A CHRISTMAS CAROL
SUBJECTS — Religions/Christianity; World/England;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Redemption;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Caring.
AGE: 8+; There are several versions.
This Learning Guide relates to all of them and to the book. Available from Amazon.com.
This is the classic film presentation of Dickens’ immortal Christmas story about Ebenezer Scrooge and his discovery of the joys of sharing.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Selected Awards: None.
Featured Actors: Alistair Sim, Kathleen Harrison, Jack Warner, Michael Hordern, Patrick Macnee, Mervyn Johns, Hermione Baddeley, Clifford Mollison, George Cole, Carol Marsh, Miles Malleson, Ernest Thesigner, Hattie Jacques, Perter Bull, Hugh Dempster.
Director: Brian Desmond Hurst.
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Show your child the location of England on a map or a globe. For younger children (ages 8 & 9), explain that in the early 1800s, the time this story took place, conditions for workers in England were very poor. Many farmers were moving to the city and there were more people who wanted work than there were jobs. Employers could keep wages very low. If an employee asked for more pay, the employer could easily find someone else who was willing to work for the low wage the employer wanted to pay. “A Christmas Carol” is a great story of Christmas and how a man changed from being selfish to being generous. When it was first published, almost 200 years ago, the author also wanted to change the selfish attitudes of the wealthy of that time.
For children about ten years of age or older, describe the information set out in the Helpful Background section.
After the movie, ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question and several of the other Discussion Questions that might interest them.
The book is not long. Give it to your child to read. If he or she needs help, read it to them.
The Industrial Revolution began in the late 1700s, and its effects began to be felt strongly in the 1830s and 1840s. It required large numbers of workers concentrated into small geographic areas. Cities filled with unemployed people from rural areas provided an excellent location for factories. However, there were more workers than there were jobs. With several people competing for each position, employers could keep wages low.
As the 19th century progressed and competition increased, ancient ways of doing business were left behind in favor of the more aggressive methods of the new age. Scrooge’s first employer, Mr. Fezziwig, was unable to adjust to these changes. Scrooge adapted to the new environment but lost his soul in the process.
People who couldn’t pay their debts were thrown into debtor’s prison until the second half of the 19th century. Wealthy and educated Englishmen during the period of this story (the early 1800s) often lumped the lower orders of society together and referred to them as “the Poor.” The prevailing view was that poverty was largely the result of laziness, incompetence, immorality, and drunkenness. If the Poor were taken care of it would only encourage these vices. Government policy at the time provided that the Poor, children and adults, healthy and infirm, were to be abandoned on the streets to starve unless they agreed to go into “Poor Houses.” In England before the 20th century, there was little help for the indigent as we know it today.
In his influential Essay on the Principle of Population, first published in 1798, Thomas Malthus contended that the population of Britain was growing so quickly that it would soon exceed the country’s capacity to grow food. Malthus predicted that the poorer classes would starve and this would act as a natural check on the increase in the population. He reasoned that helping the Poor would be useless and simply postpone the inevitable.
Malthus’ prediction was used as a pretext by many wealthy people to justify paying starvation wages and subjecting the Poor to oppressive work and degrading conditions. Scrooge, until he realized the error of his ways, was just such an employer. His comment about “surplus population” derives from this line of thought.
Note that children of the Poor were not exempt from harsh treatment. Child labor was rampant and children were often maimed and disabled in factories. Children were permitted to live in the Poor Houses with their parents only until the age of 5, at which time they were placed in separate houses reserved for children. Life there was harsh, and they were required to work long hours. (See Oliver Twist, another Dickens indictment of the treatment of the Poor.) Education was denied to the Poor because the ruling classes knew that even a little learning would make them discontented. In the American South of the same time period, it was illegal to teach a slave to read or write for much the same reason.
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens was objecting to the hard-heartedness of the English ruling classes and the condition of the poor during the Industrial Revolution.
A Teachable Moment
Showing how sometimes, the movie can improve on the book, even a classic.
The book, A Christmas Carol was hastily written by Charles Dickens in a few weeks late in 1843. The author needed money for the end of the year, and the shortness of the book prevented Dickens from fully developing the characters. The 1951 screenplay written by Noel Langley adds depth to the story by introducing a new character, Mr. Jorkin, who corrupts Scrooge and leads him to a life of greed. The corruption of Scrooge allows for additional development of Scrooge’s character. The following text is from the 1951 screenplay, and the comments are from Ebenezer Scrooge—The real spirit of Christmas by Greg Felton.
Fezziwig: “It’s not just for money alone that one spends a lifetime building up a business, Mr. Jorkn. . . . It’s to preserve a way of life that one knew and loved. No, I can’t see my way to selling out to the new vested interests, Mr. Jorkin. I’ll have to be loyal to the old ways and die out with them if needs must.”
After failing to tempt Fezziwig, Jorkin turns to Scrooge, who has overheard everything from his desk:
Scrooge: “I think I know what Mr. Fezziwig means, sir.”
Jorkin: “Oh, you hate progress and money, too, do you?”
Scrooge: “I don’t hate them, sir, but perhaps the machines aren’t such a good thing for mankind, after all.”
Scrooge can at least admit to himself and others that rampant automation has inhumane consequences, a fact that Jorkin also understands but has learned to suppress. After mocking Scrooge’s scruples, Jorkin tempts him with double the salary and chances of promotion, all of which leads to this exchange:
Scrooge: “Money isn’t everything, sir.”
Jorkin: “Well, if it ain’t I don’t know what is!”
Jorkin leaves, but not before appealing to Scrooge’s vanity and inviting him to come ’round for a visit, which of course he does. Scrooge eventually moves to Jorkin’s company, meets and befriends another young clerk, Jacob Marley, and abandons any sense of business ethics. He becomes Jorkin.
humbug, Bedlam, Debtor’s Prison, workhouse, poor law, old ogre, the little lame boy.
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS:
Another great Christmas movie which is also good any time of the year is It’s a Wonderful Life.
Contemporaries noted that when “A Christmas Carol” was published, the importance of Christmas as a holiday was in decline. The book played a critical role in redefining the importance of Christmas and its traditions. “If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease,” said English poet Thomas Hood in his review in Hood’s Magazine and Comic Review (January 1844, page 68). Michael Patrick Hearn, The annotated Christmas Carol: a Christmas Carol in Prose by Charles Dickens, 2004, page XIV.
A quote from the book: “Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! 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. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.”
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION:
If a person makes a mistake, is it ever too late for him to fix it by admitting his mistake and doing something extraordinary to make up for it?
There is almost always time to repent, make amends, and to redeem oneself.
2. In the 1951 version of the film, Scrooge says, “perhaps the machines are not such a good thing for mankind after all?” What is the evidence for and against this statement?
The Industrial Revolution and the very competitive business climate that came with it changed the old ways of living. No longer were products made by artisans with small businesses who had joined together in guilds to protect themselves. Now, people worked in factories tending machines that made products. Workers in factories were poorly paid and didn’t have enough money to live on. The social dislocations of the times were the cause of tremendous misery for many people.
3. What did Scrooge mean when he talked of “surplus population”?
See comment concerning Thomas Malthus’ Essay on the Principle of Population.
4. What happened to Scrooge’s first employer, Mr. Fezziwig? What mistake did Mr. Fezziwig make that Scrooge was determined to avoid?
Mr. Fezziwig could not adapt to the new competitive environment. As a result, he lost his business, his money, and his property.
5. What did the Ghost of Christmas Past show to Scrooge?
The events of his past life that caused him to be the way he was. This is really a way for the author to tell the audience about what made Scrooge so mean.
6. What did Scrooge learn from the Ghost of Christmas Present?
This ghost showed Scrooge the meager celebrations of the Crachit family and the illness of Tiny Tim, the fact that his nephew still believed that Scrooge could change and become generous, and the evils of ignorance and want.
7. What did the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come show to Scrooge?
The death of Tiny Tim and of Scrooge and people’s reactions to those deaths.
1. See Quick Discussion Question.
2. If you do something that you later realize was wrong, and by doing that thing you benefitted from it either by making money, getting something you wanted, or in some other way, how do you make it right?
You must return, if possible, what you took or received and correct for any injury you have caused.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
1. How did Scrooge cut himself off from other people? Why did he do this?
Scrooge cut himself off from others by not caring about them. He did this because he had been hurt in the past when he tried to care for someone.
2. What benefits did Scrooge get when he began to care about people?
He was no longer lonely and he had friends.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
See [Assignments, Projects, and Activities Suitable for Any Film]. In addition,
- Separate the class into different groups and have each group act out a scene from the story;
- Have each student make a puppet of a figure in the story;
- Hold a toy drive for the class to help needy kids or the class can make toys as a joint activity and donate them to a charity for needy kids;
- Ask each child to describe, in an essay or in a talk to the class, what happened on their best holiday;
- Ask each child to describe, in an essay or in a talk to the class, what they are going to do this holiday to help someone else, either in their family or outside their family.
- For middle and high school classes: Have students write an essay on changes to the story in the 1951 screenplay and describe what the changes add to the story.
BRIDGES TO READING
LINKS TO THE INTERNET
- David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page;
- The Dickens Project;
- Wikipedia article on “A Christmas Carol”
- Ebenezer Scrooge—The real spirit of Christmas at gregfelton.com, December 24, 2007;
- Brian Desmond-Hurst, A Christmas Carol or Scrooge, 1951 by Norman N. Holland.