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Understanding A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol (1843) was written in the Victorian era by Charles Dickens. The novella centres on the transformation of the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge.

At first, Scrooge is depicted as an isolated, selfish, money-oriented character, who is willing to subject his clerk (Bob Cratchit) to a system of cheap labour and long hours. However, over the course of one Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by a series of ghosts, each guiding him to see the error of his ways. By the end of the novella, the character transforms and emulates the message of social responsibility and care.

Character List

  • Ebenezer Scrooge: The protagonist of the story, Scrooge is a miserly old man known for his greed and disdain for anything related to Christmas and goodwill. Throughout the story, he undergoes a transformation to become kinder and more generous.
  • Bob Cratchit: Scrooge’s underpaid clerk. He struggles to support his large family on the low wages Scrooge pays him. Despite their hardships, the Cratchits maintain a loving and cheerful home.
  • Tiny Tim: Bob Cratchit’s youngest son. He has a physical disability and is depicted as frail and weak.
  • Jacob Marley: Scrooge’s deceased business partner. He visits Scrooge as a ghost wrapped in heavy chains. Marley warns Scrooge about the consequences of his miserly ways and foretells the visits of three spirits.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past: The first of the three spirits to visit Scrooge. This spirit shows Scrooge scenes from his past to help him understand how he became the man he is.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present: The second spirit. He shows Scrooge various scenes of people celebrating Christmas in the present day.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (or Future): The final spirit. This ghost shows Scrooge a series of grim scenes related to his death to emphasise the consequences if he doesn’t change his ways.
  • Fred: Scrooge’s cheerful nephew, he represents the joy and warmth of Christmas. He repeatedly invites Scrooge to his Christmas party, hoping to reconnect and share some happiness.
  • Fezziwig: Scrooge’s former employer, seen during the Ghost of Christmas Past’s visit. He is remembered as a kind and generous man, especially in contrast to Scrooge.
  • Belle: Scrooge’s former fiancée, she breaks off their engagement due to Scrooge’s growing obsession with money over love and family.
  • Mrs. Cratchit: Bob Cratchit’s loving wife. She does her best to provide for her family and keep their spirits high despite their financial struggles.

Chapter One/Stave One

The story begins on Christmas Eve, with “cold, bleak, biting weather” that reflects both Scrooge’s cold nature and the misery within his “counting house”. This is further portrayed when Bob Cratchit is introduced, working for Scrooge in a small room described as a “dismal, little cell”. Dickens also introduces Scrooge’s nephew, the kind and selfless Fred, who stands in stark contrast to his uncle. When Fred wishes Scrooge a “Merry Christmas”, Scrooge utters: “Bah humbug.”

Readers learn of Scrooge’s miserly, stingy nature during this opening chapter. “He declines to donate to charity, instead asking: “Are there no workhouses?”

As the chapter grows in tension, and the weather closes in as “foggier yet” (pathetic fallacy), Scrooge eventually returns home to eerily find his ex-business partner’s face appearing on the door knocker. Dickens then unfolds more ghostly events for the character.

Marley’s ghost appears, serving a warning: “I wear the chain I forged in life”, telling Scrooge to change his selfish ways or face a similar fate. Marley’s ghost informs Scrooge that he will be “haunted” by three more ghosts, before leaving Scrooge to promptly fall asleep.

Chapter Two/Stave Two

Upon waking at midnight, Scrooge is in a confused state and recalls that three ghosts are due to visit at one o’clock.

The first ghost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, is described as a “child-like” figure with a “clear jet” of bright light emitting from it. The spectre takes Scrooge by the hand and grants him the ability to fly through the window. The ghost takes Scrooge on a journey back to the past, where the protagonist witnesses himself as a lonely schoolboy.

Readers also discover that Scrooge likely had a difficult time at home. His sister, Fan, finally comes to the schoolhouse (where Scrooge is boarding) and reassures him that their father is “kinder” now. Adult Scrooge speaks fondly of Fan, and regretfully informs the ghost that Fan was Fred’s mother and that she died many years ago.

Scrooge also sees his younger self at the merry party hosted by his former employer, Fezziwig. Following this, Scrooge is taken to himself with Belle, who broke off their engagement (because of Scrooge’s obsession with “golden idols”). The ghost even takes Scrooge closer to the present day, showing him a middle-aged Belle married with children. All of these episodes leave Scrooge feeling tormented by his past actions. He extinguishes the light upon the ghost’s head, and Scrooge finds himself back in his bedroom.

Chapter Three/Stave Three

Scrooge discovers a jolly giant, dressed in green robes atop a throne, feasting at a table: the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge is told to touch the spirit’s robe, which transports the pair to the city centre on Christmas morning.

The spirit leads Scrooge to the Cratchit household, where Mrs Cratchit is preparing a goose and Mr Bob Cratchit is carrying his young son, Tiny Tim, upon his shoulder. The purpose of this scene is for Scrooge to witness the Cratchit’s family contentment, despite their lack of finances and hardships. Tiny Tim is ill, and Scrooge begs to know whether Tiny Tim will live.

Scrooge is then taken to various Christmas celebrations, including one at Fred’s home. Despite remaining unseen, Scrooge enjoys the party and begins to experience what Christmas could be like for him. As this realisation dawns, the ghost grows older and takes Scrooge to a desolate area. Two children appear from underneath the ghost’s robes, symbolically named “Ignorance” and “Want”. When Scrooge asks whether they can be helped, the ghost mocks Scrooge’s retort from chapter one: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” The spirit then disappears.

Chapter Four/Stave Four

The final phantom is dressed in a hooded robe and does not speak: it is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge pleads with this ghost, desperate for the next journey to be swift.

This time, Scrooge is taken to a London Stock Exchange, where a group of businessmen talk about the death of a rich man. After this, inside a pawn shop, a group of shady characters sell off items belonging to this man. Finally, the phantom takes Scrooge to see the Cratchit family struggling to cope with Tiny Tim’s death, and Scrooge realises the rich, dead man is his future self. Scrooge is taken to a graveyard, where he reads an inscription on a headstone: “EBENEZER SCROOGE”.

The protagonist pleads, promising that he will change. Eventually, the ghost shrinks and Scrooge returns to his bed.

Chapter Five/Stave Five

In this final, shorter chapter, Scrooge celebrates the life-changing visit and warning from Jacob Marley. Waking on Christmas morning, Scrooge begins shouting “Merry Christmas” and runs into the street, much to the surprise of on-lookers. He also pays a boy to deliver a large turkey to the Cratchit household. Upon meeting one of the charity collectors, Scrooge pledges to donate a large sum, before heading to Fred’s Christmas party.

The following morning, Scrooge pretends to be stern with Bob, before revealing his “new self” and announcing his desire to give a large amount (in time and money) to help Bob’s family. As time passes, Scrooge stays faithful to his word and even becomes like a “second father” to Tiny Tim. The story concludes with the narrator telling readers that “Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, Every one!”

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