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.
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.