The Cratchit Family
The Cratchit family allows us an insight into the lives of the Victorian working poor. Their good-hearted cheerfulness embodies the Christmas Spirit, and we admire how they cope with poverty and ill-health.
Scrooge keeps a ‘very small fire’ in his office for himself but his clerk’s fire is even smaller with just ‘one coal’.
In this first stave, Bob is named as simply ‘the clerk’. This suggests that Bob is representative of the British workforce at the time.
Context: One of Dickens’ purposes in writing ‘A Christmas Carol’ was to raise awareness in his readership of the dreadful conditions that the poor suffered in. Through the poor treatment of Bob, Dicken shows how it is important for employers to be responsible for their employees.
‘down a slide… twenty times, in honour of its being Christmas Eve’
Bob slides in the snow on his way home from work.
Bob comes across as a cheerful man; his exuberance is clear through the fact that he slides down the snow ‘twenty times’, showing his sense of fun and zest for life. There is a humorous tone to this description of the excessive sliding; Dickens uses Bob’s cheerful character to contrast with Scrooge’s gloomy personality.
Bob is full of the Christmas Spirit; he slides ‘in honour’ of the festival.
‘dressed out but poorly in a twice turned gown, but brave in ribbons’
Mrs Cratchit is poor, having to reuse clothes and material rather than buy new dresses. However, she clearly takes pride in her appearance.
The conjunction ‘but’ in ‘but brave in ribbons’ emphasises how she copes with her poverty with a sense of dignity and courage.
Context: Dickens was concerned at how poor people were perceived as lazy or ‘work-shy’ and indeed Scrooge calls the poor ‘idle’. The 1834 Poor Law aimed to punish the ‘idle’ poor by the dire conditions of the workhouses, but here in the Cratchits’ house we see poor people who are not idle; they are decent and proud, and take the time and effort to look respectable.
‘chestnuts on the fire sputtered and crackled noisily’
The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to visit places where the people celebrate Christmas, such as the Cratchits’ house with the chestnuts on the fire.
The onomatopoeic verbs ‘sputtered’ and ‘crackled’ help create the warm, vibrant atmosphere of Bob’s poor house. Dickens uses the symbol of fire to reflect ideas of generosity throughout the novella; here, the blazing fire which is heating the food shows how rich the Cratchits are in goodwill and Christmas spirit.
By showing Scrooge the happy family scene, the ghost is helping to show Scrooge how cold and bleak his own life is in comparison to Bob’s life.
‘Bob held his withered little hand in his… and wished to keep him by his side, and dreaded that he might be taken from him’
Even on Christmas Day, there is the shadow of future pain and loss as Bob holds onto the crippled Tiny Tim’s hand.
The adjectives ‘withered’ and ‘little’ show how frail and vulnerable Tiny Tim is and highlights Bob’s need to love and protect him. He doesn’t reject his son for his disability but is concerned for him; the syndetic list shows the range of deep, caring emotions Bob feels for his crippled boy.
It is a compelling image of the love and bonds within families.
Context: In Victorian London, one in five children died before their fifth birthday. The Victorian readership would have been painfully aware that Tiny Tim’s death is all too likely.
‘No, no… oh no… say he will be spared’
Scrooge’s agony over the death of Tiny Tim shows how he is changing.
There is a contrast here with his deep concern over a poor boy and his dismissive attitude to the ‘surplus population’ in Stave 1. Scrooge dismissed all the poor in brisk, business-like terms in Stave 1; by the third stave, he sees the poor, dying boy in a compassionate, emotional way.
Dickens uses Tiny Tim to represent the mass of poor children living in misery and need. He uses Tiny Tim to show the readers how vulnerable the poor are; there is no money for medical treatment and so Tiny Tim must needlessly die.
Context: 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.
Grade 9 Analysis
Look at the character in a different way.
Are the Cratchits too good to be true?
Yes: Dickens presents an unrealistic picture of the Cratchit family. Bob insists on toasting his unpleasant employer who surely he feels no loyalty towards. Tiny Tim is almost a caricature of young saintliness; even his name, Tiny Tim, is excessively and obviously sentimental and so detaches him from reality. This lack of realism means that the reader does not engage with a boy who is more of a symbol than a convincing character.
The disabled child who is almost angelically innocent was a common character in Victorian literature.
No: There is enough evidence of reality to show the Cratchits as a ‘real’ family. Mrs Cratchit is honest in her outburst about Scrooge, calling him an ‘odious, stingy, hard, unfeeling man’. The list of negative adjectives shows her righteous indignation about the way Scrooge treats Bob. Martha too is clearly looking forward to a lie-in and rest from hard manual labour, and Dickens openly states ‘there was nothing of high mark’ about the family. This is not a family of saints and they are not idealised.