Portraying the Importance of Family in ‘A Christmas Carol’

‘A Christmas Carol’ is a novella written by Charles Dickens in 1843, the novella follows the journey of a stingy protagonist -Scrooge- and his many epiphanies that lead him to eventually understand the paramount role of family, joy and social responsibility in life. In both the novella and the extract presented, the idea of family and close relationships is portrayed to be of utmost importance and a bringer of much joy regardless of circumstances; readers are also encouraged to reflect and contemplate their personal family life and whether or not it requires change. In the presented extract describing the joyous and energetic festivities of the Cratchit family, Dickens emphasises the power of family and its ability to overcome all negative exterior circumstances through the use of listing and anaphora.

For example, Dickens lists the many struggles the Cratchit family face, including their “scanty” clothes. This highlights the poor living conditions and the harsh socio-economical challenges they face on a day to day basis, drawing a contrast between their tough yet positive lifestyle and Scrooge’s wealthy -but unhappy- one. Their optimistic attitude can be seen through the juxtaposition of the previous description with a series of adjectives such as “happy, grateful, pleased.” The idea that an united family is a core motivator and a major part of encouraging such positivity can be seen through the use of the collective noun “they” when describing their problems and their attitude on life. The same idea of joy and reunion in the holiday time can also be seen through other parts of the extract, for example, the extensive listing of relatives including “aunts, uncles, cousins” and many more draws attention to the idea family, as opposed to food and other superficial elements, is the best part of Christmas.Their positivity and joy is substantially difficult as being in a family of their circumstances in the Victorian era would’ve been especially difficult as, unlike modern day society, underprivileged families did not receive much support from local governments and charities, and were often shunned aside and disrespected socially. Thus, Dickens describes the Cratchit family’s values through the use of literary techniques to highlight the importance and power of family.

Dickens also shows the idea that family can provide a sense of protection and care through the use of symbolism. At the cosy and warmth-filled Christmas dinner, the “deep red curtains” are drawn to “shut out [the] cold and darkness.” Such vivid imagery not only strengthens the sensation of love and unity presented previously by Dickens, but also act as a symbolism for deeper meanings. “Deep red” which often connotes emotions and ideas such as love, passion, and courage helps develop the symbolic idea that the curtains represent the protective and caring nature of a family. On the other hand, “the cold and darkness”-aside from their literal interpretations- are symbolic of all negativity, evil and crime in the world. As the crime rates, especially that of towards underprivileged individuals, were relatively high, this would’ve strengthened the magnitude and the effect of such symbolism on readers at the time. Through the use of simple descriptions to symbolise more complex ideas and meanings, Dickens draws out the functional importance of a family and the senses of safety that it can bring.

Throughout the rest of the novella, Dickens further explores the importance of family through many scenes: including that of Scrooge’s former fiancee Belle and his nephew Fred. As Scrooge and Belle were once in the same circumstances, Dickens uses this fitting opportunity to show the huge impact family can have on a person’s life. In the exposition of the novella, Scrooge -who does not recognize the importance of close relationships is described in extensive listing to be a “grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner.” Such intense description emphasises Scrooge’s uptight, ungrateful and dissatisfied nature despite his already accustomed wealth. On the other hand, during the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Past, Belle is presented to be a “comely matron” who comparatively was not as wealthy as Scrooge but “laughed heartily” and wholeheartedly in the midst of many playing children. Through the comparison and contrast of Christmas days spent between Scrooge and Belle, Dickens develops both the ideas that family and love is truly the most important thing in the world and trumps – Scrooge’s priority – gold by far, and that family can shape one’s life completely. Dickens does this as to present a didactic message to his readers, who were most likely fairly wealthy and educated individuals of the upper class, encouraging them to consider their own priorities.

Moreover, Dickens presents the importance of family and the unconditional support for one another through the dialogue between Scrooge and his nephew Fred in Stave I. As mentioned above, in the exposition phase of the novella, Scrooge was a cold-hearted man who did not care much except for money, and when approached by Fred for an invitation which includes a listing of many adjectives such as “kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time,” Scrooge always rudely declines. But year after year of rejection, Fred always returns, for- later in the novella- it is revealed that Fred believes that despite Scrooge’s stubbornness and poor treatment of him, he believes that he deserves “the same chance every year, whether he likes it or not.” This persistence and unquestioning belief in Scrooge, highlights the underlying ideal of a family: that no matter the circumstances, families will always protect one another, support one another, and have their best interests at heart- hence being of ultimate importance in ensuring that the the family member would be under the best circumstances possible. This would’ve been especially heart-warming and of great resonance in the Victorian era, as then, especially for the less privileged, resources were scarce and a steady lifestyle would’ve been hard to achieve without the unwavering support of trusted ones. Dickes includes this dialogue to highlight the loyalty and loving nature of a family- and the benefits it brings- to encourage readers to reflect upon their own lives.

Finally, in other parts of the novella, such as the many glimpses of families in various locations of hardship provided by Dickens, the ultimate power and importance of family is also brought out through the use of metaphor, symbolism and imagery. For example, in the lighthouse, which is symbolic to all those detached and in desolate bleak conditions, there are two old men described to be “join[ing] hands” in unity and blessing of one another while engaging in the “sturdy song[s]” of Christmas joy. Even in the mining communities, which is described with revolting metaphorical imagery of being “the bowels of the earth” and the hellish personified allusions of the sun’s “swollen eye,” there is still the love for one another and Christmas. Their effort and passion can be seen through their actions such as wearing their “holiday attire” and ensembling in a song amongst the wasteland. The choice of such location further emphasises the power and joy relationships bring, as the mining industry was one of great danger: with many nimble children and adults rushing to extract the maximum coal which was required following the rapid industrialisation, there was a high death rate in the job. Dickens gives many examples of locations with the toughest and harshest living conditions known at that time to further emphasise that regardless of physical circumstances, the power, importance and impact of family remains unchanged.

Through the use of many literary techniques and the careful choice of content which would’ve largely impacted readers of the Victorian era, Dickens presents family to be of utmost importance and influence in any individual’s life. With this recurring theme, Dickens encourages his readers -who potentially may be in similar situations as the protagonist Scrooge- to consider their own involvement in family life.

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