Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • A Christmas Carol is a novella, or short story, written by Charles Dickens and first published in the Christmas of 1843. The allegorical tale tells the story of the transformation of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge through the visits of the spirit of his former business partner and three ghosts over the course of a Christmas Eve night. It remains a much-loved traditional Christmas tale.

Context.

This quote is from a paragraph describing Ebenezer Scrooge at the beginning of A Christmas Carol. Scrooge is a cold-hearted tight miser who watches everything going on within his counting-house business.

Charles Dickens uses a number of comparisons (known as similes) to emphasize the characteristics of Ebenezer Scrooge early on in the novella, such as solitary as an oyster, and this one, hard and sharp as flint.

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.

Literary Technique.

This is an example of the figurative language Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using hyperbole (exaggerated language) in the form of a simile to compare Scrooge to flint. The use of similes helps an author to strengthen a description, and for the reader it helps to better visualize the scene in their heads. Flint is a form of the mineral quartz, which occurs chiefly as nodules and masses in sedimentary rocks, such as chalk and limestones. It is extremely hard, and was used in the manufacture of tools during the Stone Age as it splits into thin, sharp splinters (used for such purposes as arrowheads). Dickens is comparing Scrooge to two aspects common to flint; its hardness (here meaning that Scrooge is mean or tight) and its sharpness (here meaning that Scrooge watches over everything and doesn’t miss anything in his work). Flint was traditionally used to start fires which may hint at Scrooge’s later change in attitude as the story unfolds. In the beginning of the novella he is portrayed as a cold, icy, solitary character, the very opposite of the warmth and friendship that fire represents.

Ebenezer Scrooge.

Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous characters created by Charles Dickens and arguably one of the most famous in English literature. The protagonist of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the cold-hearted and mean-spirited accountant. His business partner, the equally mean Jacob Marley, died seven years previous and he lives alone, having never married. Through a visit one Christmas Eve by the ghost of Marley and three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meaness and the impact it has on others.

Source.

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

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! 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. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn’t thaw it one degree at Christmas.

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Hard and sharp as flint.
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Resources.

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