In Charles Dickens' novel A Christmas Carol, what does the narrator say has to be understood before this story can be of any significance?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the fourth paragraph of Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol, the narrator crucially emphasizes an important point:

There is no doubt that Marley was dead. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate. If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot—say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance—literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

The narrator insists that unless readers understand that Jacob is really and truly dead, they will not be able to appreciate the story the narrator is about to tell. After all, the narrator will later describe Marley as seeming to have come back to life. If Marley is not truly dead, his later apparent escape from death will seem completely unimportant. It would be (the narrator said) as if the ghost of Hamlet’s father (in Shakespeare’s Hamlet) were not really a ghost, not really a spirit returning from genuine death, but were instead merely a quite living person out for a simple stroll.

The narrator claims that unless we are willing to acknowledge the death of Marley, what he tells us later will not seem “wonderful” – a splendid play on words, since “wonderful” can mean “causing or evoking wonder or awe” but can also mean “splendid, appealing, satisfying, admirable.” The tone of the novel is already jovial and jokey (as in the humorous reference to Hamlet’s father), and the narrator is already engaged in a kind of friendly dialogue with his audience and is already foreshadowing events that will be important later.