Charles Dickens Four Complete Novels (Great Expectations, Hard Times, A Christmas Carol, A Tale of Two Cities)
Home : A Christmas Carol : Study Guide : Major Themes

A Christmas Carol Themes

by Charles Dickens

Major Themes

The Christmas spirit

Above all, A Christmas Carol is a celebration of Christmas and the good it inspires. At Christmas time, people forget their petty quotidian disputes, selfish tendencies, and workaholic schedules in favor of friendship, charity, and celebration. Several representatives of these virtues stand out in Dickens's cast. Fred is a model of good cheer, while Fezziwig adds to this the dimensions of being a tremendous friend and generous employer. Tiny Tim's courage and selflessness in the face of his ill health are also noteworthy, as is the loving nature of the entire Cratchit family. Scrooge learns the lessons of the Christmas spirit through his visions of Christmases past, present, and future; in each he sees either the ill effects his miserly nature has wrought or the good tidings that others bring about through their love and kindness.

Redemption and free will

The greatest pleasure in A Christmas Carol is watching Scrooge's transformation from money-pinching grouch to generous gentleman. His redemption, a major motif in Christian art, is made possible through free will. While Scrooge is shown visions of the future, he states (and his statement is borne out in Stave Five) that they are only visions of things that "May" be, not what "Will" be. He has the power to change the future with his present actions, and Dickens tries to impart this sense of free will to the reader; if Scrooge can change, then so can anyone.

Critique of Victorian society

Dickens blames the huge class stratification of Victorian England on the selfishness of the rich and, implicitly, on the Poor Laws that keep down the underclass. Scrooge is the obvious symbol of the greedy Victorian rich, while the Cratchits represent the working poor. But Dickens goes beyond sentimental portraits and reveals the underbelly of the city, notably in Stave Four. Even in the scene of the thieving workers divvying up the dead Scrooge's possessions, the accountability for their actions is put on Scrooge‹had he not been such a miser, they would not have resorted to stealing from him. When the children of Ignorance and Want crawl out from under the robes of the Ghost of Christmas Present, the ghost sends a message to Scrooge, and the same is given to the Victorian reader: to help out those in Want, and beware of Ignorance in oneself and others.

Capitalist time and epiphanies

At the beginning of the novella, Scrooge seems aware of only the present tense, the tense of capitalism. The now is the time to make or lose money, and the past and future exist only to serve the present. Dickens's attention to clocks and bells reinforces Scrooge's mania with time.

However, Scrooge is redeemed when he learns to integrate the past, present, and future into his worldview. He steps out of the capitalist obsession with the present tense and into a timeless framework in which qualities like generosity and love cannot be quantified. His appreciation of the three tenses also comes in one fell swoop, overnight, and suggests that the epiphany, the sudden revelation of a profound meaning in life, encapsulates all three tenses.

A Christmas Carol Essays and Related Content