Describe the first of the three spirits and explain how its appearance relates to its lesson.

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fezziwig eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Out of the three spirits that visit Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past is the strangest. Dickens spends a lot of time describing this one, much more than the others. But the lesson that this ghost teaches Scrooge is that he doesn't have to let his negative past affect his present and his future as it does.

The first description of the Ghost of Christmas Past is as a

. . .figure--like a child; yet not so like a child as like an old man . . . Its hair, which hung about its neck and down 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.

This represents all that Scrooge is at this moment, for he is an old man, but within him is still this child. It is Scrooge's childhood that causes him to loathe Christmas. And The Ghost of Christmas Past reveals this when it shows Scrooge as a very "lonely boy . . . reading near a feeble fire" at a boarding school during Christmas, while all the other boys have gone home for the holiday. Then it shows Scrooge at another Christmas "walking up and down despairingly" at another boarding school. These Christmases scarred him psychologically.

However, this image also suggests that Scrooge should not let his past affect his present and future. This is revealed in the duality of the child and old man image. Man is born innocent and loses this innocence through experience, but as he ages, he returns to a higher state of innocence. This notion can be seen in the combination of the child and the old man in the spirit. However, Scrooge never regained his innocence as he aged; he became more calloused and bitter toward mankind and Christmas. He never progressed from the experiences that he had during those two Christmases alone.

The idea of the past being a major factor in Scrooge's life is further revealed in the strangest description of the Ghost when it changes from

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: of which dissolving parts, no outline would be visible in the dense gloom wherein they melted away. And in the very wonder of this, it would be; distinct and clear as ever.

The body parts represent the dysfunctional mentality of Scrooge; he is so disjointed from reality, from mankind, and from all that is good.

The description of the light coming from the top of the Past's head clearly symbolizes the truth, and the truth of the matter is Scrooge had a terrible childhood and is taking it out on the world, but the Past shows Scrooge that his past wasn't entirely bad, for his sister Fan was a positive, as was Fezziwig. Ultimately, Scrooge had to be shown his past in order to fully understand himself.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The first of the three spirits looks like a cross between a child and an old man.  Dickens says that it looks like an old man with white hair, but it has no wrinkles and is about the size of a child.  In addition to that, it looks like it's really strong.  Finally, it is carrying holly (a winter plant) but also spring flowers.

To me, its appearance reinforces what it is supposed to be teaching Scrooge.  I think it is supposed to be teaching him that he used to be a better person and that part of him is still alive somewhere in him.  So it is telling him that he is a mix of the old man he is now and the kid he was -- just like the spirit is a mix of old and new, winter and spring.

mkcapen1 | Student

In the play "A Christmas Carol" Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who take him on a journey through the past present and the future.  The ghosts appear in stages and Scrooge is taken by each ghost to a different time.  The frist ghost that appears is his old friend Marley, who was also his business partner.  They both had lived similar lives.  Marley ahs come to warn Scrooge of the upcoming visits of the spirits.

The first spirit to arrive is like a specter visible in a supernatural manner.  He is child like yet similar to an old man.  He has white hair that hangs down and no wrinkles but he still appears to have been old.  His arms are long and muscular and seem to hold a lot of strength.

"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. But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm."

The spirit seems to change as Scrooge looks at him.  He shifts shape and form.  He tells Scrooge that he is the spirit of Christmas past.  The spirits connection as a child and then an older person and his changes reflect the lesson that he will present to Scrooge.  He is there for Scrooge's welfare.  He takes Scrooge back to his childhood and youth.  He changes in relations to the idea that Scrooge changed and needs to change into something he once was versus what he has become.