A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens
What's the very first thing Scrooge does?
He yells at his nephew for inviting him to a Christmas party, uses a giant ruler to chase away a caroler, kicks out a guy who is raising money for charity, and accuses his clerk of being a thief because Christmas is a paid vacation day.
That seems like a pretty good way of figuring out just exactly what kind of a horrible monster he is from the way that he acts to the few people left in his life. Talk about showing, not telling, right guys?
Then again, nothing gets the imagination going like a bunch of adjectives thrown our way.
Not only do we get Scrooge's actions to help us see that he is so far gone to the dark side that he might be irretrievable, but we also get snowed under by the choice words of the narrator, who informs us in a famous line that Scrooge was "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster" (1.7).
Have you ever met someone who could be described this way? Shmoop certainly hasn't—and that's precisely why this passage is so powerful. It's totally an overwhelming attack on the guy, sure, but it's so super-duper specific that it really pin-points Scrooge himself for us, rather than just some run of the mill generic bad guy.
The habit that seems to define the largest number of characters in this novella? The way that they eat.
Think about it. The stark contrast between the different kinds of meals that we see really shapes the way we understand the people in the book. Take Scrooge, for example. He eats "his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern" (1.80) and then goes home to sit by a too-small fire to "take his gruel" (1.90). Yeesh. Settle down, there, party animal.
Compare this to the Ghost of Christmas Present, who comes in with a whole heap of good eats like "turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam" (3.5).
Now, it's true that the Ghost doesn't actually eat that food, but instead lugs it around like an identifying flag—but don't we immediately get that Scrooge is a miser and that Christmas requires as many treats and yummies as a person can muster?
What other meals do we see? Compare the dinner parties of nephew Fred and the Cratchit family. How are they similar? Different? What do they tell us about these characters?