Main Content

The world of the powerful and that of the powerless... are never divided by a sharp line: everyone has a small part of himself in both. — Vaclav Havel, Czech poet and president

The way a rich nation thinks about its poor will always be convoluted. The richer people become in general, the easier it theoretically becomes for them to share with people who are left out. But the richer people become, the less they naturally stay in touch with the realities of life on the bottom, and the more they naturally prefer to be excited about their own prospects rather than concerned about someone else's. — James Fallows, in a March 19, 2000 New York Times piece, "The Invisible Poor"

Nearly everyone, whatever his actual conduct may be, responds emotionally to the idea of human brotherhood. (Charles) Dickens voiced a code which was and on the whole still is believed in, even by people who violate it. It is difficult otherwise to explain why he could be both read by working people (a thing that has happened to no other novelist of his stature) and buried in Westminster Abbey. — George Orwell


The children became familiar with Charles Dickens, a Unitarian for part of his life. They heard an excerpt from his novel, Oliver Twist, and explored his technique of painting detailed, sometimes comical portraits of the extremely wealthy and the extremely poor in order to illustrate our common humanity. We investigated current newspapers and magazines for representations of people's lives in extreme poverty today. Children worked on their Window/Mirror Panels. We encouraged them to use comical exaggeration, as Dickens did, to represent themselves as a "have," a "have not" or someone who is a bit of both.


Charles Dickens's portrayals of the very rich and the very poor. Imagine that Dickens could observe your community. Would he find extremes of wealth and poverty? Are there people who lack basic necessities, such as food, clothing, shelter, and health care? Talk frankly about how you as a family perceive yourselves on a continuum of extreme wealth to extreme lack.



If any family members are unfamiliar with him, introduce them to Charles Dickens's character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Read A Christmas Carol together or view a film version. Aver that Scrooge is comical rather than frightening for two reasons: One, because most people can recognize themselves in him; and two, because in the end, he changes, practically exploding with love, compassion and charity.

Talk about times when you have been greedy, and how you might have shared what you had with someone who needed it more. Invite your child and other family members to share their stories. Allow that to be greedy sometimes is human. Try to create an environment in which everyone feels safe talking honestly about times they were not their best selves. Everyone deserves to explore their own actions without risking others' judgment.


Teach the terms "abundance" and "scarcity" to the entire family. On a family outing, when watching a television program together or on another occasion, take note of the presence of one condition or the other. Share your findings. You may have some interesting conversations, especially if people disagree about definitions of excess and need.

Share, Print, or Explore

For more information contact