Study Guide

Bob Cratchit in A Christmas Carol

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Bob Cratchit

The poor clerk that works for Scrooge's moneylending firm, Cratchit is the father of Tiny Tim, an angelic sickly boy.

Say what you will about Dickens's many, many strong suits, but subtle characterization? Not really up there in the top five. There's a reason for this, of course. After all, if you're trying really hard to make a moralizing point, it's really much easier to have it be a simple matter of right and wrong than to try to factor in a bunch of gray-area nuance.

And A Christmas Carol is nothing if not a moralizing little number. Be altruistic and generous! Don't hoard your money! Think about other people! Okay, okay, Charlie. We get it.

But how do you persuade people that giving their money to poor strangers is a really noble idea if you're doing it in a place and at a time when the poor were pretty widely believed to be responsible for their own problems? Well, one way is to create a character like Bob Cratchit—to put a respectable face on the anonymous crowd of the needy.

Bob is poor, sure, but he is good and respectable and upright and loving and sober and responsible and deeply religious and all that smooth jazz—as is the whole family:

They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker's. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time. (3.85)

In short? They are the perfect specimens for charity, with not a flaw or a scratch or a bad habit among the bunch.

Ironically, the danger of this kind of characterization is that the Cratchits are so perfect that they stop being human. Or, to put another way, they stop being figures of pity and become walking jokes.

After all, how realistic is it that a family that is so overcome with poverty that their youngest son is literally dying of it, are totally unaffected by the stress that all of this would cause? Not a single harsh word spoken, and everyone always on perfect behavior?

We're talking after-school special robots here, folks. So, what do you think? Is Dickens laying it on a bit thick here with Bob and the gang? Would the readers be better served to see at least one foible or two to be able to relate to these people? Or is this a moving way to give a glimpse into poor life?

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