A Christmas Carol – Why is Bob Cratchit so Poor?

David John Marotta – December 24, 2017

Christmas is a time for oft told tales like Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” At first glance, this story fills us with pity for the Cratchit family, always struggling to make ends meet. Poor Bob Cratchit is forced to work for Ebenezer Scrooge, whose personality makes an easy target for the cause of Bob’s financial troubles. But, the true source of the Cratchits’ poverty is not Scrooge but Bob’s own impulse to live a lifestyle worthy of the Lord Mayor himself.

Bob Cratchit is a clerk and a member of the British middle class. He lives a genteel life. He goes to work with a coat and tie on. His family lives in a four-room house and has a much easier working existence than most of Victorian England. Bob Cratchit earns more than an ample wage.

His salary, we are told, is fifteen shillings a week. The British pound was divided into twenty shillings, and each shilling was divided into twelve pennies or pence. So, Bob Cratchit makes 15 shillings or 180 pence each week – about the wage of a metropolitan police officer and well above the truly needy.

Essays of the Victorian era included titles such as, “How to live on eight shillings a week.” The Cratchit’s daughter, Martha, is apprenticed to a milliner and earns additional income. And Peter, their eldest son, is about to obtain a job earning five shillings and six pence weekly. He, too, is to be a man of business.

So why is the Cratchit family so poor?

Bob Cratchit is a spendthrift, or shopaholic. The shopaholic is one of eight different personality types in Bert Whitehead’s book, “Facing Financial Dysfunction.” Cratchit is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Ebenezer Scrooge. Whereas Scrooge combines greed with a propensity to save, Bob Cratchit combines fear with a propensity to spend.

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