illustration of Ebenezer Scrooge in silhouette walking toward a Christmas tree and followed by the three ghosts

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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How are the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present described in A Christmas Carol?

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The Ghost of Christmas Past is bright and indistinct, and the Ghost of Christmas Present is jovial and colorful.

Scrooge is a grumpy old miser when his friend Jacob Marley decides to give him a chance to look at his life and make some changes.  Jacob is dead, so his intervention consists of having Scrooge visited by three other ghosts.  Scrooge is skeptical at first, but as he goes along from ghost to ghost he becomes a new man.

The first ghost is very unusual looking.  It seems to shine like a candle, and Scrooge can’t tell whether it is young or old, or male or female.

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. (Stave 2)

The ghost is old and young at the same time and male and female at the same time because it represents the vague nature of the past.  Sometimes we do not remember things exactly as they happened, so the ghost flickers in and out of focus.  Also, there are many influences on us in our pasts, so that ghost is everyone at one.  The candle-like nature of the ghost represents the glow the past has for us.  Even Scrooge gets teary-eyed at some events from his past.

The Ghost of Christmas Present is very different.  While the first ghost was somewhat reserved and stern, this ghost is friendly and loud.  Even his clothing seems festive.

It was clothed in one simple deep green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur. This garment hung so loosely on the figure, that its capacious breast was bare … Its feet, observable beneath the ample folds of the garment, were also bare; and on its head it wore no other covering than a holly wreath set here and there with shining icicles. (Stave 3)

One interesting part of this ghost’s appearance is that he wears a scabbard with no sword.  That and his open chest represents his good-nature.  He prefers peace to war.  He is all about celebrating life.  The ghost carries a special torch that he uses to bless those he passes with Christmas spirit.

The second ghost is more friendly than the first, but he does scold Scrooge for not caring about the poor.  He shows Scrooge two children, Ignorance and Want, and tells Scrooge that he should show more compassion.  By the time Scrooge is done with him, he is a changed man.


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