As Christmastime approaches, it becomes essential for us all to brush off the accumulated dust that has dampened the Christmas spirit in us. What can be more efficacious than the legendary story of Ebenezer Scrooge for this purpose? This Penlighten article will not only discuss the summary and analysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens, but also reflect on the need of transforming ourselves this holiday season.
Did You Notice?
The story, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is divided into five parts, which the author, Charles Dickens, has labeled as Staves, meaning song stanzas or verses, so as to complement the title of the book, which includes the word ‘carol’.
Published almost two centuries ago, in December 1843, the story of ‘A Christmas Carol’ still touches us readers in a lot many ways, at many different levels. This book is believed to be the most appreciated work of Charles Dickens, simply because of the fact that it stirs the hearts and minds of many, and in a way, rejuvenates the enthusiasm and attitude that most Christians fail to bring forth during this festive time. Charles Dickens, in this story, represents the many sections of the society through his characters, who dwindle between the whole aspects of being rich or being kind and generous human beings. For, as the Bible states, “You cannot serve God and money“, as the ones who love money will disregard God. Perhaps this was the reason why Ebenezer Scrooge thought of Christmas as “Humbug!”
This story was written during a time when the traditional ways of celebrating Christmas were being overtaken by the modern customs. The plot, setting, and the nature of the characters in the story are a result of the author’s personal experience, as he too had had a difficult childhood that he spent in poverty, being separated from his father. His experiences ended up becoming the rubs that polished his brilliance all the more, and made this book one among the finest gems in the literary world!
Summary of ‘A Christmas Carol’
Introducing Ebenezer Scrooge
It all begins on a Christmas Eve that had, as described by the author, a “cold, bleak, biting weather.” Unlike the others, Scrooge is in his counting house with his clerk, Bob Cratchit who is busy copying letters. With the main door open and the biting cold, there is very little warmth in the room because of Scrooge’s stinginess to save coal. His nephew, Fred enters the place wishing him “Merry Christmas” to which he replies, “Bah! Humbug!” He argues with his nephew upon how Christmas is a waste of time and nothing but “A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth day of December!“, simply because he had to give his clerk an off with pay. He also rejects, like every year, his nephew’s dinner invitation for Christmas. Also, he refuses to give donation for the needy to the men who ask for the same, and also scares away the carol singer from the doorstep.
Visit of Marley’s Ghost
Things take a turn the same evening, when Scrooge’s deceased partner, Jacob Marley’s ghost pays him a visit. Marley’s ghost is burdened with a chain made from cashboxes, ledgers, heavy purses, and more, symbolizing a punishment for him for being so greedy and self-centered during his life. He warns Scrooge that a worse fate lies ahead of him if he doesn’t mend his ways and if he doesn’t becomes warm and charitable. He notifies Scrooge of the three Spirits that will be visiting him the following three nights, and that only through their visit, can Scrooge hope to have a better fate. However, Scrooge, being a practical man blames his vision on indigestion, stating the event to be a result of “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato.”
The Three Spirits of Past, Present, and Future
The first of the three Spirit visits him the following night, as soon as he wakes up. Introducing himself as “The Ghost of Christmas Past“, this phantom has a childlike figure with a light on the crown of his head. This Spirit takes Scrooge to his past when he was a young boy who was neglected by his friends. He also sees the time when his younger sister, Fred’s mother, comes to take him home for Christmas. He also shows Scrooge the moments when he celebrated Christmas as a young apprentice with his boss, a lively, jolly man Mr. Fezziwig, who was kind and generous to his employees. And then, the Spirit takes him to the moment where a beautiful woman, Belle, Scrooge’s fiance left him because of his lack of loving anyone else other than money. Scrooge, upon, seeing these glimpses of his past, feels sorry and, in a way, realizes his mistakes.
The second Spirit―Ghost of Christmas Present―comes the next night, in the form of a jolly Giant. This phantom takes him to the present Christmastime. They being invisible to the others, visit Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit’s house. Scrooge is moved by the plight where he sees the family happy and thankful to God, in spite of being so poor, and moreover, in spite of having a sick child―tiny little Tim Cratchit―in the family. Scrooge feels a great degree of concern for this little child who is so full of life, irrespective of his illness. The Spirit, upon being asked by Scrooge, tells him that Tim will die if the situation remains unaltered in the future. Scrooge gets disturbed by this information. This Spirit also takes him to Fred’s house, where he and his guests are making fun of Scrooge’s Christmas attitude, and irrespective of being disliked by all, Fred still shows a sense of pity for the old man’s life. Upon leaving, the giant phantom also shows Scrooge two children hidden under his robe, named ‘Ignorance’ and ‘Want’. He tells him to be careful of both as they bring forth doom, especially Ignorance, who was represented as a little boy unlike Want who was a girl.
The third of the three―the Ghost of the Christmas Yet to Come―visits Scrooge the next night, the image of him being similar to that of a Grim Reaper. Unlike the first two Spirits, this one didn’t speak at all. He takes Scrooge to the future, where mysterious events take place upon the death of a man nobody liked. While being unaware of who the man was, Scrooge sees moments where some businessmen discuss that they will go to this dead man’s funeral only if lunch is served, a family in debt being happy that this man has died, and a group of vagabonds robbing his dead body without any remorse, to earn a few bucks. He is deeply saddened by viewing all this, he asks the spirit to show him those who are saddened by the event of a death, and so the Spirit takes him to Cratchit’s house where tiny Tim is no more. Scrooge is deeply agonized by this only to realize later that the disliked dead man who had none to mourn for, was none other than he himself! Scrooge sincerely repents and pleads the spirit to give him another chance so that he can mend his actions and live his life in the spirit of Christmas. And suddenly, he sees himself tucked in his bed, like everything was nothing but a dream.
Who was once described as “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner“, now becomes a changed man. He rejoices that he is still alive to live by the true Christmas spirit and redeem his dreadful fate by helping the needy. He anonymously sends a huge turkey to the Cratchit family and donates a large sum of money for charity to the same men whom he refused to give money earlier, stating that prisoners and union warehouses should take care of the needy and not him. He also attends Fred’s Christmas dinner party and raises Bob Cratchit’s wages. He also takes care of tiny Tim (who doesn’t die) and acts as a second father to him. While many were astonished at such a drastic change in Scrooge and also laughed at him behind his back, he, being unperturbed of the whole behind-the-back talks, continued to live his life by this very Christmas spirit, and came to be known as the man who had the ultimate knowledge of how to celebrate Christmas, more than anyone else on the planet!
Analysis of ‘A Christmas Carol’
Upon careful analysis of the story, we would agree that each of the character is a reflection of the different sections of the society that not only existed when Dickens penned this book, but are very much present even today! Scrooge is nothing but a reflection of those among us who value money more than relationships, work more than festivities, hoarding more than charity. Bob Cratchit and his family, on the other hand, represent the plight of the poor and humble, a reflection of those exploited by rich hoarders, yet cherish and treasure the little they have in life. The chains of Marley’s ghost is nothing but the burden of sins that we carry in our soul after leaving the physical body. While the three ghosts represent, as obvious, the past, present, and future of the sinful.
The author has remarkably assigned the appearance of these characters to be in sync with their nature. Scrooge’s shriveled cheeks, stiffened gait, nipped nose, and red eyes reflect the coldness that resided within him. Coming to the three ghosts, the first one is described as a childlike figure, with a light on his crown, most likely symbolizing memories of the past. The Ghost of the Present was jolly and giant, blessing all the poor and needy during the visits, thereby representing charity, mercy, and the joys that lie in today, joys that are giant if embraced and treasured. Lastly, the Ghost of the Future that looked like the Grim Reaper, represented fear of the unknown and death.
The story also highlights how some of us tend to become so self-centered and stubborn in life that it becomes impossible for others to show us the goodness that has been buried within. Even in Scrooge’s case, the living couldn’t help him so the dead and unearthly had to intervene! In all the three visits, we could see the bouts of emotions in Scrooge coming out in the form of repentance in the journey to the past, merriment and sympathy in the journey to the present, and fear and realization of the sins in the journey to the future. This just shows that no human can be heartless, and that the goodness within us all will always shine bright when the dark cloak of self-service and accumulating wealth for hoarding is put aside.
Dickens, in a not-so religious but humanitarian manner, rekindles the fading Christmas spirit among all of us by making us realize that not only Christ’s birth, but the whole purpose of our birth too, is to spread joys in the world by helping the poor and the needy. For the true wealth that we must accumulate is that of goodness, prayers, and blessings. Truly, among the two personalities of Scrooge that we see in the story, he was all alone and miserable when he served wealth, it was only when he started serving the others and kept his promise to live in the spirit of Christmas, did he start being happy and loved by one and all. A wonderful happy ending to ‘A Christmas Carol’, indeed!
Margaret Oliphant, a renowned historical author and novelist of the nineteenth century called this story, “a new gospel” and also stated that this book had actually made people better in terms of behavior. We say that this book is a must-have for one and all, so that we can save ourselves of being chained in greed, like the ghost of Marley, and live a happy and contend life by helping others as much as we can. On that note we shall end this write-up with the very last words of the book, “God bless Us, Every One!“