That’s so PEAC! Using a structure to help you write an AQA GCSE English Literature answer. A Christmas Carol. Society’s attitudes to poverty.

This is an answer that was created by a class of mine last year.

It is the result of smooshing (that’s a real, technical term) all their brains together and spending lots of time on the task.

I think the grid helps you to see how you can use PEAC (Point, Evidence, Analysis, Context) to build an answer.



“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said

Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit’s robe, “but I see

something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding

from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”


“It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,” was

the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. “Look here.”


From the foldings of its robe, it brought two children;

wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt

down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.


“Oh, Man! look here. Look, look, down here!” exclaimed

the Ghost.


They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling,

wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where

graceful youth should have filled their features out, and

touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled

hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and

pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat

enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No

change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any

grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has

monsters half so horrible and dread.


Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to

him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but

the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie

of such enormous magnitude.


“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.


“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon

them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.

This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both,

and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for

on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the

writing be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out

its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye!

Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse.

And bide the end!”


“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.


“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him

for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”


The bell struck twelve.


Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not.

End of extract.

Starting with this extract, how does Dickens present society’s attitudes to poverty?

Write about:

  • how Dickens presents Ignorance and Want in this extract
  • how Dickens presents attitudes towards poverty in the novel as a whole.

(30 marks)

Point One way Dickens presents Ignorance and Want in this extract is by personifying them as two children.
Evidence This is made explicit by the use of capital letters in the extract.
Analysis In this way Dickens is not only making the abstract concepts of a lack of education and extreme privation into something more concrete that the reader can picture but he is also doing it in a sensational and sentimental way.
Context During the Victorian period cartoonists often represented abstract concepts as people (a famous example was Old Father Thames who represented the river during debate on water pollution during “The Great Stink”). Dickens’ writing often reads like a literary version of a grotesque cartoon (the description of Scrooge’s hair as a “frosty rime” is straight out of the pages of Punch magazine).
Point Another way that Dickens presents poverty in this extract is through his use of colour symbolism.
Evidence We can see this when he uses the colour “yellow” when describing them (it is interesting to note that he does not specify whether it is their skin or clothes which he is describing).
Analysis This has the effect of horrifying the reader because the colour yellow is associated with decay and it is being linked to “youth” at this point. Dickens is again attempting to reach his audience in an emotional rather than an intellectual way; they are supposed to feel disgust and fear when presented with “Ignorance and Want” which overcomes the mental barriers that middle class people had erected to keep them separate from the poor.
Context Dickens had considered writing a political essay but was very aware of the way Victorian society was structured so that wealthy people were able to keep the poor at arm’s length. By writing sentimental and sensational fiction he could make the audience feel shame and guilt.
Point A final technique from the extract which is used to present poverty is his use of repetition.
Evidence The “Spirit” uses Scrooge’s own words from Stave 1 against him: “Are there no prisons . . . Are there no workhouses?”
Analysis This repetition is effective because it presents both Scrooge, and the reader, with hard evidence of the attitudes that are displayed at the opening of the novel. This juxtaposition of Scrooge’s rejection of responsibility with the effects of poverty is designed to be, again, shaming and disquieting.
Context At the time of writing the spectre of the French Revolution still haunted British society and events such as The Peterloo Massacre (which had happened over twenty years earlier and where a crowd demanding reform had been charged by cavalry) had shown that Britain was a deeply divided society with the potential for violence. Dickens is warning that Scrooge-like rejection of the poor might have consequences for more affluent people in the future.
Point In the novel as a whole Dicken’s uses metonymy to present attitudes towards poverty.
Evidence This is a repeated technique in the way that various characters use the word “business” and the way that the word changes in meaning through the novel.
Analysis The word is used 23 times in the novel and, as a metonymy, it usually stands for the world of capitalist enterprise and the pursuit of wealth. When Jacob Marley uses it however (“Mankind was my business”- it is important to recognise the change that Marley makes by adding the word “my” to the word “business” in the four times he mentions it in his speech) he means it as a metonymy for people’s lives. The effect that it has on the reader is to make interest in the poor as important as the pursuit of personal wealth.
Context The industrial revolution had made utilitarian ideas (where practical wealth creation is the most important virtue) the norm in British society. As a result businessmen were the most highly rewarded (financially at least) people in society. Dickens is attempting here to re-frame the way people thought about success so that it was measured by charitable acts (Scrooge’s donations to the “portly gentlemen”), spending wealth on poor employees (Fezziwig is praised by Scrooge for the way he brings “pleasure” to people – so much so that the previously cold Scrooge becomes “heated”) and care for those less fortunate (Scrooge becomes a “second father” to Tiny Tim).
Point A final way that Dickens presents attitudes towards poverty is in his use of religious imagery.
Evidence This is another repeated motif, especially with regard to Tiny Tim: Tim is carried by Bob Cratchit “upon his shoulder” like St Christopher carrying Jesus, he is described using words linked to innocence, he has a “plaintive voice”, and he “bore a little crutch” (in the Bible Jesus “bears the sins of the world”).
Analysis The repeated use of images and words from religion have the effect of reminding the reader of their own beliefs and the way that poverty was an important part of Christianity (in many ways the New Testament is a socialist text with all sorts of instructions about sharing and giving away wealth). Tiny Tim behaves in church like the young Jesus, who gave instruction to adults (we can see this when Bob describes the “strangest thigs” that Tim thinks and says in the church.
Context At the time the novel was written poverty was thought of as being similar to a sin. The “prisons and workhouses” that Scrooge mentions in Stave 1 were ways of punishing the poor for their poverty. Dickens uses the sentimental and sensational character of Tiny Tim to try to reconnect his audience with some of their core religious beliefs so that care for the poor and charity were re-established as social virtues.

One thought on “That’s so PEAC! Using a structure to help you write an AQA GCSE English Literature answer. A Christmas Carol. Society’s attitudes to poverty.

  1. Pingback: That’s so PEAC! – Mr G's English, Film and Media.

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