Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters” is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 1).

Context.

This quotation reflects the miserly attitude of the lead character Ebenezer Scrooge. The mean-spirited Scrooge keeps an eye on his clerk, Bob Cratchit‘s by keeping the door of his tiny room, so small it is described as a cell and a kind of tank.

The open door keeps Cratchit cold, and he is forced to wear extra clothing and even to try to warm himself on a candle due to mean-spirited Scrooge not wanting to part with his coal supplies for his tiny fire, which Dickens humorously compares to being the size of a single lump of coal. .

Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley.
Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge (left), here being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, bound by the chains he forged in life.

Character Profile: Bob Cratchit.

The abused, underpaid clerk of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit is a kind but very poor man with a large family and a very sick son, Tim. He works for Scrooge, copying letters in a cold dismal room, so small it is described as a sort of tank. Bring winter time, he is forced to try and stay warm with thick clothes and heat himself by the flame of a candle. He wears tattered clothes as he cannot afford a coat. Cratchit is treated poorly by Scrooge and given a weekly salary that is insufficient to provide his family with a proper Christmas dinner. Despite these circumstances, Bob Cratchit represents the opposite qualities to Scrooge including kindness, generosity and a love of his family members.

Source.

Taken from the following passage of Stave 1 (Marley’s Ghost) of A Christmas Carol:

Once upon a time—of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve—old Scrooge sat busy in his counting-house. It was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal: and he could hear the people in the court outside, go wheezing up and down, beating their hands upon their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them. The city clocks had only just gone three, but it was quite dark already—it had not been light all day—and candles were flaring in the windows of the neighbouring offices, like ruddy smears upon the palpable brown air. The fog came pouring in at every chink and keyhole, and was so dense without, that although the court was of the narrowest, the houses opposite were mere phantoms. To see the dingy cloud come drooping down, obscuring everything, one might have thought that Nature lived hard by, and was brewing on a large scale.

The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal. But he couldn’t replenish it, for Scrooge kept the coal-box in his own room; and so surely as the clerk came in with the shovel, the master predicted that it would be necessary for them to part. Wherefore the clerk put on his white comforter, and tried to warm himself at the candle; in which effort, not being a man of a strong imagination, he failed.

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The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters.
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