What does Grade 9 look like? Below is a model essay discussing Dickens’ presentation of Christmas.
In order to achieve top marks, your answer needs to be perceptive, exploratory and conceptual.
How does this answer achieve this?
How does Dickens present Christmas in ‘A Christmas Carol’?
Throughout ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens presents Christmas as a unifying force within Victorian society, and he sets out a moral obligation for his readers to adhere to his vision.
Dickens presents the notion that choosing not to celebrate Christmas divorces individuals from society and God. In his description of Scrooge, Dickens makes it clear that he is an isolated character; the word ‘sole’ is repeatedly used to describe Scrooge in the first few pages of the text, which emphasises this. As a third person omniscient narrative voice is used, the reader trusts this version of Scrooge and is not surprised to see him subsequently exclude himself at Christmas. As an allegorical text, Scrooge’s behaviour is intended to symbolise that of the wealthy business man and those within Victorian society who have not yet embraced the growing movements for economic and social reform. As Scrooge is presented as being evil with his ‘red eyes’ and different from everyone else in society through his exclusion at Christmas, so Dickens represents this group of people from his real world in the same way. Through this subtle lean to satire, Dickens aims to incite change, unifying his real world as well as that in the text.
Indeed, throughout Stave 1, every voice we hear refers to Christmas positively and with reverence – with the exception of Scrooge. This begins with the narrator who tells us that Scrooge sat working ‘of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve’; it continues with Fred, Bob and the portly gentlemen all exchanging Christmas greetings and demonstrating that they share the view that Christmas is a special time of year. The juxtaposition of Scrooge’s attitude and those of every other character in the story, demonstrates clearly that Scrooge is isolated by his failure to engage in celebrations; however, everyone else we meet, despite their varied social positions, are bought together by sharing in the season. This is even more poignant when we consider the nature of Victorian society. At this time, the social classes were distinct and separate. This makes the shared values of the carol singer, the employee and the gentlemen even more remarkable; thus, Dickens demonstrates the unifying power of Christmas on society as a whole.
This is reinforced by the narrator’s descriptions of Londoners celebrating together. Repeatedly, Dickens lists people from all elements of society partaking in similar festive activities. From the ‘Lord Mayor’ to ‘his cooks and butlers’, the ‘drunk and blood-thirsty’ ‘tailor’ and a ‘party of ragged men’: all elements of society are unified by Christmas. Thus, Dickens reiterates Scrooge’s isolation in his refusal to participate. Scrooge is symbolised by the ‘water-plug being left in solitude…turned to misanthropic ice’. The personification of the ice demonstrates that isolation leads to unsociable, unneighbourly and, by extension, unchristian behaviour; as one of the bible’s commandments instructs Christians to ‘love thy neighbour’. In a society for whom Christianity was prominent, this emphasises the moral nature of this message; Dickens promotes the importance of allowing Christmas to create unity between all members of society, rich or poor. This pattern is repeated throughout the text as we see miners, sailors, families, friends and employees, all joining in Christmas celebrations.
Certainly, Scrooge’s isolation is only ended when he embraces Christmas also. At the end of the text the reader is presented with a man fully redeemed. He exclaims that ’Christmas Time be praised for this!’, and continues to embrace the Christmas traditions he had spurned as the story concludes. In doing so, Scrooge also interacts with all members of society as he ‘patted children’ and ‘questioned beggars’. Thus, even Scrooge is united with his fellow man through his celebration of Christmas.
Indeed, this is never clearer than in his depiction of the Cratchits. Not only are they presented as a loving and unified family, we see that Christmas has united them further, even allowing Martha to come home and celebrate on Christmas day. As Bob Cratchit is so easily fooled into thinking that this is not the case, the reader gets the sense that Martha is rarely allowed home and away from her work. Thus, her presence with her family at Christmas is all the more significant. The symbolism of the Christmas pudding as ‘a small pudding for a large family’ is highly relevant also. Firstly, it acts as a motif for Christmas, signalling that the Cratchits celebrate the season in much the same way as others in society despite their poverty; thus, Christmas unifies society through shared practices. However, the parallelism within the sentence emphasises family’s happiness to share although they had so little. The importance here is their love for one another and the happiness they share in being together. As the children ‘danced about the table’, we are presented with a happy and lively family scene thanks to Christmas. This is reinforced by Dickens’ presentation of Belle’s family earlier in the text also and, finally, when Scrooge joins his own once redeemed.
Ergo, the power of Christmas to unify families and society as a whole is made clear throughout the text. However, more importantly, Dickens presents this a Christian and moral duty to his readers.