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How the Characters Develop the Atmosphere in a Christmas Carol?

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[pic 1]How the Characters Develop the Atmosphere in A Christmas Carol

(Stage #1) Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol presents a dark and gloomy vision of an industrial world which had no social net to assist those at the bottom rungs of society. The arrogant and insensitive nature of the wealthy men of business and leaders of Industrial England, is contrasted with the desperate plight of the very poor. Dickens suggests that the poor suffered as they had no escape from the predicament in which they found themselves. Similarly, the wealthy merchants and businessmen paid a price for not being able to see the error of their ways. Their suffering, as well as the suffering of the poor, deepens the dark and gloomy atmosphere at the heart of the novel.

(Stage #2) The darkness of the novel is, in part, physical, but there is an emotional darkness as well. This is characterized by the unhappy nature of some of the characters, or by the unhappy circumstances in which other characters find themselves. All the characters suffer, albeit in different ways, as they undergo hardship, and this leads to a sense of foreboding and of gloom in the reader, who feels the sadness and the lack of hope of so many of the characters. This sense of foreboding, of darkness and of gloom is developed by three characters in particular: Scrooge, the ghost of Jacob Marley and Tiny Tim.

(Stage #3a) The central character of Ebenezer Scrooge introduces the dark and gloomy atmosphere at the heart of the novel. From the outset, he sits in his counting house with its “very small fire,” (3) he greets his nephew with a series of “bahs” and “humbugs”, and delivers his vision of a bleak and joyless world in his opening speech:

“Out upon Merry Christmas! What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ‘em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? (3)

(Stage #4a) Scrooge’s outlook on life, at the outset of the novel, is reflected in his description of Christmas. He is a man who defines the season in terms of the paying of bills, of money and wealth, and of balancing the books. He is unable to see the joy in the season himself, and scoffs at the “world of fools” (3) who wish each other “Merry Christmas!” The coldness of his soul is evident as he jeers at the foolishness of others who, he believes, have no business “making merry” (67) if they do not have the financial means to do so. Scrooge equates happiness with money and wealth. This demonstration of his soullessness heightens the gloomy and dark vision of the novel. The reader shares the distress of Scrooge’s nephew, and, like Fred, feels sorry for Scrooge given his ignorant and bleak view of the world. 

(Stage #3b) Like Scrooge, Jacob Marley is a cold and hard man. But his character is, in some ways, even more chilling than Scrooge’s as he is a ghost and no longer has any possibility to repent of his sins. He carries with him a chain made of “cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses wrought in steel” (11); and explains to Scrooge why he is fettered with it:

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.” (13)

(Stage #4b) The ghost of Jacob Marley’s character heightens the drama of the novel, but also deepens the darkness at the heart of it. The ghost sees the error of his ways, but, unlike Scrooge he is condemned to an eternity of suffering to pay for his ignorance and past action. As with Scrooge, the reader feels pity for the ghost, but an even more profound pity than for Scrooge. Scrooge is still alive; he has time and opportunity to change his mean and cold nature and to treat others with humanity. The ghost doesn’t. The misery of the ghost is that he recognizes his past ignorance and sins. He knows he has forged the chain he wears, yet it is too late for him to save himself from his fate. He has lost the power “to interfere, for good, in human matters” (16) and regrets it. This evidence of the ghost’s eternal suffering deepens the dark and gloomy atmosphere of the novel.

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