How does Dickens use atmosphere and suspense to develop a moral message in ‘A Christmas Carol’ in chapters two and four? ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a novel with a moral message written by the famous Victorian author Charles Dickens and was first published on December 19th 1843. Dickens intended this novel to effectively deliver (through the use of themes, allegory, atmosphere, and suspense) its moral message, which is: if you have money, it is your duty to give to the poor, no matter how undeserving they are.
This moral message essentially means, in other words, that people are more important than money. Dickens used this moral message because, contrary to the wealth in Victorian London, there was poverty, despite the fact that at that time the British Empire was the biggest and strongest empire on the globe. Dickens effectively strengthens the impact of the moral message upon the reader with the use of atmosphere and suspense, including three ghosts which had a great effect upon the readers in those times, as almost everyone believed in ghosts/phantoms.
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There are many examples of atmosphere and suspense to analyse in this novel, and that is what I am going to do next. At the start of chapter two, Scrooge is lying in his bed, anticipating the predicted arrival of the first ghost, with tremendous fear. Here, Dickens, with the use of powerful metaphors, creates atmosphere where Scrooge wakes up and his eyes attempt to “pierce the darkness” which suggests the darkness was powerful and pitch black, and had to be ‘pierced’ to see through.
Also, the atmosphere is then built upon where Dickens describes Scrooge’s eyes as “ferret eyes”. These metaphors imply that Scrooge is afraid and is looking nervously around in the darkness, which grips the reader into the storyline. We can see quite blatantly here that Dickens’ command of English is superb, as the imagery and metaphors are delivered subtly yet efficiently to the reader. In addition, Dickens creates an atmosphere so the reader can then appreciate the suspense.
An example of this is where Dickens includes the repeated use of “Ding Dong, Ding Dong” to develop an atmosphere of anticipation which lends itself to suspense, as the reader is intended to feel uncertain of what is going to happen next. Dickens uses this to further grip the reader into the storyline and make the reader feel what Scrooge is supposed to be feeling, which is fear. We are introduced to the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ shortly afterwards, and this creates an eerie atmosphere, as Scrooge is suddenly in the presence of a supernatural being.
We are then presented with the moral message of the novel, when the spirit says ‘Take heed’. As a result of this spooky atmosphere, Scrooge accepts, and Dickens, through use of allegory, changes the scene (“as the words were spoken, they passed through the wall”) and therefore the atmosphere, by allowing the ghost and Scrooge to visit Scrooge’s childhood years. Furthermore, whilst Scrooge is exploring his early years, in the theme of caring/giving, there are many instances where there are unambiguous distinctions in his character, and these change side-by-side with the atmosphere/weather.
For instance, when Scrooge first arrives in his allegorical past with the ghost, Dickens describes the weather (and thus the atmosphere) as “… the darkness and mist had vanished, for it was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow upon the ground. ” Not long after, Dickens poses the rhetorical question about Scrooge: “Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them. Why did his cold eye glisten and his heart leap up as they went past? ” This pathetic fallacy and change in character suggests to the reader that Scrooge is not just over clouded with spite and malice, and that he can possess good thoughts.
The reader here is intended to feel happy, because the atmosphere as well as Scrooge’s character had cleared up from dark to clear; this induces a happier atmosphere. This also happens when Scrooge sees his old friends. Dickens uses this mutual technique cleverly to subliminally influence the reader with emotive effect, and to essentially deliver his moral message, which in this case is: ‘No matter how nasty and greedy you can act on the outside, your true gentle and more generous character will eventually transpire, and so you are all able to act generously and to do good to the people who are less fortunate than you’.
Moreover, another example is when Dickens then shows us the soft side of Scrooge, where he starts crying because he sees one of his old friends as a child, and that reminds him of the little boy singing a carol on his doorstep a couple of days ago. “Nothing, said Scrooge. Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.