A Christmas Carol Summary and Analysis
Scrooge wakes up, and the bell of a neighborhood church rings from six until twelve, then stops. He wonders if he slept through the day and into another night. He looks out the window to an empty scene. He worries over Marley's ghost and wonders if it was a dream. He remembers the ghost's warning of a visit at one at night, and waits. The hour arrives, a flash of light comes in the room, his bed-curtains are drawn aside, and the figure of a small old man appears.
The old man introduces himself as the Ghost of Christmas Past. He says he is there for Scrooge's "welfare" and "reclamation," then puts Scrooge's hand on his heart. They instantly reappear on a wintry country road around Scrooge's childhood home. Scrooge is deeply affected by the memory, and he walks with the Ghost to the town. They see schoolboys, and the Ghost explains that the people they see are shadows of their former selves, and are unaware of him and Scrooge. The boys run out of school and wish merry Christmas to each other. The Ghost reminds Scrooge that one boy, ignored by the others, remains in school alone, and Scrooge weeps.
They walk into the dilapidated schoolhouse, where they see the young Scrooge reading alone by a small fire. The older Scrooge cries again, and says he wishes he had given something to the boy caroling at his door last night. The Ghost says they will see another Christmas, and the young Scrooge grows larger as the room becomes dirtier. Scrooge's younger sister, Fan, enters the room and joyfully announces she is bringing him home for Christmas, as their father is much kinder than he used to be. After they eat and drink with the intimidating schoolmaster, they go off. The Ghost reminds Scrooge that his sister died after having had Scrooge's nephew.
The Ghost and Scrooge travel to the warehouse of Scrooge's apprenticeship. Fezziwig, an old, jolly man, gives Scrooge and another worker the night off for Christmas Eve. Scrooge and his friend quickly clean up and build a cozy fire. Several more people come in and a party ensues. Scrooge enjoys himself immensely until the party ends, when he remembers he is merely revisiting the scene with the Ghost. Scrooge tells the Ghost that Fezziwig's gift of happiness to his friends far outweighs the money he spent on the party. He mentions he would like to say something to his clerk.
Scrooge now sees an older version of himself in the prime of life. His face shows the first signs of greed as he sits by a crying girl, Belle. She breaks off their romance, reproaching him for replacing his love for her with the pursuit of money. The scene changes and Belle is now the mother of a raucous, affectionate brood of children. Her husband comes home and tells her he saw Scrooge sitting alone in his office. Scrooge begs the Ghost to take him back to his own time, and takes it upon himself to pull the Ghost's cap over its brightly-lit head. The light cannot be obscured, however, and Scrooge eventually falls into his own bed out of exhaustion.
While we are meant to believe that the visitation of the ghosts is actually happening, it is perhaps more important to think of themand the scenes they reveal of Scrooge's lifeas products of Scrooge's imagination. Provoked by the sudden thought in his old age that his life has possibly been for naught, he reconsiders what Christmas means to him.
This type of instantaneous, life-changing thought can be called an epiphany, and Dickens suggests that epiphanies require the mind to integrate all three major tensesthe past, present, and futureinto a coherent, unified tense. For all intents and purposes, it does not matter that the Ghost of Christmas Past has visited Scrooge; Scrooge may simply be reliving his life through his memory, and the Ghost is merely a convenient symbol for memory. (Indeed, the Ghost looks like both an old man and a child, underscoring the elderly Scrooge's flashback to his childhood.)
The Ghost provokes Scrooge's redemption from miser to a good, charitable Christian. He has two strategies: he reminds Scrooge of his own loneliness, and gives Scrooge models of intimacy to which he should aspire. Scrooge gains empathy for the neglected (and, implicitly, the poor, who are otherwise neglected by the rich) when the Ghost reminds Scrooge of his own neglected childhood, inspiring him to want to give to the caroling boy he neglected.
On the other hand, Fezziwig is the paragon of friendship, and his scene makes Scrooge reflect on his own callous treatment of his employees. Finally, the Ghost shows Scrooge how money has interfered with his potential romance and the joys of family life. All of these scenes expose how money has driven a wedge between Scrooge and others, and his loneliness, which he seems to have repressed for years, is returning in profound new ways.
A Christmas Carol Essays and Related Content
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- Charles Dickens: Biography
- A Christmas Carol Summary
- About A Christmas Carol
- Character List
- Major Themes
- Summary and Analysis of Stave One
- Summary and Analysis of Stave Two
- Summary and Analysis of Stave Three
- Summary and Analysis of Stave Four
- Summary and Analysis of Stave Five
- Related Links on A Christmas Carol
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 1
- Test Yourself! - Quiz 2
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources