In Stave 4 of A Christmas Carol, what irony exists in how Scrooge's death benefits the scavengers?  

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perfectsilence eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens takes his time leading the reader through a number of ironies in Stave 4.  Even before we get to Old Joe's shop, Scrooge and the spirit come in contact with "men of business: very wealthy, and of great importance."  Dickens writes that Scrooge "had made a point always of standing well in their esteem: in a business point of view, that is; strictly in a business point of view." Ironically, Scrooge always wanted to be held in high regard by these men, who then reveal through their conversation that they cannot be bothered to even go to his funeral unless a meal will be served.  Like Scrooge, in the world "yet to come," those who are the most financially wealthy often prove to be the most morally bankrupt.  

The scavengers in Old Joe's shop are also prime examples of the ironies facing Scrooge.  The charwoman, laundress, and undertaker's man have quickly found a way to profit from Scrooge's death.  The first irony here is that Scrooge has profited from stiffing each of these people (or others like them) before.  When Marley died, Scrooge "was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain."  Scrooge did everything he could to pay as little as possible for anything, the funeral of his business partner included.  The charwoman and laundress, Mrs. Dilber, are no exception; for Scrooge, everything was purchased as cheaply as possible, including labor.  Additionally, the two women remark on Scrooge's treatment of them and everybody else, by saying "[e]very person has a right to take care of themselves.  He always did!"  The charwoman continues, saying that if Scrooge had been "natural" in his lifetime, "he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death" to which Mrs. Dilber agrees.  In short: Scrooge had money enough for most everything, but when it came down to it, because he was a mean person with neither love nor friendship in his life, he really didn't have anything at all.  He always took care of himself, and now that he can't, nobody will.

The three open their bundles, revealing such things as a pencil case, buttons, sheets, towels, boots, bed-curtains, blankets, and even the shirt that Scrooge was to be buried in.  Old Joe expresses a certain level of shock at these last few items (although not enough to not buy them).  Again, Scrooge, the man who had more money than most, is left a cold, naked corpse without even the dignity of a burial shroud.

In this vision of the future, Scrooge sees that all the wealth and prosperity he spent decades amassing is meaningless, taken from him in the few short hours after his death.  While he considered himself an excellent man of business, the treatment his corpse receives reveals that those around him didn't even consider him human.

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As Scrooge follows the Spirit of Christmas Future into an obscure part of town that is very dark and dismal, Ebenezer Scrooge is shown what happens after his death.  Ironically, his misfortune of dying has proved to be profitable and fortunate for the four scavengers who have stripped his bedroom and his person.  In horror, Scrooge listens to the miscreants who have "marketed the corpse itself."

In another irony, the man who has accumulated all that he could lies bereft of everything, even his shirt.  With no loved one, no friend to tend to him, no one to say that he was kind to him, Scrooge's body is vulnerable to the approach of gnawing rats beneath the hearthstone.

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A Christmas Carol

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