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.
Scrooge’s opening words in reaction to Fred’s attempt to wish him a merry Christmas are ‘bah! Humbug!’
‘Humbug’ means a trick or deceit and this is how Scrooge views Christmas and the Christmas spirit – as a falsehood. It shows how he is suspicious and negative towards anything to do with generosity or community spirit.
The short exclamatory minor sentences reveal his rudeness; the ‘bah!’ is an exclamation of disgust. These sentences also highlight how he is a man of limited communication; he is not a man to enjoy a cheerful conversation. His dismissive rudeness contrasts with the cheerful greeting given to him of ‘merry Christmas!’
‘very small fire’ ‘one coal’
Scrooge keeps a ‘very small fire’ in his office for himself but his clerk’s fire is even smaller with just ‘one coal’.
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 (small) 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.
Context: 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 shows how it is important for employers to be responsible for their employees.
‘solitary as an oyster’
Scrooge is described as isolated with the simile ‘solitary as an oyster’.
This simile establishes him as a lonely man who is cut off from society. Oysters are found at the bottom of cold seas and are closed up, protecting their valuable pearls. This illustrates Scrooge’s meanness and miserliness as he greedily protects his wealth at the cost of human relationships.
Alternatively, the simile could represent Scrooge as someone with a hidden pearl inside of him; someone who has an inner goodness or beauty that, if the shell is opened, will be revealed.
‘decrease the surplus population’
Scrooge states that the poor should not be helped; if they die, then they will simply ‘decrease the surplus population’ which is seen as a good outcome.
This callous (unfeeling) attitude shows Scrooge’s lack of humanity towards the suffering poor. He is not interested in helping them and sees them only as a burden whose deaths will be beneficial to society as there will be fewer people consuming society’s resources.
‘Why, it’s Ali Baba!’ Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy’
Scrooge sees his childhood self reading a story from the Arabian Nights and the character, Ali Baba, from the story, coming alive for the lonely boy. Dickens allows the reader here to feel pity for the neglected young Scrooge and to understand how circumstances shaped him, as indeed our own childhood experiences shape us all.
Scrooge is beginning to change. The verb ‘exclaimed’ shows how animated (lively) he is and the noun ‘ecstasy’ captures his joy of reading. He is seeing happiness in something other than money.
Context: As a child, Dickens himself greatly enjoyed the Arabian Nights stories and, like the young Scrooge, his childhood years were also difficult; he was sent to work in a factory while his father was imprisoned for debt. Through the delight and comfort given by Ali Baba to the young Scrooge, Dickens shows us pleasure in literature and possibly the value of education, especially relevant in the 1840s when most poor people could not read.
‘No, no… oh no… say he will be spared’
Scrooge’s agony over the predicted death of Tiny Tim shows how much he is changing.
There is a sharp contrast with his deep concern over a poor boy and the dismissive attitude to the ‘surplus population’ at the start of the novella. Scrooge is learning compassion; he is connecting with humanity again.
Context: 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 possible to change.
‘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.
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 show the change in Scrooge.
Grade 9 Analysis
Look at the character in a different way.
Is Scrooge a more engaging character at the start of the novella?
Yes: 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.
No: 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.