Quotation said by the character Ebenezer Scrooge , highlighting his cold-hearted, miserly nature.
Scrooge is visited in his counting-house by two benefactors wishing to make provision for the poor and destitute at Christmas time. Scrooge angrily replies that prisons and workhouses are the only charities he is willing to support and the gentlemen leave empty-handed.
Here, Scrooge is telling the gentlemen that as he does not celebrate Christmas himself why should he pay for others to celebrate. Scrooge refers to the poor as ‘idle’ because they are not working (usually because they can’t but Scrooge views them as a burden).
Charles Dickens used A Christmas Carol to attack social injustices of the time, particularly the indifference of wealthy people towards the poor. The introduction of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act took away local parish help for the poor and institutionalized the process with Union workhouses. In return for food and shelter, the poor had to live semi-incarcerated lives in institutions where families were often split apart and made to do menial tasks to earn their keep. The businessman Ebenezer Scrooge has more than enough to share some of his money, particularly at a traditionally charitable time such as Christmas as reflected by two visiting charity collectors who explain it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices . Not wanting to part with his money, the miserly Scrooge hides behind a Malthusian excuse that if they would rather die , they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population . Scrooge views the poor and economically inactive (which he terms idle) as a burden to society, better off in a workhouse or even dead. He wants the Poor Law, workhouses or prisons to deal with the destitute, questioning the collectors whether The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then? before commenting that I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry . Later on, in a vision presented by the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge will see the impact of poverty in the household of Bob Crachit, his underpaid clerk, and their disabled son Tim. The Ghost warns Scrooge that Tim will die unless his life alters, repeating Scrooge’s callous remarks back to him If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population . Dickens’s attack on social injustice is most graphically shown by the two figures of an emaciated boy and girl, known as Ignorance and Want, shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Present. They represent contemporary problems in society caused by the attitude of the wealthy towards the poor. When Scrooge is touched by their plight, the Ghost again uses his words against him, saying to Scrooge Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Dickens use of children to represent societal ills of Ignorance and Want suggest that there is time to change. Later in the story, in a vision shown by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, we witness some of the poorest people in society, living in a squalid slum area, dividing up Scrooge’s stolen belongings to make a living, one of them commenting every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did.
Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous characters created by Charles Dickens and arguably one of the most famous in English literature. The protagonist of A Christmas Carol , Scrooge is the cold-hearted and mean-spirited accountant. His business partner, the equally mean Jacob Marley , died seven years previous and he lives alone, having never married. Through a visit one Christmas Eve by the ghost of Marley and three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meanness and the impact it has on others.
Taken from the following passage of Stave 1 (Marley’s Ghost) of A Christmas Carol :
“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the gentleman, taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts , sir.” “Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.
“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again. “And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”
“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”
“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge. “Both very busy, sir.”
“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”
“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices . What shall I put you down for?”
“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.
“You wish to be anonymous?”
“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”
“ If they would rather die, ” said Scrooge, “ they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population . Besides—excuse me—I don’t know that.”
“But you might know it,” observed the gentleman.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge returned. “ It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s . Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!” Seeing clearly that it would be useless to pursue their point, the gentlemen withdrew. Scrooge resumed his labours with an improved opinion of himself, and in a more facetious temper than was usual with him.
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