Four ghosts visit the miserly businessman Ebeneezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. After the apparition of Scrooge's dead business partner Marley, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas As Yet To Come guide Scrooge through his own emotionally charged past, his harsh and loveless present, and his bleak future. The vision of his own headstone and the realization that no one will mourn his death force Scrooge to see the error of his "Bah! Humbug!" attitude toward humanity in general and Christmas in specific.

The primary recipients of Scrooge's moral rebirth are his poor clerk Bob Cratchit and his family, especially the crippled boy Tiny Tim. When Scrooge wakes from his ghostly visitations, he delivers a huge turkey to the Cratchit household and gives Bob a raise. He becomes a "second father" to Tim and reconciles with his own nephew.


A Christmas Carol exemplifies Dickens's vigorous opposition to those Victorian social reformers and businessmen who believed, like Scrooge, that charity encouraged idleness and that the poor should be left to die and "decrease the surplus population" (12).

This Victorian Malthusianism (based loosely on the ideas of 18th century writer Thomas Malthus) was often accompanied by an individualism that classified all misfortunes as personal failings rather than public problems. Dickens's anti-Malthusian approach to issues like poverty and disability, however, is also worked out in personal and local ways: rather than lobbying for Parliamentary reform, Scrooge acts on his moral rebirth by helping one family.

The resilient popularity of the story testifies to our continuing desire to believe that one person's change of heart can solve social problems. A Christmas Carol is emotionally satisfying in other ways as well: we may safely face death with Scrooge, experiencing vicariously his moral recovery; we may share with Tim and Bob the satisfaction of having one's worth recognized and one's suffering removed (a recurrent theme of Victorian melodramatic literature).

The character Tiny Tim, who hopes that "people saw him in . . . church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day who made lame beggars walk and blind men see" (45) is the clearest literary image of physical disability in the minds of many twentieth-century people. Tiny Tim is also the disabled character most objectionable to literary critics and disability activists alike. He is both an emblem of Victorian sentimental excess and the model for all the poster children of our time--the "patient . . . mild" cripple who accepts his suffering and is sweetly grateful for the charity of the non-disabled (68).

Tim's body invites metaphoric and spiritual readings as a reminder of Christly miracles and as a figure for spiritual wholeness. With a crutch and iron frame supporting his limbs, however, the character is firmly anchored to harsh Victorian social realities, as are the allegorical figures of Ignorance and Want, who appear to Scrooge as two "wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable" children (56).

The character of Tim should be evaluated within the context of Victorian literature and culture, in which the saintly child visibly "afflicted" with physical disability was a recurrent and thus recognizable figure, so effective at stimulating charitable giving that indigent people with disabilities could not simply ignore it if they wanted to survive outside the workhouse. Similarly, the degree of cultural harm characters like Tim undoubtedly produced should be evaluated in conjunction with the possible benefits of the social awareness and financial contributions they stimulated.


Full Title: A Christmas Carol in Prose: Being A Ghost Story of Christmas. First published separately 1843; collected with four other stories as The Christmas Books (1852).

Primary Source

Christmas Books (The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens)


Oxford Univ. Press

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