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A Christmas Carol Response To Literature Essay

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‘Scrooge’s change of heart is owed to fear and guilt rather than compassion.’ Discuss. In Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the presence of fear and guilt is demonstrated as a vital component to the transformation of his protagonist Scrooge. His absolute selfishness and lack of care for others, brands him cold and haughty. However, when the reality of isolation and eternal torment, as well as the tragic effect of ‘upper-class’ ignorance on the inclining rates of poverty in Victorian England sets in – he has a change of heart. Likewise, Dickens also contends that the presence of compassion in Scrooge’s life is equally beneficial to his ultimate change of temperament as its impact on him allows him to value its role in society. The metamorphosis in Scrooge’s character can be easily attributed to the conceptual fear of God and loneliness, as presented by Dickens. When the reader first meets Scrooge, he is introduced as a ‘covetous old sinner’ with a heart ‘as hard as flint.’ The use of connotations and the latter simile indicate that he is most unkind, offering nothing but scorn to others and similarly fearless of his creator. However when Marley visits him wrapped in a steel chain made out of ‘cashboxes, deeds and padlocks,’ and states that he too is destined to wear one that is far ‘[heavier] and [longer]’– Scrooge immediately begs for comfort. The ‘chain’ symbolises the sins that Marley had accumulated out of greed and selfishness while alive, and thus acts as a burden to him in the afterlife as a form of punishment from God. The effect of fear is indicative in Scrooge’s sudden willingness to allow the ghost of Marley to guide him. Although this reaction is due to the knowledge of what awaits him in hell rather than the acceptance of his sins - it seems that Dickens utilises this opportunity to draw back on the importance of religion in Victorian England and remind his supposedly more ‘intelligent’ Christian readers of the correct way of living. That is, a good being must be charitable, at least out of the fear and respect for God that is expected, given his power and status. Furthermore, the final supernatural vision reveals that Scrooge is so disliked for his attitude by his neighbours and employees that after his death, one of them even steals the ‘bed-curtains’ of his bed while he was ‘lying in [it],’ dead. Ironically, Scrooge does not realise that it is actually him who was being treated so rudely until he sees his name ‘upon the stone of a neglected grave,’ which immediately horrifies him as it finally dawns on him that his death will be unnoticed and at the very most, a relief and good fortune for those he had troubled – unless he mends his ways. In this way, Dickens metaphorically highlights to the reader the ‘scary’ fate of the upper-class capitalist Victorians, emphasising that their ‘loftiness’ is damaging and will ultimately leave them with no friends or mourners. According to Dickens, an equally important motivator in Scrooge’s transformation is the presence of guilt, resulting from shame. A major underlying factor which ‘lends’ Scrooge his negative character, is the idea that he appears to feel no regret for the purposely induced indifference to his neighbours as well as his irresponsibility towards those who are unfortunate and in need. For example, when asked by the charity collectors for a donation to the poor on Christmas Eve, Scrooge refuses by stating that he already helps ‘[government] establishments [which support them and that it] cost[s] enough.’ While this establishes that Scrooge is definitely miserly, the image that the scene creates symbolically reflects Dickens idea of how the upper-class truly believe that their social involvement only extend to paying taxes and nothing else, despite the crisis or occasion – and thus portraying them to the reader as ‘heartless’ souls, incapable of even feeling guilt. However, when the ‘Ghost of Christmas Present’ reveals the two ‘frightful, hideous, [and] miserable’ looking children from behind the folds of his robe and introduces them as ‘Want’ and ‘Ignorance’ to Scrooge, he is deeply horrified. Allegorically, the children represent the ugly ‘face’ or doomed by-product of a Capitalist society which tolerates the spread of poverty and runs on the basis of ignorance that is bred from arrogance and selfishness. Furthermore, when Scrooge questions why the children do not have a shelter, the ghost sarcastically retorts, ‘are there no prisons [or] workhouses?’ – suggesting the reality of what he himself had said earlier to the charity collectors along the same lines. This event effectively acts to shame him about his flippant and ill manner towards the lower-class as it educates him of the actual direness of a situation that he regarded so lightly previously and hence create the feeling of guilt and enhances its effect on him – as clearly demonstrated when he donates a huge amount to charity the very next day. Conversely, Dickens stresses that the influence of kindness is similarly responsible for Scrooge’s refined nature. Despite the fact that he is completely untouched by any form of friendly behaviour directed to him initially, it seems that Marley’s altruistic notion to guide Scrooge just so that he may be subject to a happier eternity than him, makes the right impression and somewhat defrosts his ‘stony’ heart. This is evidential when he states ‘you were always a good friend to me, thank’ee’ as soon as Marley confirms his purpose - clearly expressing ‘gratitude.’ Later, the statement is further justified when the ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ reveals that as a child, Scrooge was ‘[solitary and] neglected by his friends’ and father. The sympathetic description forces readers to conclude that he must have received very little love while growing up, inducing pity for him as well as reinforcing Dickens idea of how the lack of kindness in one’s upbringing will reflect on their character poorly; given that one cannot ‘mimic’ what they have not ‘seen.’ In this way, Dickens places emphasis on the essential role of compassion in the construction and betterment of character. Dickens reinforces that the acknowledgement of fear and guilt is a vital component to Scrooge’s transformation. The thought of ceaseless eternal doom, ultimate seclusion and the impact and realisation of his mistakes, render him frantic to change. However, the role of compassion is also depicted as important given that it allows his protagonist to view the world in a more positive shade and thus make him more committed in remedying his ignorant ways.

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