Posted in A Christmas Carol

How Does Dickens Present Poverty In A Christmas Carol?

Poverty is an important theme in A Christmas Carol. Remember that a theme is an idea or concept that an author explores in a story.  Usually, the purpose of the theme is to make an important statement or wider message. In the case of A Christmas Carol, Dickens uses lots of examples of poverty for precisely that reason: he wants us, the reader, to listen to what he has to say about poverty.

Before we delve into Dickens’ message, let’s take a look at some examples of poverty in A Christmas Carol and their supporting quotes:

Location Example of Poverty
Stave One The charitable collectors tell Scrooge about the hardships faced by the poor.

“Many thousands are in want of common necessaries, hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

Stave Three The image of the Cratchit family eating their meagre Christmas turkey and pudding.

“But nobody said or thought it was at all a small pudding for a large family.”

Stave Four The description of the neighbourhood surrounding Old Joe’s shop.

“The ways were foul and narrow; the shops and houses wretched.”

Now that we’ve found some examples of poverty, we need to look at them a little more closely to understand more about how Dickens presents poverty in the story.

Analysing poverty in A Christmas Carol.

  • Firstly, the fact that there are so many examples suggests that poverty is a big problem. It can be found all over Victorian London, on every street and in every neighbourhood.
  • Secondly, poverty is not a choice. Lots of people end up living in poverty through no fault of their own. Take the Cratchit family, for example. We know that they are good, kind and honest people. We also know that Bob works very hard in return for (presumably) very little pay. Despite their efforts, the Cratchits remain poor.
  • Thirdly, Victorian England had institutions in place to help the poor, like the workhouse and the prison, but these were horrible, miserable places.


Inmates having lunch in a Victorian workhouse.


What is Dickens’ message about poverty?

Now that we’ve looked in more detail at the examples of poverty, it becomes clear that Dickens has a very sympathetic attitude towards the poor in A Christmas Carol. He views them as victims of circumstance, not as lazy people who refuse to work.

He also advocates the giving of charity to help ease the burden of poverty, as we see through the characters of the charitable collectors in Stave One. He also understands that the institutions designed to alleviate poverty, like the workhouse, are more miserable than poverty itself.


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