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

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens
Start Free Trial

What Is A Stave

What is a stave in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In musical notation, a stave (or staff) is a set of five lines separated by four spaces. Each one of those lines and spaces represents a different musical pitch. Dickens calls the chapters in A Christmas Carol staves because each individual stave is a stand-alone story with its own...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

In musical notation, a stave (or staff) is a set of five lines separated by four spaces. Each one of those lines and spaces represents a different musical pitch. Dickens calls the chapters in A Christmas Carol staves because each individual stave is a stand-alone story with its own distinctive mood. When taken together, all five staves combine to form a harmonious whole. This is important to Dickens. He wants to convey a picture of Christmas in which disparate characters ultimately come together to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday season.

The title of the book also has great significance for Dickens. He wanted his story to have the same kind of communal resonance as a Christmas carol; something to be widely shared that would bring people together.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word stave has many different definitions. If used as a noun. stave refers to a wooden plank used in the construction of a building or a musical staff (symbol). If used as a verb, stave refers to breaking something by force or averting something negative. None of the previous definitions define stave's use in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (although the musical staff is the closest). 

Dickens use of the word stave refers to chapters in the text. This is a common concept for him given that he uses similar musical terms for other texts ("quarters" in The Chimes and "chirps" in The Cricket on the Hearth). Here are the names of the five staves in the novella.

Stave I: Marley's Ghost

Stave II: The First of the three Spirits

Stave III: The Second of the Three Spirits

Stave IV: The Last of the Spirits

Stave V: The End of It

The use of the word stave here refers to songs (in order to make the reader more aware of the relevance of the title (Christmas Carol--in reference to songs sung at Christmas time). 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The word "stave" means a verse or stanza of a poem.  While A Christmas Carol is not a poem, Dickens' titled the work after a song (a carol is a traditional Christmas song).  Thus, he divided his "song" or work into staves or verses, as many songs are divided into verses.  

There are five staves in total within the text of A Christmas Carol.  One chronicles the meeting with Marley's Ghost, Staves 2-4 detail Scrooge's encounters with each of the three ghosts, and the final stave details what happens thereafter -- how Scrooge's life changes as a result of his encounters with Marley and with the three ghosts.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on