Charles Dickens and George Eliot are both writers whose novels had a very significant impact on nineteenth century Victorian readers. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Eliot’s Silas Marner were written during the time of the Industrial Revolution in England and it opened people’s eyes to the negative effects that the revolution was having on common society. The authors saw industrialization as a loss of individualism and a time where people were being treated like machines by the cruelty of utilitarianism. It was destroying the nature and the human values that rural Victorian communities once held. Through these novels, Dickens and Eliot exemplify how the Victorian instance on industry and the greed of money hardens the hearts of the wealthy and physically and emotionally oppresses the less wealthy; thus, shattering the human spirit, threatening relationships, and breaking the bonds of community.
Dickens passionately portrays his opposition to the Industrial Revolution in A Christmas Carol. He exposes and makes others aware of the inhumane environments and nature that the poor were subject to during the industrial phase of the nation. The novel begins with an introduction to Scrooge and describes him as “a tight-fisted hand at the grindstoneâ€¦a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.” (Dickens 40) This description of Scrooge sets up the reader to understand the characteristics of some the wealthy people of the time. He is compared to physical objects which are not capable of any emotion or feeling, and therefore illustrates him as being very inhuman.
Scrooge is portrayed as very capable of breaking people’s spirits with his cruel words and actions. When the “portly gentlemen” approach Scrooge to ask him for a donation for the poor, he responds by saying that he “can’t afford to make idle people merry” and that it’s not his “business” to help the unfortunate (Dickens 45). There is great irony in his words as he can very well “afford” to do anything he wants, being the very wealthy man and creditor he was. The fact that he states that the matter has nothing to do with his business is very untrue as he would not even be in business were it not for the lower class citizens making him all the money he was accumulating. This dialogue shows that Scrooge is almost feared in society due to his status and the unkindness that comes with it. Dickens portrays the harsh reality of Scrooge and those of his class early in the novel to cause readers to react and to look forward to seeing how the character changes throughout the novel; thus exemplifying how they can change as well.
Scrooge destroys any attempt by his nephew to build a relationship with him. He is so preoccupied with his greed for money that he doesn’t realize that it is the very thing that is making him miserable. Although Scrooge’s nephew is poorer than him, he pleads with his uncle saying, “I want nothing from you; I ask nothing of you; why cannot we be friends?” (Dickens 43). Dickens illustrates here that people are not even after Scrooge for his money, but merely want him to be open to the idea interpersonal relationships and happiness. Clearly, industry makes the rich richer, however, it also destroys their ability to be truly content with what they have. It makes them ignore the need for human relationships and begins to transform the wealthy into heartless people.
The character of Scrooge denies any ties to the community and strives to live for himself alone. The spirits remind Scrooge that he used to be full of joy before he let industry in his way of happiness. At the thought of the poor dying due to lack of necessities, Scrooge replies, “If they would rather dieâ€¦they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population” (Dickens 45). This attitude towards community did not exist before industrialization as people worked together and depended on each other for support. Here, Dickens exemplifies the selfishness that comes along with industry. It all comes down to self accomplishment, and the wealthy continue to strive for more wealth at the cost of the lives and happiness of others. Dickens mentions the Poor Law and requests for people to recognize the difficulty of those whom the law has put out of place and driven into poverty. He expresses the responsibility that society has to provide for them compassionately. In his novel, Dickens puts forward that this materialistic, cruel society driven by industry can be reformed by becoming a more generous society that values the human life more than material wealth. As he proves with the character of Scrooge, it ultimately results in the joy and success of the society as a whole rather than the depression of the wealthy and the oppression of the poor.
Eliot presents her Silas Marner and critiques industrialization similar to the ways in which Dickens opposes it with his novel. She is drawn to the pre-industrial values and attempts to prove that love of others is ultimately more rewarding than love of money. She does this through the character of Silas Marner, who becomes obsessed with the wealth he earns for his work and begins hoarding it, using it as little of it as possible. Just as Dickens does with his description of Scrooge, Eliot describes Marner using physical objects that are incapable of any feeling or emotion:
Strangely Marner’s face and figure shrank and bent themselves into a constant mechanical relation to the objects of his life, so that he produced the same sort of impression as a handle or a crooked tube, which has no meaning standing apart. The prominent eyes that used to look trusting and dreamy, now looked as if they had been made to see only one kind of thing that was very small, like tiny grain, for which they hunted everywhere; and he was so withered and yellowâ€¦ (Eliot 25)
Here, Silas is described as looking like “a handle or a crooked tube”. It is difficult to imagine someone’s physique as looking like this and it therefore, shows how much he has let his body degrade because of his love for money. Silas also serves an indicator of industry in the rural village of Raveloe as his life is degraded to the status of a machine. His ability to see only “one kind of thingâ€¦for which they hunted everywhere” shows that Silas can only see one thing in his life-money. His work and his wealth is the only thing that drives him in life. Although it is costing him his health and is prematurely aging him, he is blinded by industry to seeing anything but his profit.
â€¦he had five bright guineas put into his hand; no man expected a share of them, and he loved no man that he should offer him a shareâ€¦it was pleasant to him to feel them in his palm, and look at their bright faces, which were all his own: it was another element of life, like the weaving and the satisfaction of hungerâ€¦ (Eliot 23)
Silas sees his wealth as gratifying as satisfying his hunger. Comparing the accumulation of wealth to a necessity such as food shows that money is what his whole life is about and nothing, including his health, matters as much. This portrays the machine-like lifestyle that comes along with industrialization. Just as machines are only seen for the labour they produce and need nothing in return, some people such as Silas feel the same way as they don’t care for their physical needs but only look to increase their material wealth.
Eliot uses the characters Godfrey and Dunstan to portray the way in which industrialization and the greed for money can corrupt and break relationships. These two wealthy brothers use each other and others to take advantage of any selfish wish they can claim. Dustan blackmails and bribes Godfrey to accumulate more wealth from him for his own selfish love of gambling and drinking. Godfrey on the other hand, allows his first wife and daughter to suffer due to his ignorance and moral cowardice. Although they have more wealth than most in Raveloe could ever dream of, that craving for an infinite amount of wealth that comes with industrialization corrupts all the relationships these brothers have with others. Dunstan ends up dying without experiencing his saved wealth and Godfrey is left to live a life of regret as he is unable to have children with his second wife and unable to get back his real daughter Eppie. Eliot demonstrates that these relationships are more valuable than wealth but those that ignorant to it, end up losing the relationships.
Silas is shown as choosing his relationship to Eppie over his loss of wealth. This however, brings about joy that wealth can never accomplish: “Eh, my precious child, the blessing was mine. If you hadn’t been sent to save me, I should ha’ gone to the grave in my misery. The money was taken away from me in time; and you see it’s been kept-kept till it was wanted for you. It’s wonderful-our life is wonderful” (Eliot 158). Silas’ dehumanized being is restored once Eppie enters his life and shows him what real happiness is.
The gold had kept his thoughts in an ever-repeated circle, leading to nothing beyond itself; but Eppie was an object compacted of changes and hopes that forced his thoughts onwardâ€¦The gold had asked that he should sit weaving longer and longer, deafened and blinded more and more to all things except the monotony of his loom and the repetition of his web; but Eppie called him away from his weaving, and made him think all its pauses a holiday, reawakening his senses with her fresh life, even to the old winter-flies that came crawling forth in the early spring sunshine, and warming him into joy because she had joy. (123)
This passage demonstrates the never-ending pattern of industrialization. It pulls people into a cycle that forces them to go around and around without any real purpose or gain. As they follow this cyclical pattern, they allow the physical body and their emotions to deteriorate. They continue to be “deafened and blinded” to the destruction that industry is causing in their lives and community. Life becomes a dark place without any sunshine or the warmth of love, as people become immune and ignorant to such things unless they pull out of the cycle. Eppie, in this case, pulls Silas out of this never-ending cycle into the light, where he can see properly again.
The sense of community portrayed in the rural Raveloe is completely opposite to the industrialized place where Silas is originally from. In Raveloe’s trade-based community, every person plays a vital role in the success of the village. However, Silas and Eppie return to Lantern Yard, he finds that his entire community has vanished and that a large factory has been placed where the chapel one was. This is very significant because the chapel is the place where all different types of people gathered as one community. This sense of community is destroyed by the power of industrialization and completely gets rid of all the tradition, memories, and values the place once held.
Eliot’s Victorian readers would have understood what Eliot was trying to accomplish through her novel. As Victorian society was already experiencing the impacts of industry during the time of the novel, they may have looked upon Raveloe and its sense of community as the image of what they had lost. The industrial landscape that came into existence with the revolution was frightening, destructive, and dehumanizing; destroying all the memories of the better past.
Both Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Eliot’s Silas Marner present industrialization as the inevitable leader to the dehumanization of labour, as workers are reduced to nothing more than machines and the amount of money that their work is worth. By presenting these novels to Victorian society, these authors attempted to educate and make aware the tremendous negative effects industry was having on the poor’s welfare, the happiness of the wealthy, and community bonds as a whole. An interesting aspect of both novels is that children are used in the redemption process of both characters: Scrooge says, “It is good to be children sometimesâ€¦” in regards to their reaction to Christmas (Dickens 229). Silas states, “But yet men are led away from threatening destruction: a hand is put into theirs, which leads them forth gently towards a calm and bright land, so that they look no more backward; and the hand may be a little child’s” (Eliot 128). This is significant because although children are exposed to industrialization in a different way, they choose to love, build relationships, and uplift the human spirit by default. And so, both authors present the idea that it is better to be like them. By presenting the reformation of Scrooge and Silas, these authors attempt to demonstrate that restoration is possible if people are willing to get out of the cyclical pattern of industrialization and return to the pre-industrial values of society.