraph with the word “Mind!”, catching the attention of the readers through this choice of tone and breaking them from the spell that the first paragraph cast. Dickens questions why a door-nail is chosen to be the deadest piece of iron and why it would not be a coffin nail. This sudden questioning of a simile captures the reader’s attention with the casual tone that is effused during the quick inner banter. The narrator references Hamlet’s father and how if we did not know his father was dead, there would be nothing extraordinary about him talking a walk at night. The overall tone of this first page creates a mood that is filled with mystery and foreshadowing by writing about a man that WAS dead. The inclusion of some comic relief in the form of a paragraph questioning the simile “dead as a door-nail” creates a shift in tone that also occurs when Ebenezer revisits his memory of the dance with Fezziwig.
The Ghost of Christmas past brought Ebenezer Scrooge to his old place of work while on their journey through Scrooge’s selected memories. Scrooge emanates an excitement from the get go upon seeing Fezziwig in the building. The description of Fezziwig is one that uses positive words such as laughed, oily, fat, jovial, and benevolence (24). Fezziwig’s demeanor is one that fills up a room with activity and a warmth that touches everyone around him. Fezziwig’s tone carries throughout the scene and his energy is infectious as everyone does their chores with vigor in a positive air preparing for the dance.
The following quote gives an example of Charles Dickens’s use of repetition. “In came Mrs. Fezziwig, one vast substantial smile. In came the three Miss Fezziwigs, beaming and lovable. In came the six young followers whose hearts they broke” (25). The repetition used in Ebenezer’s reliving of a Christmas dance at Fezziwig’s creates a fast paced rhythm for readers that accumulates as folk gather into the space to dance, celebrate, and eat, which culminates into an imperfect potpourri of liveliness.
Fezziwig put his spirit and heart into selflessly creating the Christmas dance and was the epitome of Christmas cheer that night. After exploring the overall tone of this scene, readers can detect that Scrooge’s character has been lacking the characteristics that Fezziwig exudes: “During this whole time, Scrooge had acted like a man out of his wits. His heart and soul were in the scene, and with his former self. He corroborated everything, remembered everything, enjoyed everything, and underwent the strangest agitation” (Dickens, 24). Scrooge’s shift from a negative to a positive tone after he experiences the dance is fueled by a revival of his lively past.
With a simple touch to The Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge was transported to the streets of London on Christmas morning. Dickens immediately supplies a detailed imagery depicting people shovelling snow off the sidewalks in front of their homes and into the dirty streets below. However the narrative voice reassures readers that despite this hard work and bad weather that the tone that spread through the air was one of cheer in the Christmas season. “For the people who were shovelling away on the house-tops were jovial and full of glee; calling out to one another from the parapets, and now and then exchanging a facetious snowball-better-natured than missile far than many a wordy jest-laughing heartily if it went right, and not less heartily if it went wrong” (Dickens, 34). Scrooge is given the chance to observe how the effects of the climate and hard work people that do any other wintery day does not damper the Christmas cheer that is in the air. People are cheerful in the holiday season despite their circumstances and the imperfections in the world they live in.
Dickens creates an eager and cheerful atmosphere in this scene with the use of an assortment of literary devices. Foods are described differently than they would be any other day by personifying them as jolly fat men that beckon shoppers to buy them. “There were great, round, pot-bellied baskets of chestnuts, shaped like the waist-coats of jolly old gentlemen, lolling at the doors, and tumbling out into the street in apoplectic opulence” (Dickens, 34). By personifying the foods in this way their deliciousness is emphasized in the holiday season. Alliteration is also put into use to create a rhythm in the scene as Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present observe the scene that unfolds. The words that are used to describe the foods denote warmth, fullness, and radiance. The narrator goes on to say that it was not the temptation of all of the food or the excitement for the Christmas dinner that makes people so eager it is the promise of the day and the inevitable cheer of the season that creates this atmosphere. People walk with an ambitious stride often knocking into one another in their excitement as they hurriedly go about their day, high on the cumulative air of excitement. The narrator compares people going to church as flocks that go every which way down the streets as well as bakers bringing dinners to people’s homes. Through the narrator’s description of people’s shopping and travelling London’s streets on Christmas Day, readers can interpret the scene as a positive and radiant one despite the imperfections that ensue.
The last example moves away from the positive tones that have been described beforehand and towards a very negative one. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come leads Scrooge into a scene set at Bob Cratchit’s house where Mrs. Cratchit and her daughters are sitting sewing very quietly. The narrative voice employs negative sayings and words such as “still as statues”, “hurt”, “quiet”, “weak”, “poor”, and “grieved” (Dickens, 61). Through these words that set a somber tone readers can infer that something is amiss. The mother and children refer to Tiny Tim in the past tense through a short conversation reminiscing on memories of him. The children greet their father as he comes home, and they try to cheer him up because they know he is grieving. Readers now realize that Tiny Tim is dead because of the past tense use of his pronouns and his grieving father. Bob Cratchit unintentionally ends up breaking down emotionally in front of his live child. “He left the room, and went up stairs into the room above, which was lighted cheerfully, and hung with Christmas. There was a chair set close to the child, and there were signs of some one having been there lately. Poor Bob sat down in it, and when he had thought a little and composed himself, he kissed the little face. He was reconciled to what had happened, and went down again quite happy” (Dickens, 60). The still tone of the scene depicting Bob quietly thinking and re-accepting his son’s death before going back downstairs is a depressive one that fills readers with sadness. This is the most heartbreaking and somber tone in the novel as Scrooge witnesses firsthand that his bitterness will cause the death of Bob’s child.
Charles Dickens successfully establishes tone in his novel A Christmas Carol through the careful use of literary devices and words that connote a certain mood. Charles Dickens creates wonderful rhythms in his descriptions by using alliteration and repetition in order to emphasize a tone. Readers respond to the variety of strong tones implemented in A Christmas Carol.
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