How to get a GCSE grade 9 using just three quotations from A Christmas Carol
Ebeneezer Scrooge is a character who is famous for his miserly ways and hatred of Christmas. Yet he is also famous for the changes that he undergoes; across the novella, we witness his complete transformation, becoming a man who is generous in action and in spirit and who wholeheartedly embraces Christmas. He is in practically every page of the book but you don’t have to learn hundreds of quotations. Three should do it nicely! Below are three short quotations that are easy to remember and can be used to analyse characters and themes, explore language and add in context.
‘Very small fire’ ‘one coal’
Scrooge barely heats his counting-house with a ‘very small fire’ and allows his clerk, Bob Cratchit, just ‘one coal’ for his fire.
Dickens uses fire and warmth as a symbol throughout the novella to reflect characters and explore the theme of generosity. Here, Scrooge’s ‘small fire’ reflects his miserly character, with the intensifier ‘very’ emphasising just how meagre the literal fire is and so how limited the generosity is in Scrooge’s personality. Scrooge’s meanness extends to his clerk, Bob Cratchit, who is allowed only ‘one coal’ for a fire.
One of Dickens’ purposes in writing the novella was to raise awareness in his readership of the dreadful working conditions in which the poor suffered. Through the cold, miserable environment of the counting-house, Dickens reminds us how it is important for employers to be responsible for their employees.
Scrooge changes as the Christmas ghosts take him on a journey of self-discovery.
‘No, no… oh no… say he will be spared’
Scrooge’s agony over the predicted death of Tiny Tim illustrates how much he is changing. The repetition of ‘no’ reflects Scrooge’s horror as he tries to deny the future that the ghost shows him.
There is a sharp contrast with his deep concern over a poor boy and his dismissive attitude to the surplus population at the start of the novella. Scrooge is learning compassion; he is connecting with humanity again.
The Industrial Revolution had forced many people into London looking for work, but wages were low and conditions were terrible. Through no fault of his own, Tiny Tim is victim to these circumstances, and Dickens uses the small boy to show Scrooge and the readership that the poor are part of humankind and should be protected, not ignored or despised.
‘I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy’
At the end, Scrooge’s transformation is complete as he states how differently he feels.
The repetitive sentence structure of similes highlights his newfound positivity. There is a sense of Christian goodness with the comparison to an angel and genuine joy in the comparison to a school-boy. The simile ’light as a feather’ captures how he is now free from the great burden of greed.
With this new attitude, Scrooge proceeds to correct the mistakes he made in Stave One by giving money to charity and improving Bob’s Christmas; Dickens uses a mirrored structure to highlight the huge change in Scrooge.
Dickens’ aim in writing the novella was to show how the Christmas Spirit can change an individual, and also society, for the better. Scrooge’s transformation shows the reader how it is easy to change and just how much happiness that can bring.
Maximise your grade
These three quotations can take you down the path to a grade 9. Another way to help you secure a top level mark is to look at alternative view of a character or theme. With Scrooge, you could ask:
Is Scrooge a more memorable and engaging character at the start of the novella?
Scrooge’s trademark ‘Bah! Humbug!’ at the start establishes him as a character who we pity but who is also greatly entertaining. The whole idea that anyone who says ‘Merry Christmas’ should be ‘boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart’ is amusing and many readers will fondly remember the cantankerous old man rather than the jolly chirpy fellow at the end. And before we condemn his early self too harshly, we should remember that he does contribute to his society, paying his taxes to support the institutions that help the poor.
The whole purpose of the novella is to illustrate how the Christmas spirit can transform us into generous, happy people. There is nothing but pure joy for the reader in witnessing Scrooge’s mischievous side as he plays a trick on Bob and in witnessing him becoming part of a family as again as he takes on the role of a kindly ‘second father’ to Tiny Tim.