A Christmas Carol Context for GCSE English Literature

While it’s not necessary to include a huge amount of A Christmas Carol context in GCSE exams, understanding the history of the time can really help support your answer. That bit of extra knowledge not only helps you understand the setting of the novella, but also see why A Christmas Carol was so popular. So, why did Dickens write A Christmas Carol, and what effect did it have on the public?

Charles Dickens wrote and published A Christmas Carol in 1843. This was a time when poor people were perceived to fall into two categories: the deserving poor and the undeserving poor. The deserving poor were seen as people who were poor through no fault of their own – the sick, the elderly, the disabled. The undeserving poor were assumed to be workshy, lazy, and wasteful. 

During this time, the Poor Laws were in effect, meaning that the poorest people in society were forced to go to workhouses instead of receiving charity aid. Workhouses were feared and avoided – despite them being built to provide shelter and employment, they were brutal places where families were broken up and there was little chance of leaving. The workhouses were full of the people deemed to be the ‘deserving’ poor, meaning that all poor people were being punished for being in poverty.

When thinking about A Christmas Carol in its context, we can see that the idea of the deserving and undeserving poor shines through. Ebeneezer Scrooge sneers at the idea of providing charity, saying “Are there no prisons and workhouses?” instead. His acts of charity in the final stave benefit the Cratchit family, who are the model of the deserving poor. Why do you think that is? What does this tell you about Scrooge’s change? You can use this quote and annotation sheet on Scrooge’s transformation to help you come up with ideas.

Dickens had spent a large part of his childhood in poverty, and his father was sent to a debtor’s prison. Dickens’ early life informed a lot of his writing, and he wanted to draw attention to the harsh conditions that the poor faced. He felt that the middle class ignored the issue of poverty and that it was his duty to show them what it was like. This is one of the main reasons he wrote A Christmas Carol. One of the other reasons that Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol was because he loved Christmas and wanted to share that love!

In the 1800s, Christmas traditions were only starting to take off. Christmas trees and carols were gaining popularity at this time, and each year new traditions seemed to be added. Dickens loved Christmas and thought it was the perfect time to help people in need. A Christmas Carol was published a few weeks before Christmas and ended up selling out on Christmas Eve. The popularity of A Christmas Carol created some traditions that still exist today, such as family gatherings and festive generosity. What quotes can you think of that show these themes? Have a look at this worksheet for some help.

Putting A Christmas Carol in context for your GCSE exam can really help you go that extra mile. Nothing exists in a bubble, and A Christmas Carol is no exception! The society and politics of the time affect the entire plot and reason for writing the novella. Understanding how people in poverty were seen at the time gives you a chance to fully appreciate the themes in A Christmas Carol. GCSE English Literature Twinkl can provide even more A Christmas Carol support and resources to be used for revision. You can also find more A Christmas Carol blogs here!

Next up: A Christmas Carol Quotes for English Literature

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