How do I compare and contrast the three spirits that visit Scrooge in A Christmas Carol?
The best approach for comparing and contrasting the three ghosts that visit Ebeneezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol would seem to be by looking to what they represent, and how. Take first the Ghost of Christmas Past, who represents innocence, childhood, and beginnings:
It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions. Its hair, which hung about its neck and down its back, was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white; and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers. (stave 2)
In this passage, Dickens adorns the first ghost with emblems of newness, of rebirth, such as a childlike appearance, the color white, and blooming greenery. He also gives the spirit qualities that indicate strength and wisdom, as our knowledge of the past makes us (hopefully) more mature and sage. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge significant moments from his life that have made him who he is but also show how he has changed in his actions toward humanity. The spirit is also very talkative and narrates Scrooge's memories, asking and answering questions, and providing firm but gentle guidance in order to help Scrooge toward his final epiphany:
“She died a woman,” said the Ghost, “and had, as I think, children.”
“One child,” Scrooge returned.
“True,” said the Ghost. “Your nephew!”
Scrooge seemed uneasy in his mind; and answered briefly, “Yes." (stave 2)
Though the Ghost does not say, "Why do you treat your nephew so badly if you loved his mother so much? What made your heart turn cold?", this is basically what the spirit is trying to get Scrooge to consider.
In contrast, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is clad entirely in black and does not speak a word to Scrooge. This spirit shows Scrooge the death of Tiny Tim and his own death without comment, allowing Scrooge to draw conclusions about the man he has become and what he wants his future to be.
The three spirits all physically embody the ideas they represent. The Ghost of Christmas Past is described as almost ambiguous. It is neither old nor young, neither male nor female. This is because we do not always remember the past accurately, and the past is made up of many parts of us. Conversely, the Ghost of Christmas Past is hardly visible at all. He is not much more than a robe. While the spirit of the past glows and is wistfully vague, the ghost of the future is ominous. We do not know what is in the future, and we are somewhat fearful of it.
The Ghost of Christmas Present goes from young and boisterous to old and feeble. This makes sense, because this is the course of a day. In fact, when Scrooge first meets the ghost and he asks if Scrooge knows his brothers, he says he has not. He then asks how many brothers the spirit has.
“….Have you had many brothers, Spirit?”
“More than eighteen hundred,” said the Ghost. (Stave 3)
This is because the book was written in the 1800’s, so naturally there was a brother for each year. Scrooge realizes that the ghost ages as the day goes on, and at the end he asks him if spirits’ lives are short. This ghost embodies the idea that we only get one present each day, and we need to make the most of it.