Moralistic Language in A Christmas Carol
“These are but the spirit of things that have been.” The metaphorical words of the Ghost of Christmas Past are typical of Dickens’ melodramatic writing style. Set in Victorian England, a time rife with greed and social stratification, Charles Dickens’ novella ‘A Christmas Carol’ unveils his view on the values of the time period not solely through metaphor. It is also through the use of verisimilitude, repetition of ideas and symbolism that he delivers his social commentary on the ramifications of the moral vacuousness of upper-class England. In addition, as the intricacies of the plot unfold, dramatic irony is conveyed through foreshadowing. Indeed, it is through the language techniques that Dickens is able to craft his allegory about the power dichotomy between the rich and the poor in Victorian England.
Verisimilitude in metaphor is instrumental to the didactic nature of Dickens’ novella, warning against ever-injurious self-interest. A personification of generosity, with “its genial face […] its open hand”, the Ghost of Christmas Present teaches the reader of the dire consequences of not being in its likeness in considering others, particularly those in disadvantageous positions, through Ignorance and Want. Through the animalistic yet verisimilitudinous imagery of how “yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish” the children are, the reader is indeed warned of what will become of the ‘surplus population’ if they are not given the aid of which they are in need. In portraying Ebenezer Scrooge, the very embodiment of the self-interested middle class man as a “covetous old sinner” who “no warmth could warm”, Dickens insinuates that those who engage in self-interest are just as repugnant as Scrooge himself. As “solitary as an oyster” as he is, it is through Scrooge that the reader is enlightened to the consequences of pursuing hedonistic desires in lieu of meaningful relationships with other human beings.
Not only does verisimilitude and metaphor aid in depicting the message of the novella; it is through the repetition of ideas and symbolism that Dickens writes of the importance of the multi-faceted nature of generosity, or lack thereof. Jacob Marley, symbolising the fate of hedonistic rich men who do not seek to mend their ways, laments the parsimonious way by which he led his life in proclaiming that “mankind was [his] business”; the sarcastic repetition of the word “business” to describe concerns such as “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence” and concluding that his work was “but a drop of water in the comprehensive sea of [his] business” outlines the ridiculousness of forsaking goodwill for monetary gain. Starkly contrasting what Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge stand for, the Cratchit family, even without anything of substantial monetary value, ironically embody the warmth and generosity which is lacking in many of those placed higher in the Victorian social hierarchy. Verily, being as “happy [and] grateful” as they are in spite of their disadvantageous position, the Cratchit family are symbolic not only of abject poverty but of kindness. As a result, they juxtapose Scrooge who is “hard and sharp as a flint” in every possible way. By presenting the very antitheses of Scrooge—a symbol for the tight-fisted nature of middle class society—in such a positive light, the reader is informed of what they cannot possibly become if they adopt the same “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching” values as Scrooge.
The use of dramatic irony and foreshadowing additionally adds to the allegorical nature of Dickens’ tale. In establishing that there was “no doubt that Marley was dead” which was a fact that must be “distinctly understood” punctuates Jacob Marley’s role in the story as that which is significant to the amelioration of Scrooge’s miserly nature. Marley does indeed proceed to play the role as one of the many catalysts enabling Scrooge’s drastic metamorphosis into someone who is warm and is not only enraptured by work. Dramatic irony and foreshadowing form the foundation of the message imparted upon the reader by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Each vision presented to Scrooge by the Ghost culminates to him seeing “upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name” although the reader is fully aware of Scrooge’s fate long before Scrooge is confronted by his own headstone. Symbolic of the march of time towards an undeniably fixed end, the Ghost not only instils fear, but serves as a warning to those who lack philanthropy. In presenting Scrooge with harrowing predictions of the future such as him in a “dark empty house, with not a man, woman or a child” to mourn his passing, Scrooge finally realises that “men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends”, warning readers of what will become of them if they remain morally vacuous.
Indeed, it is clear that language conventions are imperative catalysts to the moralistic nature of Charles Dickens’ novella ‘A Christmas Carol’. Charles Dickens seeks to confront a 19th century readership with what may become of society that may be incurred if society remains spiritually devoid and does not seek to ameliorate their situation by upholding tradition. In the words of Jacob Marley, “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, [are], all, [our] business.”
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