Tiny Tim is a character in Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol. He is the son of the Cratchitts, and the character of Scrooge comes to know the child through his visit to the Cratchitt household with the Spirit of Christmas present.
Many have accused Dickens of blatant sentimentality in regards to Tiny Tim. He is crippled, and seems wise beyond his years. The boy is also threatened with death, as Scrooge finds. In fact, Scrooge’s intervention for the good of the Cratchitt family is the only way in which the child can be saved.
Some call Tiny Tim a classic Dickens’ character, a portrait of the wise child who will soon exit the earth. He puts up with his infirmities and illness in a way most feel would not be borne by most children, even if they are ill. Dickens lived in a world where children did die, however, and though Tiny Tim’s illness and behavior may seem overtly sentimental, it may also be accurate.
With fewer cures for disease in the Victorian period, there were many children like Tiny Tim, and many families who could quite readily relate to the threat of losing one or more of their children. In fact, for many families today, the boy still strikes a chord of sadness. There are still illnesses that spirit children away before their time, and any parent with an ill child is likely to see a kernel of truth in the way he is portrayed.
Actually, some research has been done suggesting what might be the cause of the boy's mysterious illness. Some suggest he suffered from polio, while others suggest renal disease or tuberculosis. In either of the latter two cases, proper medical attention might have halted the disease. These potential suggestions make the child's plight more real.
Many argue that the boy is largely symbolic of an issue Dickens wanted to press home. There were households all over England that had sick children who might have lived but for poverty. Tiny Tim is symbolic not only of these children, but as catalyst for change. Dickens probably hoped to convert more than one Scrooge by the end of A Christmas Carol.
Evidence in most of Dickens’ novels points to his continuing search for social justice and reasonable treatment of the poor. Tiny Tim is not just a pitiable dying child, therefore, but represents Dickens’ viewpoint. If Dickens could get his audience to understand the many empty seats left by children who could not afford medical care, he had succeeded in his argument that much more needed to be done for the poor.
The novel does not end with Scrooge’s words but with Tiny Tim's, “God Bless us, every one.” This suggests again that the boy, in many ways, is an allegory for a fundamental argument for social justice. He doesn’t just ask blessing for his family, but for everyone.
Although some may accuse Dickens of appeal to emotion in arguing a point, it is an appeal that still resonates. Tiny Tim merely gives the reader the opportunity for considering the many children who still lack cures for disease or money to stay well. Dickens, many would argue, would look at the sea of ill children today and suggest that they deserve compassion and have a right to treatment.