What is the main conflict in A Christmas Carol?

The main conflict in A Christmas Carol is the internal conflict which Ebenezer Scrooge faces because he has become solely focused on increasing his own wealth. Spirits visit Scrooge to help him realize the error of his ways and to fully understand the way his attitudes impact the lives of others.

Expert Answers

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

Ebenezer Scrooge, the central character in the novella, faces internal conflict that drives the plot. Although he used to enjoy friends and family and was even engaged to be married, Scrooge has become increasingly miserly and concerned solely with the acquisition of wealth. He has become a miserable human being and is fairly blind to how his inner conflict has ruined his life.

Three spirits visit Scrooge in an attempt to help him refocus his priorities. Scrooge recalls the love of his sister and of Belle, his former fiancée. He realizes that Tiny Tim suffers, at least in part, because of the meager wages Scrooge provides to Tiny Tim's father, Bob Cratchit. Poverty is given a face, and it becomes difficult to ignore the plight of those who are suffering around him. In a chilling scene, Scrooge is led to his own grave and is shown the lack of remorse that anyone feels about his death.

Through these painful scenes, the spirits transform Scrooge's attitude, and he emerges with new appreciation for life and for the lives of others. At the end of the story, Scrooge's conflict is resolved as he uses his wealth to improve the lives of those around him, including Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim, to whom Scrooge becomes a "second father." Scrooge is no longer focused on the importance of personal wealth but becomes concerned with using his resources in ways that benefit others, and he becomes known as a man who knows "how to keep Christmas well."

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens does not have a plot revolving around a single central protagonist involved in a struggle against an antagonist. Instead, it is an allegory, showing Scrooge's transformation as he undergoes a series of mystical experiences and achieves a form of redemption. If for an assignment you need to specify a central conflict, it is that between good and evil or selfishness and empathy.

The three Christmas spirits in the story reveal to the cold-hearted miser Scrooge the true nature of his past, present, and future. As he grows in self-understanding, he makes a moral choice to eschew his previously selfish behavior and make amends, discovering that true joy can be found in a life fully engaged in a community. 

A second conflict we find in the play is that of the Cratchit family in their struggle to live a joyous life despite their poverty and the illness of Tiny Tim. Their antagonist is actually Scrooge. It is through Scrooge's transformation and generosity to the Cratchit family that all conflicts in the story are resolved, and all the characters find happiness.

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

The main conflict is the underlying real-life struggle of the poor in England, especially the industrial cities since A Christmas Carol is allegorical.

As a social reformer, Charles Dickens presents Scrooge as the embodiment of the cold-hearted and aloof wealthy in London and other industrial cities of the mid-nineteenth century. While these cities were flooded with people from rural areas where farm machinery replaced them as they sought employment in the new factories of the urban area, the plight of these people living in squalid conditions was ignored. Debtor prisoners and workhouses were instituted to remove some of the poor from the streets, but these were squalid places, too, and many starved and died. Disease spread and children were orphaned.

When the Ghost of Christmas Present carries Scrooge as symbolic of the callousness and disconnect of the frivolous upper class and owners of factories, he shows Scrooge how his unconcern for other Londoners affects them, especially by using Scrooge's own words against him. At the end of Stave Three, the Ghost reveals two children named Ignorance and Want. When Scrooge, who has witnessed love in homes and merriment in the streets as people celebrate Christmas, is now disturbed by these wretched creature. He asks the Ghost, "Have they no refuge or resource?" to which the Ghost retorts pointedly in Scrooge's words, "Are there no prisons? No workhouses?" and Scrooge is ashamed.

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

Although Scrooge doesn't get along with anybody around him, the main conflict he faces is within himself. The spirit of his old business partner Marley first warns him to change his ways; then come the different "visitations" of the Christmas spirits of the past, present and future to "finish the job."  Scrooge is forced to face his failures in human relationships in both the present and the past, as he relives moment of loss in his youth and sees in a new way the plight of the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim.  Through these visions or dreams Scrooge undergoes a spiritual awakening and come to terms with his own greed and estrangement from others. He learns both compassion and love as well as the pleasure of freely giving and receiving. In short, Scrooge repents of his past ways and becomes a new man.

It is interesting to note that just when Scrooge seemed to be beyond reach of human help, divine help intervenes and delivers him from his former self. In this respect, A Christmas Carol is an enchanting tale approaching the genre of  a miracle play in which anything (even the most unexpected turn of events) can happen.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial