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...
(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...
(The entire section is 1146 words.)
A Christmas Carol makes a serious plea for generosity. For Dickens, Christmas is essentially a secular holiday—but one that, behind all the laughter and festivities, should bring out the best of human nature. Through the character of Scrooge he offers concrete comic proof of how distorted a selfish person can become. Dickens generally wrote books several hundred pages in length, but this brief Christmas fable reveals both his typical themes and his characteristic early style. He meant to entertain and he succeeds, but his humanitarianism makes itself felt as well. While he subscribed to the beliefs of his time, his genius transcended them and made A Christmas Carol as relevant now as it was in Victorian England.
(The entire section is 118 words.)
Stave I: Marley's Ghost
As A Christmas Carol opens, readers are introduced to Ebenezer Scrooge, the epitome of a tight-fisted miser: he is too cheap to heat his office, too cheap to give his clerk Christmas Day off without demanding he come in early the next day, and too cheap to care about the suffering of the poor people all around him. The tale begins on Christmas Eve, and Scrooge is visited by his nephew Fred, a good-natured man who tries to celebrate the holiday with his uncle, but is rebuked:
"If I could work my will," said Scrooge, indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!"
Yet Fred is not discouraged by his uncle's crankiness and wishes him well. As he leaves, two men from a charitable organization enter and ask Scrooge for a donation to help the poor. He suggests that the poor should go to prisons and workhouses, and the man points out that many would rather die than live under those wretched conditions.
"If they would rather die," said Scrooge, "they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."
When he goes home that evening, Scrooge sees the face of his long-dead business partner, Jacob Marley, in the knocker on his front door. Going upstairs to his flat, he...
(The entire section is 1574 words.)