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
How Dickens helped to invent the modern Christmas/What were the poor laws/Thomas Malthus. Study aid providing key background information a...