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How to write a great Christmas carol essay

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was written in 1843 and it's still popular. The character of Ebeneezer Scrooge has become a byword for stinginess, and the imagery of the ghosts is a powerful one. Given its enduring popularity the novella is a common subject for essays. If you're writing one on it, what are some good ways to make it stand out? There are a few interesting themes to discuss.

  • The most obvious theme of the story, of course, is redemption. The miser Scrooge is shown images of his past, the suffering his meanness is causing in the present and the miserable future he will face if he doesn't change his ways. On Christmas morning he is a different man, carrying out anonymous acts of generosity, and the conclusion makes clear that this is a permanent change. What motivates Scrooge's redemption though? Is it a realization that his behavior is wrong, or is it fear of the thought of dying and being forgotten?
  • The story is set at Christmas, but did it actually influence Christmas? The modern holiday, with its largely secular celebrations, largely dates back to the Victorian period when A Christmas Carol was written. The book was a huge success, and prompted a lot of interest in the older but largely forgotten seasonal traditions it mentioned. Together with the German traditions introduced by Prince Albert these became the basis of the holiday we know. Dickens was trying to highlight the situation of the poor; did he unwittingly kick-start the most commercial festival of the year instead?
  • Dickens wrote the book shortly after reforms to the Poor Laws, which made life much harder for the poor. It was widely seen at the time as a criticism of Victorian society and of unrestricted capitalism. Given its popularity did it have any effect on social attitudes? Was the situation of the poor improved at all as a result of him writing it?
  • What does the book say about free will? Many Victorian theologians believed that people were predestined to their fate, with the implication that the poor somehow deserved it. Dickens, though, seems to have opposed that. Scrooge is shown the past and present, and then the future as it could be. It is very clear that Scrooge has the ability to change his future, and that his fate is not fixed.

All of these themes can add a new dimension to an essay about A Christmas Carol, and take it beyond a simple description of how Scrooge is reformed by the ghosts. On its surface the story is a simple tale of someone seeing the error of their ways, but there's a lot more to it than that and the key to a great essay is to dig a bit deeper.

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