Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” opens with the protagonist, miserly businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, working late on Christmas Eve in his London office when his nephew Fred drops by to invite him to Christmas dinner. Fred’s Christmas greetings—repeated annually and annually declined—send Scrooge into a rant against the holiday and those who celebrate it. When Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, quietly applauds Fred’s inspirational defense of Christmas, Scrooge threatens to fire him. As Fred leaves, a pair of gentlemen collecting money for the poor call on Scrooge, but he quickly dismisses them with the reminder that he already supports prisons and workhouses for the poor.
At closing time, Scrooge grudgingly gives Cratchit the next day (Christmas Day) off before heading home to a gloomy structure that once belonged to his business partner Jacob Marley, who died on Christmas Eve seven years before. As Scrooge enters, he sees Marley’s face on the door knocker. He rushes inside and goes upstairs to his bedroom, seeing a hearse traveling up the stairs in front of him. In the bedroom, he locks the doors and sits down to eat. Suddenly, bells begin to ring, the bedroom door flies open, and in walks Marley’s ghost, bound in a chain made of cash boxes, padlocks, and ledgers. Marley tells Scrooge that the spirits of men must walk among their fellow men, if not in life then in death. His chain, he informs Scrooge, was forged, link by link, over a lifetime of ignoring his responsibilities to others, and he warns that Scrooge has forged a chain much more ponderous than the one he, Marley, is carrying. He offers Scrooge one chance to avoid his fate: to be visited by three spirits that night. Marley shows Scrooge one last vision, a sky full of phantoms, but Scrooge concludes that the evening has been a figment of his imagination, perhaps caused by indigestion, and goes to bed.
At one o’clock in the morning, a childlike spirit with a white tunic appears and introduces itself as the Ghost of Christmas Past. The spirit takes Scrooge to an institution where he grew up, where they witness Scrooge’s boyhood friends going home to celebrate Christmas, leaving the young Scrooge behind with only imaginary friends from books he has read. The spirit then takes Scrooge to a happier Christmas, when his sister Fan, Fred’s mother, came to the institution to bring Scrooge home. They visit yet a third Christmas, a party at the warehouse where Scrooge was apprenticed...
(The entire section is 1013 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Ebenezer Scrooge is a miser. Owner of a successful countinghouse, he will have in his bleak office only the smallest fire in the most bitter weather. For his clerk, Bob Cratchit, he allows an even smaller fire. The weather seldom matters to Scrooge, who is always cold within, never warm—even on Christmas Eve. As the time approaches for closing the office on Christmas Eve, Scrooge’s nephew stops in to wish him a merry Christmas. Scrooge only sneers, for he abhors sentiment and thinks only of one thing—money. To him, Christmas is a time when people spend more money than they should and find themselves a year older and no richer.
Grudgingly, Scrooge allows Cratchit to have Christmas Day off; that is the one concession to the holiday that he makes, but he warns Cratchit to be at work earlier the day after Christmas. Scrooge leaves his office and goes home to his rooms in a building in which he is the only tenant. They were the rooms of Scrooge’s partner, Jacob Marley, dead for seven years. As he approaches his door, he sees Marley’s face in the knocker. It is a horrible sight. Marley is looking at Scrooge with his eyes motionless, his ghostly spectacles on his ghostly forehead. As Scrooge watches, the knocker resumes its usual form. Shaken by this vision, Scrooge enters the hall and lights a candle; then he looks behind the door, half expecting to see Marley’s pigtail sticking out into the hall. Satisfied, he double-locks the door. He prepares for bed and sits for a time before the dying fire. Suddenly an unused bell hanging in the room begins to ring, as does every bell in the house.
Then from below comes the sound of heavy chains clanking. The cellar door flies open, and someone mounts the stairs. Marley’s ghost walks through Scrooge’s door—Marley, dressed as always, but with a heavy chain of cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses around his middle.
Marley’s ghost sits down to talk to the frightened and bewildered Scrooge. Forcing Scrooge to admit that he believes what he sees is real, Marley explains that in life he never did any good for humankind and so in death he is condemned to constant traveling with no rest and no relief from the torture of remorse. The ghost says that Scrooge still has a chance to save himself from Marley’s fate. Scrooge will be visited by three spirits who will show him the way to change. The first spirit will appear the next day at the stroke of one. The next will arrive on the second night and the last on the third. Dragging his chain, the ghost disappears.
After Marley’s ghost vanishes, Scrooge goes to bed, and in spite of his nervousness, he falls asleep instantly. When he awakens, it is still dark. The clock strikes twelve. He waits for the stroke of one. As the sound of the bell...
(The entire section is 1146 words.)