Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol isn’t really about Christmas- it’s about so much more than that. It’s about the relationship between the wealthy and the poor; it’s about social responsibility; it’s about change.

In Victorian society, the aristocracy appreciated that they had a duty to take care of the less fortunate members of society. The middle-class members of society, however, had very different attitudes towards the poor. These people made most of their money by exploiting their working-class employees meaning the employees had to tolerate unreasonably low wages and horrible working conditions otherwise they would starve. They did this because the Poor Law meant that the church parishes gave aid to the poor so they knew the church would have to help them. They also believed that if you had the ability to work, you could succeed and if you don’t succeed, you are lazy and you deserve to be poor. The Poor Law Amendment passed in 1834, establishing that only the poor who didn’t have the ability to work could receive help from the churches; those who could work but were poor were sent to the workhouses, which had intentionally unbearable working conditions so that if people had any way of avoiding being sent to the workhouse, they would use it.

Charles Dickens believed that education was a necessity to end poverty. He persuaded a wealthy friend, Angela Burdett-Coutts, to finance some of the ‘Ragged Schools’, which were given this name for their pupils’ worn-out clothes, to educate poor children.

Charity was a big part of Victorian society, especially at Christmas. The aristocracy accepted social responsibility by regularly giving large donations to charitable organisations and doing what they could to help the poor in their community. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol with the hope of seeing social reform by spreading his message widely. Through the publishing and selling of A Christmas Carol, Dickens brought about a small change in the mentalities of the middle class. Some of his middle-class readers began to change and take action to improve working conditions for their employees; they started to take responsibility for their employees’ welfare, pay them higher wages, and the Holidays With Pay Act (1938) meant they gave them a week of paid leave every year. Dickens toured Britain, and America, so that as many people as possible could hear his message and change themselves for the betterment of society.

Rashmini Mootoosamy