A Christmas Carol Context


GCSE English Literature Slide Set on A Christmas Carol Context, created by Olivia Bamber on 05/04/2016.
Olivia Bamber
Slide Set by Olivia Bamber, updated more than 1 year ago
Olivia Bamber
Created by Olivia Bamber almost 8 years ago

Resource summary

Slide 1

    Poverty 19th C and Social Responsibility
    Dickens was writing at a time when people of noble birth were no longer the only rich people in the country. Many middle-class people were rising to power and wealth by running successful factories or industries – and through their own hard work rather than the family they were born into. In addition, the Great Reform Bill of 1832 meant middle class property owners could vote for the first time, so these people became influential in society.  The belief amongst some middle-class people was that anyone could succeed with enough effort, and that the poor were lazy and not worth bothering with. Dickens hated this attitude –the one seen in the character, Scrooge, and believed anyone with wealth and influence should help those less fortunate than themselves. He also thought that it was particularly unfair to neglect the poor, as, for example, the wealthy factory owner’s riches was usually built on the hard work and often low wage exploitation of the factory workers. Scrooge represented the unfair world where for many, human relations were secondary to profit.

Slide 2

    Prisons and Workhouses - Poverty
    In Victorian England, if a man could not pay his bills, the government could send him to prison. There, the wardens treated him like a common criminal. The government designed purposefully useless tasks for prisoners to perform so that debtors would realize the pointlessness of their crime. For example, prisoners had to walk the treadmill, a large metal cylinder with evenly spaced steps attached to it. The cylinder spun around and around while the prisoner walked for hours, struggling not to miss a step and to keep pace with the other prisoners suffering the same fate. Charles Dickens’ father struggled with debt for most of his adult life, and when Charles was just 12, his father was sent to the Marshalsea Debtors’ Prison who those who could not afford to pay their bills.  At this time, as the family suddenly had little money, Charles was sent to work at Warren’s Blacking factory, where he was employed to fix labels on to bottles of boot blacking for 11 hours a day.  Whilst his father was released later that year, a sensitive child, Dickens was traumatised by this harsh experience, and never forgot his experience of poverty, particularly the children he worked with who unfairly lost their chance at gaining an education and a fair start in life, simply because of their poverty.

Slide 3

    Dickens also visited ‘ragged schools’ –ones where those too poor to be able to got to school had evening classes. Again, he spoke of these children as experiencing ‘neglect’, ‘misery’ and ‘travelling to their graves’.  Dickens thought ‘ignorance’ by the rich ignoring the poor and ‘ignorance’ of children due to their lack of education, was as frightening a prospect as poverty. Charles’ experience in the factory was frightening, but not as bad as the dreaded ‘Workhouse’ where illegitimate children, or children that families could not afford to support, were sent away to. These places were a source of terror to the poor. The rich thought that the ‘workhouse’ was a good way of persuading people not to be lazy (and simply ‘work harder’ –as Scrooge mentions in the story) whilst the reality was that many children and adults sent there were simply not as fortunate in terms of getting jobs. They were supposed to be charitable institutions, provided by the government,  providing a roof over the poor’s heads, and a tiny allowance of food.. but conditions were similar to prison – starvation and abuse were commonplace.

Slide 4

    The job of the Clerk and his pay
    Can you imagine spending your entire school day, plus all of your homework time, copying words from a textbook? Add a freezing room and one candle as your only source of light, and you have Bob Cratchit’s working conditions—and he had a good job by Victorian standards! Since there were no printers or copiers in the 1800s, businesses hired clerks to copy documents all day by hand. Scrooge expected Bob to keep copying documents word by word for the entire workday—that’s 8 to 10 hours per day, six days a week! And how much did Bob make at this “good” job? Scrooge paid Bob 15 shillings a week, just 5 shillings short of a pound, or 39 pounds a year. Experts disagree on today’s equivalent of the Victorian pound, but they think in the worst-case scenario, Bob earned around £15 in modern money a week. Rent on a decent house would have been about 9 shillings a week, leaving just 6 shillings to feed and clothe a family of six. When you consider a loaf of bread cost about a shilling, things were very, very tight for the Cratchits!

Slide 5

    Gothic and Ghosts
    Dickens was very familiar with the Gothic genre, and in Scrooge provides a world which combines elements of the supernatural with reality to powerful effect.   The use of Gothic conventions such as the spine-chilling ghosts –one of which never speaks –only points, the icy imagery –often to symbolise Scrooge’s heart, the old churches, graves, bells, darkness, door knockers that turn into faces and old towers are all referenced in the story, and provide a strong contrast to the warmth of the Cratchit family scenes, and those on Christmas morning.  
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