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A Christmas Carol - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at language in Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Language use in A Christmas Carol presents a mix of simple dialogue, direct narration and long, complex poetic descriptions. Word play features prominently, especially in Scrooge’s dry and frequently sarcastic observations. Often the language engages the senses by evoking the sights in the marketplace, by mimicking the sound of bells or by trying to recreate the movement of people in crowds, dances or games.

Analysing language in a text

Although visual elements of a text, such as layout, font and illustration, are all important, language is the primary medium through which a reader understands a text. Written texts could not, by definition, exist without words.

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Authors use language with great care. Beyond the literal meaning of each word lies a weight of symbolic meanings and other associations. Language provides the matter through which imagery, such as metaphor, simile and personification, and other literary effects can be created. Dialogue, setting and characterisation all depend on an author’s skilful use of language.

Pay close attention to language choices in a text. Deeper understanding will be the reward for your efforts. Allow yourself to linger over words in order to get beyond the surface meaning. What does the language suggest? Does it invite you to think about anything else? Remember that the author has chosen this language carefully; this means that you should devote similar care to your analysis. Taking time to think about language choice will help you to decipher the text’s deeper meanings.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect the interpretation of a text.

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  1. "The kind hand trembled." Why is the word "kind" surprising in this description of Scrooge's last sight of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come?
    Scrooge views the foreboding hand as kind once he realises that he still has the opportunity to change the future
  2. "'I hope he didn't die of anything catching? Eh?' said old Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up. 'Don't you be afraid of that,' returned the woman. 'I ain't so fond of his company that I'd loiter about him for such things, if he did.'" To what does "things" refer here?
    The woman has taken the shirt off Scrooge's corpse and the blankets from his bed in order to make a profit from the fine quality materials. Old Joe's only concern is that they will not get sick from the theft
  3. "The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove, from every part of which bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there." Which language choices create the impression of brightness in Scrooge's formerly dim room?
    The brightness contrasts sharply with the crispness of the abundant greenery
  4. When the Ghost of Christmas Present orders Scrooge to look upon him, Scrooge is described as doing so "reverently". What does the use of this word tell the reader?
    Reverence is similar to worship. Scrooge has already revised his contemptuous attitude towards Christmas
  5. What is the term used by the Ghost of Christmas Past for the visions which he shows to Scrooge?
    The Ghost tells Scrooge that he shows him "but shadows of the things that have been"
  6. "External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty." What is the simile implied here? Choose the best answer.
    Like bad weather, Scrooge is not open to persuasion. He will not change his mind whatever approach another human being might take in attempting to encourage more kindness in him
  7. "It was succeeded by a breathless pause, as Mrs. Cratchit, looking slowly all along the carving-knife, prepared to plunge it in the breast; but when she did, and when the long expected gush of stuffing issued forth, one murmur of delight arose all round the board." In this sentence, "plunge", "gush" and "murmur" are examples of which type of imagery?
    The reader can almost hear the sound of the stuffing and of the appreciative family ("issued" also mimics the sound of the stuffing oozing out of the goose)
  8. "Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that." What effect does the use of the word "doubt" have here?
    Just by reassuring the reader that Marley is certainly dead, the first sentence of the novel introduces the idea that there is reason to doubt this certainty
  9. "The curtains of his bed were drawn aside; and Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow." What effect is created by the use of the first person pronoun?
    The use of the first person throughout the text reminds us that we, like Scrooge, might need to change our ways
  10. "The customers were all so hurried and so eager in the hopeful promise of the day, that they tumbled up against each other at the door, clashing their wicker baskets wildly, and left their purchases upon the counter, and came running back to fetch them, and committed hundreds of the like mistakes in the best humour possible." Which language choices create an impression of jolly chaos?
    This is a marvellously chaotic scene, with its customers running and bumping into each other repeatedly

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