If you love the holidays, chances are you’ve heard of A Christmas Carol. This Charles Dickens classic was written in 1843 and has been adapted into numerous films, plays, operas, and more.
The main character in A Christmas Carol is Bob Cratchit, a poor clerk struggling to make ends meet and working for Ebenezer Scrooge.
He famously made just 15 shillings a week, which is equivalent to $21.44 per hour with a 40-hour workweek in 2022 dollars.
Keep reading for more details on Bob Cratchit, minimum wage, and A Christmas Carol.
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Bob Cratchit is a fictional character in Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol. The English clerk is underpaid and verbally abused by his employer Ebenezer Scrooge and was likely treated unfairly by Scrooge’s business partner Jacob Marley before he died.
Cratchit is seen as a symbol of the poor working class in Victorian times, with many laborers enduring measly pay and extensive working hours.
A big part of the Christmas Carol storyline is Cratchit’s timid request to have Christmas Day off to spend with his family.
Scrooge doesn’t like this very much, threatening to cut his pay, but ultimately agrees so long as Cratchit comes in early on December 26th.
Not only does he have to deal with a demanding, stubborn boss, but he also struggles to take care of his family due to poor wages.
Scrooge isn’t interested in paying Cratchit a living wage, which adversely affects the worker’s son, Tiny Tim, who is sick and crippled.
The Ghost of Christmas Present says Tim will die without treatment, something his family can’t afford.
Cratchit’s family may not like stingy Scrooge, but Cratchit remains faithful, saying he feels sorry for the man and they should wish him good health instead.
Ebenezer Scrooge is the protagonist in A Christmas Carol, a story, which opens with Scrooge as a cold-hearted, miserable old man who hates Christmas and isn’t very nice to the people around him.
Charles Dickens’s classic tale is one of redemption, as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come make a big impact on Scrooge.
Eventually, he comes around and learns to enjoy the holidays and be a better person, a sweet ending that makes this such a classic Christmas tale in many English-speaking countries.
Dickens famously described Scrooge early in the book, touching on his old features, pointed nose, shriveled cheek, stiff gait, red eyes, thin blue lips, and shrewd voice.
As the story continues, the three spirits guide Scrooge to redemption, helping him shake his miserable outlook and become a kinder man.
Even so, Scrooge is famous for the term “Bah! Hambug!” which is still used today, typically to express distaste for contemporary Christmas celebrations.
Scrooge, who at the start of the story only paid his employee Bob Cratchit 15 shillings a week, increases his wage first thing after Christmas and promises to help the poor, sick family.
When Scrooge sees the error of his ways, he also sends a Christmas turkey to the Cratchit family.
By the end of the book, the Scrooge that once denounced all Christmas celebrations is no more, instead replaced by a more generous man who wants to share his good fortune with others.
A Christmas Carol is arguably most famous for the depressing poverty endured by Bob Cratchit, who remained positive and kind despite difficult circumstances.
He was a merciful man, quickly forgiving anyone who wronged him, most notably his employer.
Cratchit’s 15 shillings a week was characterized as minimum wage, if not less than, during early Victorian times, although some historians say this isn’t accurate.
The U.K. average aural income was 57 pounds back in 1846, while Cratchit was on pace to make 39 pounds a year.
He may have been paid more than the median Briton and his earnings were higher than minimum-wage earners in the U.S.
In today’s dollars, Cratchit would make around $21.44 per hour for 40 hours a week.
Considering the federal minimum wage in the U.S. since 2009 is $7.25, it seems that Cratchit was actually making a decent living.
However, we also have to remember that Scrooge’s clerk was a skilled worker, more so than many others during his time.
That means Cratchit probably should have been making more, but nevertheless, feeding himself, his wife, and six children was a challenging task.
A considerable chunk of the Christmas Carol storyline centers around Bob Cratchit’s measly wages and impoverished life with his wife and six kids, including Tiny Tim who is very sick and in need of treatment.
The Cratchit family was most certainly poor, however, Bob remained mellow and kind despite their troubles.
His weekly wage of 15 shillings is actually more than the average pay for an accounting clerk in England in the 1840s, which was around 11 shillings, 6 pence.
Although Cratchit’s pay was better than some unskilled workers in the early Victorian years, he still struggled to make ends meet and was treated unfavorably by his employer.
Cratchit did not have much money left over to pay for his son’s medical treatment or extra niceties on Christmas.
Many readers feel sorry for the Cratchit family due to their struggles and Scrooge’s unwillingness to share his success.
Keep in mind that some critics say Cratchit spent beyond his means, buying things like a Christmas goose or a nice shirt for his son Peter as he starts an apprenticeship.
By evaluating Cratchit’s spending habits and consumerism, historians have found their poverty may have to do less with the money he was earning and more with how they were spending it.
Regardless, Scrooge has a change of heart and decides to pay Cratchit more money to take care of his family after Christmas.
Nearly 200 years on from its initial release, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has become one of the most widely recognized Christmas stories in the western world.
The story, originally in novella form and since adapted into films, musicals, and more, has universal appeal with a variety of characters.
Some people feel more like Bob Cratchit who believes in Christmas and all its beautiful celebrations, while others relate more to Scrooge and find the holidays difficult to handle.
Also, historians agree that Dickens carefully crafted a compelling story that raises questions of human fellowship still relevant in today’s age.
Why are some people so unwilling to let go of the past? Why are others so forgiving and content even in difficult circumstances?
All these questions and more can be examined through this classic Christmas tale. Plus, the story translates to the present-day with many workaholic, grumpy bosses and hardworking employers who don’t feel recognized or just want a little bit of holiday cheer.
Lastly, the majority of people appreciate a good redemption story with a happy ending. A Christmas Carol may seem depressing at times, with Scrooge’s dire outlook and Cratchit’s tough home and work life, but at the end of the story, everything comes together and both characters emerge better and happier.
For a Christmas story that shines a light on the meaning of the holiday season and being a good person, A Christmas Carol delivers.