Christmas is a time for oft told tales like Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” At first glance, this story fills us with pity for the Cratchit family, always struggling to make ends meet. Poor Bob Cratchit is forced to work for Ebenezer Scrooge, whose personality makes an easy target for the cause of Bob’s financial troubles. But, the true source of the Cratchits’ poverty is not Scrooge but Bob’s own impulse to live a lifestyle worthy of the Lord Mayor himself.
Bob Cratchit is a clerk and a member of the British middle class. He lives a genteel life. He goes to work with a coat and tie on. His family lives in a four-room house and has a much easier working existence than most of Victorian England. Bob Cratchit earns more than an ample wage.
His salary, we are told, is fifteen shillings a week. The British pound was divided into twenty shillings, and each shilling was divided into twelve pennies or pence. So, Bob Cratchit makes 15 shillings or 180 pence each week-about the wage of a metropolitan police officer and well above the truly needy.
Essays of the Victorian era included titles such as, “How to live on eight shillings a week.” The Cratchit’s daughter, Martha, is apprenticed to a milliner and earns additional income. And Peter, their eldest son, is about to obtain a job earning five shillings and six pence weekly. He, too, is to be a man of business.
So why is the Cratchit family so poor?
Bob Cratchit is a spendthrift, or shopaholic. The shopaholic is one of eight different personality types in Bert Whitehead’s book, “Facing Financial Dysfunction.” Cratchit is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ebenezer Scrooge. Whereas Scrooge combines greed with a propensity to save, Bob Cratchit combines fear with a propensity to spend.
Spendthrifts are some of the most pleasant people to be around. They are socially outgoing and often demonstrate their own friendliness by buying things for other people.
As a typical spendthrift, Bob was probably raised in poverty. Buying gives spendthrifts great pleasure in life. Spending produces an addictive high and helps them establish their social status. In Bob’s mind, raising his social status mistakenly depends on the amount he spends, not the amount he saves.
For Bob Cratchit, living within a budget and saving money would be like setting out to deprive yourself and suffer. Spendthrifts live for the pleasure of the moment. Eating out or buying clothes are viewed as immediate pleasures for relatively small amounts of money. They do not realize that the purpose of budgeting and saving is to make sure they are spending money on the things they really want instead of frittering it away.
On Christmas Eve, Mr. Scrooge has brought his banker’s book home with him to review all evening. Shopaholics, on the other hand, almost never keep any records of their purchases. But, records would show the Cratchit family that Bob’s spending habits are exposing his family to want and suffering.
Christmas grew in popularity during the Victorian era as a time of feasting and a time for those of stature to show their affluence. During the Victorian era, Christmas was more about food than about giving gifts and the Cratchit family is determined to show that they know how to keep Christmas.
The Cratchits buy a beautiful goose and then admired it for its cheapness. Spendthrifts typically go bankrupt saving money. We are not told what Bob paid for his Christmas goose, but stories of the day suggest that a goose conservatively cost about 400 pence (1.5 Pounds). At this amount, the Cratchit family goose is costing the family a year’s supply of medical attention for the entire family.
Many spendthrifts justify their purchases as “investments.” They often buy jewelry, clothes, or even fancy house wares as an investment to provide themselves an excuse to gain the trappings of a richer lifestyle. This purposeful self-deception shows the depth of a typical spendthrift’s denial. An investment is something which pays you money, not an article of clothing.
But the Cratchit family are typical spendthrifts when it comes to clothing. On Christmas day, Bob Cratchit confers on his son Peter a shirt in honor of his apprenticeship. It was common in the day for the rich to go through the Parks to show off their finery. And Peter is amazed to find himself so gallantly attired that he too is anxious to show off his fashionable new linen in the park.
Even Mrs. Cratchit is described as “brave in ribbons, which are cheap and make a goodly show for sixpence.” Making a good show is important for spendthrifts. Mrs. Cratchit’s ribbons cost about two to three weeks of medical attention for the entire family. Their second daughter, Belinda, is also brave in ribbons too-another three weeks of medical attention.
The Cratchit family is clearly living beyond their means.
While Bob Cratchit fears poverty, he also resents wealth. He is caught in the consumerism of the rising Victorian social and professional class. It is this propensity to spend that is the true cause of the Cratchit family’s lack of means.
The tendency toward over-consumption and immediate gratification isn’t limited to Victorian England. It is nearly the defining character traits of our baby-boomer generation. Like the Cratchit family, our generation has a tendency to blame financial troubles on the more productive members of society.
If Scrooge was shown the starving children of Ignorance and Want, Bob Cratchit would be shown the starving children of Addiction and Entitlement.
Scrooge has earned the financial means necessary to help the Cratchit family, but the Spirits don’t always give us a reformed Scrooge to bail us out of our financial problems. Sometimes they want us to become a reformed Cratchit! Perhaps this is why the Spirits visited Ebenezer? It was easier to make a frugal man generous than it was to make a spendthrift father financially responsible.
Bert Whitehead at the end of his section on shopaholics writes, “Before accepting a client whom I know is a severe shopaholic, I require them to begin intensive psychotherapy with a qualified professional.” That sounds even worse than being haunted by Christmas Spirits!
Photo used here under Flickr Creative Commons.
Our essays show how Dickens promoted love and peace in his novel “a Christmas carol”. Some of the key things we discussed are…
Firstly, we discussed the Cratchit family and found out more about their respect for one another. Later on in the novel we find out that the young son of the Cratchit family is going to end up dying and, because of the love that his family shows, we feel much more emotion towards him.
Next we discussed links and key quotes throughout the novel that may link to love and family.
“They were not a handsome family, but they were happy” – showing us that you don’t need to be rich to have a happy family.
“Do you have many siblings spirit?” said Scrooge “Well over eighteen hundred” replied the spirit – the huge amount of brothers and sisters that the spirit has put emphasis on the importance of family.
“He hugged his daughter to his heart’s content” – the emphasis put on the hug shows the importance on the love shown.
How does Dickens promote family and love in a Christmas Carol?
Throughout the novel, Dickens presents the Cratchits as the ideal loving family. Even though the Cratchits are poor and don’t have much wealth, they manage to still maintain their happiness. In Stave 3, you start to see them in a lot more detail and you discover the dynamics of their family.
The Cratchit family symbolises real family and love throughout the novel, this is shown clearly from the quote, “They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker’s. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time.” This shows the readers that to be a happy family you don’t need money. The way Dickens has structured the quote in small short sentences could show that small little things are just as good as huge expensive things. Dickens wants to highlight family and love in the novel and he does this cleverly through the Cratchits.
(Teacher response: this quotation is awfully long compared to what you’ve done with it. Remember, short, precise quotations are best. Select only what you’re going to analyse)
Another way Dickens promoted family is: as we know, the ghost of Christmas present was a huge and jolly ghost who loved Christmas and everything about it! The ghost talks about the brothers and sisters and how they love Christmas. Immediately after, Scrooge asks the ghost “do you have many siblings spirit?” to which the ghost replies “well over eighteen hundred” Dickens may have used hyperbole here but it highlights topic of family being one of the most important thing at Christmas time. Linking to context, this would strongly affect the everyday lives of people in Dickens’ time because they may not have seen love and family in the way that we do today, therefore, this may have led more people to see their own family and give to the poorer in order for them to see their family more.
(Teacher’s response: try to maintain a professional voice. Avoid phrases such as ‘linking to context’. Instead consider, this would have appeal to Dickens’ Victorian readers’ sense of…)
In addition, Dickens uses alliteration to highlight the idea of love and family. He says ‘Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart’s content’. The use of ‘had hugged his’ emphasizes the word hugged as the alliteration surrounds it, causing it to have a bigger impact and be more valuable/important and highlighting the love between family. Also, the use of ‘his heart’s’ suggests it’s very important as its personal to him and a heart is one of the most important parts of the body so this highlights the idea that love is valuable. Also, it suggests that it is connected to him as a heart symbolises love and the love that Bob Cratchit has for his family as he is very happy to see his daughter. This would affect the Victorian society as it would cause everyone to aspire to have a harmonious family like the Cratchits and especially around Christmas time. It would make people understand that they need to appreciate and value love and kindness and see how important it is to not take everything for granted.
(Teacher’s response: consider also the rhythm created by the alliteration. Can you link this to harmony?)
Finally, Dickens promotes family and love when, in the novel, scrooge starts off as a nice young boy but society had changed him, corrupted him. Scrooge had no friends when he went to school and his family where the ones that betrayed his trust and sent him there anyway, so who could he trust? He got greedy and turned to money, however, we know that this could all have been solved if his family was there for him in the first place.
(Teacher’s response: this is a strong argument, although needs more detailed analysis to strengthen its position. This could be a key thread in your essay.)