Christmas is a time for happiness, an excessive amount of red and green decorations, a generous amount of presents, gorging on way too much food, and most importantly, re-reading or re-watching movie adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Ever since the A Christmas Carol was published in 1843 and subsequently popularised a whole heap of Christmas traditions into the public consciousness, it’s become almost an unwritten law at this point to reacquaint ourselves with A Christmas Carol at the end of each year.
You’d think Charles Dickens wrote the novel as a way to celebrate the holidays while telling the story of a stingy old man learning about the value of kindness and generosity. But as it turns out, he wrote it as an allegory for child labour and the wage gap that was gripping Britain at the time.
A Christmas Carol originally began as a pamphlet titled ‘An Appeal to the People of England on behalf of the Poor Man’s Child‘, and was intended to shed some light on the brutal child labour problem in the UK, which was experiencing an economic depression.
Having worked in a factory as a child due to his family’s financial difficulties, Dickens was sympathetic to the issue and interviewed many young kids about their horrible working conditions. He noted how people were seen as disposable resources rather than humans and children in particular were exploited for labour because they worked for the lowest wages.
Dickens gave a fundraising speech on October 5, 1843, where he urged workers and employers to work together towards educational reform. As passionate as his speech was, Dickens soon realised that the best way to reach the greatest number of people was to write something incredibly important that masqueraded as an emotional Christmas story.
And that’s how A Christmas Carol was born.
Dickens finished writing the novel in just a couple of months and it became an instant success that captured society’s imagination with both it’s heartfelt tale and simple allegory.
Ebenezer Scrooge is clearly a metaphor for self-interest and representative of the wealthy class in Britain at the time while Bob Cratchit and his family are symbols of the working class. The happy resolution at the end can also be read as Dickens’ idea of addressing the wage gap issue.
By having Scrooge give Bob a raise and treating everyone with kindness, Dickens is putting forth the idea that employers are responsible for their employees and should treat them as human beings rather than mere tools, as well as the importance of taking care of future generations.
It’s quite amazing that A Christmas Carol has continued to endure after all these years and it’s a testament to Charles Dickens’ talent that he somehow managed to Trojan horse a cautionary tale about the need for generosity and kindness into a heartfelt Christmas story about an old man who doesn’t want to part with a single cent.