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A Christmas Carol - Context

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at context in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. When we speak of a text’s context, we refer to the environment in which it was written. Be careful not to confuse context with setting, especially where a text has been set in the same time and place as it was written. Context includes the geographical location, political and social environment and the time in which the author was writing. If this sounds familiar, this is because these are the same specifics which we discuss when we talk about setting, too. Setting, however, refers to these aspects of a text’s created, fictional world. Remember that issues and events from the author’s past can have as much effect on a text as those occurring contemporaneously. An author’s personal beliefs are also considered context since they will almost always have an effect on the text.

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How to write about context

By learning about the context of a fictional work, you will develop an insight into some of the important influences which have helped to shape the text. The relationship between context and meaning is not a simple and straightforward one, however. Sometimes it is merely useful information to bear in mind as you read and think about a piece of writing. Authors have their own aims and purposes, whatever the influence of context. In A Christmas Carol, for example, Charles Dickens has been deeply influenced by his own childhood experiences as well as by the sights he saw in his work and travels. He aimed to change people’s attitudes to poverty and to encourage reform of the social structures which exacerbated inequality.

Pay close attention to the text to find specific references to discussions and debates that were occurring at the time the novella was written. One of these can be spotted when Scrooge challenges the Ghost of Christmas Present in the marketplace. Find out about poverty in nineteenth-century Britain and about conditions in cities such as London. What does history tell you about this text? Remember that works of art exist beyond their context and that even a text so specifically bound in time and place as A Christmas Carol continues to create meaning long after the time when it was written. This is, perhaps, the reason for the continuing popularity of this tale, as it is made and remade into film. Finally, remember to take care to distinguish between the setting of the text and its context when writing and analysing.

Research the context of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, remembering everything you have learned in English and (perhaps) history lessons, and try these questions to see how much you know.

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  1. When was A Christmas Carol first published?
    A Christmas Carol was published close to Christmas in 1843
  2. Charles Dickens had a career as which of the following?
    Dickens also founded two periodical journals: Household Words and All the Year Round
  3. Where could those who could not support themselves financially go to live?
    Workhouses were not intended as pleasant places to stay. Men, women and families were separated and those who were physically able were expected to work for their keep
  4. Which of the following statements is true?
    Progress in regulating child labour was painfully slow. Legislation in 1867, for example, outlawed factory employment of children under eight years old
  5. During the nineteenth-century, those who could not pay their debts were likely to be sent where?
    Debtors' prisons, such as Marshalsea, where Charles Dickens's father spent time, were abolished in 1869
  6. Charles Dickens was removed from school at a young age to work in which of the following?
    Dickens spent three years out of school and working in Warren's blacking factory while his father was kept in a debtor's prison
  7. '"You would deprive them of their means of dining every seventh day, often the only day on which they can be said to dine at all,' said Scrooge. 'Wouldn't you?'" Of what does Scrooge accuse the Ghost of Christmas Present?
    Laws regulating what could be sold on Sundays were inconsistently enforced and usually exceeded the "milk and mackerel" legally permitted. When the Sunday Trading Bill in 1855 was eventually passed, it led to riots in Hyde Park. Even Scrooge disagrees that shutting shops on Sundays would benefit poor people
  8. What is the name of the law which established workhouses as the only place a person could go to receive financial relief?
    Union workhouses were established by this amendment to the law
  9. Regarding the law mentioned in the previous question, in what year was this act passed?
    The law had been in operation for nearly a decade before A Christmas Carol was written
  10. Christmas Day was a public holiday, which is why Scrooge must pay Bob Cratchit for the day even though he does not work. Does this mean that everyone received their entitlement of a paid holiday?
    The Cratchit family is prepared for the possibility that Martha will not be spared by her employer. Business owners are not required to give themselves holidays and household labour was not financially rewarded and therefore not "entitled" to a paid holiday

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