In the middle of Charles Dickens’s most famous work, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, Scrooge encounters two children revealed to him by the Spirit of Christmas Present. They are “yellow, meager, ragged, scowling, wolfish.” Appalled by their appearance, Scrooge asks, “Spirit are they yours?”
“They are Man’s,” replies the Spirit. “The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing is erased.”
“Have they no refuge or resource?” Scrooge asks.
The Spirit responds by turning Scrooge’s own words from earlier in the book against him. “Are there no prisons?” he asks. “Are there no workhouses?”
By the end of the book, Scrooge undergoes a change of heart, better understanding the causes and consequences of poverty as well as his obligations to the poor. He could easily stand in for Dickens’s well-to-do readers and their indifference to the plight of many of their fellow citizens.
"[T]he greatest value of Warren’s book is its powerful defense of literature as a tool for social change."
At the time that Dickens was born in 1812, the average lifespan of a Londoner was 27 years; for the poor, 22. Life, even for the wealthy, could be brutal and short, but for the poor it was a misery most of us cannot even imagine. Among the working poor, parents worked up to 16 hours a day for six or seven days a week in jobs that were poorly paid, physically grueling and often dangerous. Half of the children died before reaching their fifth birthday, and for those who survived, they could expect to begin working beside their parents in factories by age 10.
Charles John Huffman Dickens was lucky enough to be born to a middle-class family in a country town. But his father was a naval clerk with a taste for the good life, frequently landing the family in financial trouble. In search of better opportunities, they moved to London in 1822. This is when their fortunes took a turn for the worse. Dickens’s father got so deep in debt that he was thrown into a debtors prison. At the age of 10, Dickens was sent to a blacking factory --- a place that made “blacking,” or polish for shoes and appliances --- to help support his family. The death of a wealthy relative allowed them to pay off their debts.
But by 1827, they were in financial trouble again. Dickens left school at the age of 15 to work, using his education to become a junior clerk in a law office. From there, he became a freelance court reporter, teaching himself shorthand to be able to do the job, then working for a newspaper covering politics.
His first short story was published when he was 21, but lacking the courage to sign his own name, he submitted it under the pseudonym “Boz.” These stories and sketches would eventually become SKETCHES BY BOZ, published in 1836. The book was so popular that his publisher suggested he write a novel to be serialized in a monthly publication. Dickens accepted the challenge and wrote THE PICKWICK PAPERS. Londoners of all backgrounds loved the its lighthearted humor.
This success gave him the courage to write his next novel on a s