Describe the appearance of the Ghost of Christmas Past in A Christmas Carol

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favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To begin, the ghost was "like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man." The spirit seems to embody the innocence of children and yet possesses the wisdom associated with age: two things we typically do not think of as going together. Usually as we gain wisdom, we lose our innocence. The ghost has long, white hair that hangs down its back, but the "tenderest bloom" on the skin. Its arms are "long and muscular," as though it has a great deal of strength, and yet its legs are "delicately formed." The spirit is certainly a strange combination of old and young. It also wears a tunic of white—again, as if to symbolize its purity and innocence—trimmed with "summer flowers," and it carries a "branch of fresh green holly."

Even more curious is that "from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light," and he carries "a great extinguisher" as a hat.  An extinguisher is the small bell-shaped apparatus, usually at the end of a long stick, which one would use to snuff out a candle by placing the bell over the flame and depriving it of air. Finally, Scrooge seems to notice that

its belt sparkled and glittered now in one part and now in another, and what was light one instant, at another time was dark, so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body

In other words, it sounds an awful lot like the spirit flickers, like a candle flame, and given the light that comes out of its head and the fact that it carries an extinguisher for a hat, the spirit seems in many ways to resemble a candle. Thus, it embodies all ages, all seasons, and one of the major symbols of goodness and joy in the text: light.  

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Stave Two of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past. This "strange figure" appears to Scrooge as a cross between a child and a old man. It has, for instance, an unwrinkled face and a tender "bloom" on the skin. Its arms and hands were "long and muscular," again suggesting youth, as are its bare feet and legs. The ghost's long, white hair, however, is suggestive of old age. 

The ghost's clothing is a further source of fascination for Scrooge. It wears a tunic "of the purest white" and has a "lustrous belt" tied around its waist. It hold a fresh sprig of holly in its hand, a symbol of Christmas, while its tunic is decorated with summer flowers. This contrast is, perhaps, deliberate and suggests that Dickens wants to encourage the Christmas spirit all year round. 

What is most striking about the ghost's physical appearance, however, is the jet of white light which protrudes from its head. This light is so strong that the ghost carries a cap which can be used to extinguish the light. Scrooge attempts to use the cap at the end of this stave but is unsuccessful. No matter what he does, he cannot extinguish this light and change the ghost's physical appearance. This is because the light represents the reformation of Scrooge's character: he is already beginning to reform and there can be no turning back. 

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A Christmas Carol

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