Use of language in A Christmas Carol

Dickens uses language to draw us into the story and to present characters and scenes that are entertaining. He uses a strong narrative voice that comments on the characters at the same time as telling their story. The narrator, though unnamed, has opinions about Scrooge and his tale. He also places himself and the reader at the heart of the action, by suggesting that he is 'standing in the spirit at (the reader's) elbow.'

Dickens's language is highly descriptive and creates a vivid sense of place and setting.

When analysing the language Dickens has used, aim to:
  • examine words and phrases
  • think about the sorts of words he chose (positive, negative, descriptive)
  • explore layers of meaning (what else could a phrase refer to or suggest?)
  • notice any literary techniques (simile, metaphor, alliteration)
  • explain the effects of the language used - how does it make you feel?

Evidence and explanation of the language used

Clear narrative voiceDickens uses a narrative voice that offers opinions on the characters. For example 'Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!'The narrative voice is entertaining and instructs the reader how to feel about Scrooge.We trust the narrator and know instantly that Scrooge is a man who is miserly and unpleasant.
SimileWhen Dickens first presents Scrooge he describes him as 'Hard and sharp as flint'.The simile likens the character to something that the reader can recognise.We see that Scrooge is tough and unbreakable.
DialogueDickens reveals the characters through the things they say. Scrooge famously uses the words 'Bah!' and 'Humbug!' in response to Christmas wishes.The simple words are memorable and show that Scrooge is dismissive about Christmas.Scrooge's determination to disengage with the spirit of Christmas shows him to be bad-tempered.
PersonificationWhen Dickens describes Scrooge's childhood, he uses personification to emphasise how 'merry' the sound of the young boys is by saying 'the crisp air laughed to hear it!'The sound of the boys playing and shouting is so delightful that even the 'air' is laughing.The effect of this personification is to show how everything is affected by the good nature of the children. This contrasts with Scrooge's adult self.
MetaphorThe children 'Ignorance' and 'Want' are used to represent all the poor children in society: 'They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish'.The children under the Ghost of Christmas Present's cloak are a metaphor showing the effects of greed and miserliness.The reader, like Scrooge, feels pity for these 'ragged' children and this extends to a sense of responsibility for all the poor and homeless children in society.

How to analyse language

Dickens describes the alleyways where the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come takes Scrooge as:

Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.Dickens's description the alleyways

How does the language in this quotation create a sense of place?

'Alleys and archways, like so many cesspools, disgorged their offences of smell, and dirt, and life, upon the straggling streets; and the whole quarter reeked with crime, with filth, and misery.'

  • 'Alleys and archways' - alliteration creates a sense of a warren of small streets and tight spaces
  • 'like so many cesspools' - this simile compares the streets to sewers and shows how disgusting they are
  • 'straggling streets' - the adjective 'straggling' makes the streets seem winding and unruly
  • 'reeked' - this verb is vivid and gives us a sense of a foul smell
  • 'crime, with filth, and misery' - the list of three shows how dirty and dangerous the street are
Move on to Test