Charles Dickens meant for A Christmas Carol to serve as a scathing indictment of wealth concentration and neglect of the poor, argues Dan Shaviro.
In Dickens’s story, Ebeneezer Scrooge learns kindness and charity after receiving visits from three spirits. But beyond its heartwarming varnish lies a much more specific message, says Shaviro, a law professor and tax expert at New York University.
In his new book, Literature and Inequality: Nine Perspectives from the Napoleonic Era Through the First Gilded Age (Anthem Press, 2020), Shaviro mines literature on social status and wealth from past eras for parallels to current relationships between capitalism and inequality.
In doing so, he explores the “paradox of egalitarianism” in America, which, in his view, holds that “while one might think that our egalitarian and democratic traditions would make wealth inequality easier to accommodate, it often seems to have the opposite effect, causing many among the super-wealthy to feel more angry, threatened, and vulnerable.” Using A Christmas Carol, published in 1843, as just one example, he outlines the context of Victorian England that informed Dickens’s viewpoint and motivations.
Here, he discusses the past, present, and future of Dickens’s not so subtle messages and warnings.
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