An Analysis of Metaphors in a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, is a story that is rich in metaphors that ultimately questions the morals and ethics of the author’s society during the time of his life, the industrial revolutionized society. In the story, the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a greedy, rich accountant who is visited by his old business partner ghost, Jacob Marley.
Marley’s ghost tells Scrooge that he may face a penalty of becoming a lost soul if he continues to value money more than anything else in his life. He also foretells that Scrooge will be visited by three other ghosts that will give him the chance to redeem himself, and he can break an iron chain of greed that he has woven. Each time a ghost visits Scrooge, he will become more aware of the failures of the society he lives in. The ghosts will also let Scrooge see his contributions to those failures.
As Dickens writes the story of the three visits, we are able to out more about Scrooge’s inner self-character. We learn this about him as he finds out about his own fellow man and his community. The crux of the story is alluded to in the ingenious metaphors Dickens creeates to illustrate his own reflection on Nineteenth Century society.
In the beginning of the story, Scrooge and his assistant Bob Cratchit are working at Scrooge’s counting house on a very cold night, Christmas Eve. Scrooge’s offices are nearly freezing, because of the dreadful weather. They depend on using coal to keep warm. Scrooge is satisfied with a very small fire that he barely keeps going. More than that he thinks is unnecessary warmth. On the other hand, Bob Cratchit’s fire is nothing but one dying morsel of coal. “Scrooge had a very small fire, but his clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal.”
The irony in only using a small piece of coal is that they both had two entirely different reasons for not using more coal. Bob Cratchit is Scrooge’s impoverished assistant, who can’t afford to buy more coal to kindle up warmth in his office. If he had enough money to improve his working condition, he would. On the other hand, Scrooge had more than enough money to buy coal for his office and Bob’s. He didn’t find that necessary. Dickens makes reference to this as he shows how Scrooge doesn’t find it necessary to build up more warmth in his office, or even to offer to keep his assistant’s office warm, when he writes “But he (Bob Cratchit) couldn’t replenish it (the fire), for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part.”
The situation is much deeper than it appears. Dickens has not only created a spiteful and stingy character, but he creates a Scrooge whose very body is cold. The fact that Scrooge doesn’t mind that his office is cold reveals that he is both physically and mentally a cold person. Throughout literature the use of hot and cold plays as two basic metaphors for love and hate: loneliness. Scrooge doesn’t need warmth as a result of being a malevolent and bitter person. He doesn’t have family or friends to share his love and heart with, so he developed into a person who was numb to his own warm feelings. The only emotions that are left are the bitter ones he has for his society.
Dickens uses Marley’s chains as a metaphor as well. We should pay attention to what Marley and Scrooge were known for. Scrooge and Marley were both concerned about their money more than anything else that Dickens writes about. The two were so concerned about earning money, that the two didn’t care how they got it. Each of them wanted to be alone. The chains that were “forged in life” by Marley were chains of guilt and sin. These chains were fashioned while Marley made money at other people’s expenses, and were linked out of his lack of concern for what he did in life. Marley, like Scrooge, knew well of the poverty most people suffered. Their sins were that they showed no sympathy for unfortunate people. They both hid their sympathy in order to repress their guilt.
Dickens writes more about Marley’s greed when he describes Marley. “His body transparent: so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.” “Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.” And “the very texture of the folded kerchief bound about its head and chin, which wrapper he had not observed before “Dickens has illustrated a phantom who one can see right through, has nothing let in his body, and needs a handkerchief to keep his jaw from dropping “down upon his breast!”
When examining the different elements that made up Marley’s Ghost, it becomes clear Dickens was amplified how greedy Marley really was. The bandage that Marley must keep wrapped around his head is the first connection to greed. As a part of his punishment, Marley needs the bandage wrapped around his head or his mouth will drop to his chest. It symbolizes how Marley consumed things without stopping, everything that entered his possession. Having no bowels is a way of saying that nothing left Marley’s possession. Dickens got across that Marley let everything in, but gavenothing.
In addition to Scrooge being cold both physically and mentally, there is the matter of fog that seems to pursue him like the rats that followed the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Wherever Scrooge goes, Dickens manages to strengthen his description of Scrooge as being surrounded with a gathering of deep, endless fog. This is more than a descriptive tool, but also a deep metaphor that sums up what’s wrong with Scrooge. The fog serves as a wall for the character. It is not only a blinding vapor, but also a blanket that shelters him from other people. It keeps him separate and remote from the rest of the world he travels about day to day.
Ultimately, Scrooge is charged with creating the fog. He keeps himself away from the world, even though the world reaches out him. The fog isolates him from the warmth of human compassion, from himself and others around him. This is evident when Dickens writes, “Foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold. Even when Scrooge was approached by Christmas carolers, he seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost.”
In this sense, Dickens used the fog to act as a door that slammed after the singer left. It covered everything around Scrooge’s office including the keyhole. It isolated Scrooge from the outside world, and kept him in the place he loved most, his office. “Meanwhile the fog and darkness thickened so, that people ran about with flaring links, proffering their services to go before horses in carriages, and conduct them on their way.” “All he could make out was, that was still very foggy and extremely cold, and that there was no noise of people running to and fro, and making great stir, as there unquestionably would have been if night had beaten off bright day, and taken possession of the world.” Again Dickens used fog and cold to detach people from Scrooge. Fog was the separation, and cold the disposition in which it isolated Scrooge.
Another metaphor Dickens uses is the church bell. “The ancient tower of a church, whose gruff old bell was always peeping slily down at Scrooge out of a gothic window in the wall, became visible, and struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards “The ancient tower of the church bell is what Dickens used to embody the church and its values. The fact that it is a tall tower, reaching into the clouds suggests that it has some kind of spiritual significance. Dickens described the tower as “always peeping slily down at Scrooge.” Perhaps this is because Scrooge was doing something very wrong by shutting off his connection to the outside world, and the church knew it. It seems to stand in back of Scrooge, “peeping slily” at his continuous seclusion. The bells that “struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations “serves as a reminder for Scrooge. It is reminding him that everything is being observed.
Dickens also uses light and darkness as a creative tool when he talks about the ghosts, and the atmosphere of the story. Like fog and frost, darkness is also found everywhere Scrooge is. Darkness in literature is every selfish man’s personal cloud. It shadows them from other people who see them, and it keeps their sight limited. The darkness for these characters is like a hallway that has no entrances. The only exit they use is one that leads to solitude. Darkness also interrupts the memories Scrooge doesn’t want to think about, memories that Scrooge has “chained up, and left in the deepest and darkest parts of his mind. The memories became so dark for Scrooge that he had decided to hide everything that had once been good in his life to numb his emotions and interest in humanity.
Light, on the other hand, is most detectable when Dickens writes about the Ghost of Christmas Past. “Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn.” The light that Dickens writes about is springing from the Ghost’s head. The Ghost of Christmas Past serves as a heart-felt guide to his memories, and the light represents Scrooge’s emotions to what he was feeling about his well-suppressed memories. Scrooge prefers to be left in the dark, rather than be exposed to light. This is evident when he attempted to repress his recollection of the past, especially the feelings of his past. “Scrooge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him; but he had a special desire to see the Spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.”
The Ghost of Christmas Past had a hidden significance also. With memory uncapped, Scrooge is taken to his past where his joy, pain, and loneliness are all rejoiced. The Ghost takes him to his celebrations, friendships, and even his love affair. It’s from seeing his past that Scrooge becomes in touch with inner emotions that he had as a child and young adult. It’s with these emotions that Scrooge’s present insensitivity is smothered, and Scrooge feels the first basic human joy in a long time.
In the end, Dickens reflects his views on what his society became to the reader through his rich command of language, and unique technique of bringing metaphors to life. Through his performance in writing skills he was able to tell us the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, and his redemption. Scrooge is reborn after his encounters with four ghosts who showed him how to remember, recognize, and live with intuition. The three Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future showed Scrooge how to remember the good things in his life, cherish and share what he has, and lastly live humbly with the intent with being remembered as a good person. I think that Dickens was trying to tell us, and the people of his time especially, that if we live in the past, present and future, and keep those three factors alive, than we can be reborn just like Scrooge was.