In ‘A Christmas Carol’, how does Dickens make the reader aware of the conditions of the poor in the 19th century? In what ways does he make his message palatable? In ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens makes the reader aware of the conditions of the poor in many subtle ways. ‘A Christmas Carol’ wasn’t written for a certain class, or type of person, it was written for all people of all ages, and the main message that he tries to get across is that you don’t need to be rich to be happy.
As this book was written for all people, its content could not be offensive, and that is why Dickens had to make the descriptions of the conditions subtle, this is how he made it palatable. He makes the readers aware so that they will try to help people that aren’t as well off as themselves. I also think that the fact that there are ghosts in the story serve to make it more palatable, more pleasant. Although a few times Dickens does describe the conditions directly, most of the time he does, it is done indirectly.
Dickens doesn’t wish to offend anyone in the writing of the book, and a note of this is made in the preface. He says that he doesn’t want to “Put his readers out of humour with themselves”. Dickens is making the story more enjoyable by saying not to take it too seriously. All he’s asking is that we should try to help each other as much as we can. As a child, Dickens had a very harsh childhood, and many of the descriptions were from his own experiences. Rich businessmen such as Scrooge, who saw the workers as profit, not people, exploited poor people in the 1800’s. Hours were often very long with very little pay.
Dickens wanted to encourage the rich to help the poor and wrote the story so that you would side with the poor. He is showing you what the spirit of Christmas should be like. The charity workers visiting, Scrooges poor yet merry nephew and the appearance of the carol singers are all what the ideal Christmas should be. The story needed to be palatable so that it could be read and not taken too seriously, while at the same time making you want to do something to help those that need your help. The first implication of the bad conditions is when Dickens is describing Scrooge near the very start.
It is here that Dickens makes the remark that ‘No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle’. This is Dickens way of saying that there were homeless people living on the streets, without actually saying there were homeless people on the streets. “Are there no prisons? ” “No Union workhouses? ” Again Dickens is showing us how ignorant some rich people were in the way they didn’t put any effort into helping the poor; they just locked them away in prisons and workhouses. Anything that was related to the poor was shown in a way that made you see how hard life was for them.
Their lodgings were “Dark, the windows even darker”. The amount of dust and dirt in the air was so bad that it stained the houses. This concoction was referred to as Smog, and it helped pickpockets to succeed in their trade as their appearance and getaways would often be concealed. The living conditions were often very overcrowded with several families to one room, and a lack of healthcare made death a very common thing. Even the drinking water was contaminated with sewage, which did little to help ease the situation of the poor.
The rich were aware of these terrible conditions, but surprisingly did little or nothing to improve them. The Cratchitts, who were a poor family, but a happy one, endured these conditions. Even though the Cratchitts were so poor that they could only afford a very small Christmas pudding, even though it was very small, nobody said a thing about that. They were so happy just to have a pudding that nothing else mattered. For them a pudding was an extremely rare thing to have, and they were all extremely grateful for it. They were so poor that they couldn’t afford new clothes that fitted them.
Peters clothes were so small that his “collars nearly choked him”. A sign that the collars were too tight around the neck, but the Cratchitts couldn’t do anything about it. So in conclusion to the question, Scrooge made the readers aware of the conditions of the poor indirectly. He never says that there were poor people lining the street, he always describes them as vulnerable and sympathises with them. The ghosts in the story serve to make the story more palatable. As ghosts are fictitious, it helps to make the story less believable, and more enjoyable.