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

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

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What is the moral of A Christmas Carol?

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The moral of A Christmas Carol is that money doesn't automatically bring you happiness. Scrooge isn't a happy man, despite being incredibly rich. On the contrary, Bob Cratchit and his family are happy even though they're dirt poor.

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The moral of The Christmas Carol is that society can be transformed for the better through generosity, empathy, and compassion.

Scrooge has forgotten how to feel for his fellow humans. He is so fixated on making money that he no longer remembers how to live in loving community. He has lost the ability to put himself into the shoes of those less fortunate than he is or to appreciate all that he has.

The ghosts he meets on Christmas Eve reawaken his loving emotions through appeals to his memory and imagination. When he travels with the ghost of Christmas Past, he remembers what is was like to be a lonely child shuttled off to boarding school and how much small gestures mattered, such as his loving sister coming to get him from school. When his old employer Fezziwig appears, Scrooge remembers the difference it made that he gave a generous Christmas party every year for his employees. Fezziwig's merry party, full of good food, warmth, and laughter, becomes the model of the good life.

Later, the ghosts awaken Scrooge's compassion for his employee Bob Cratchit and his family. Scrooge, seeing the family's meager Christmas and the plight of the crippled Tiny Tim, suddenly becomes aware that Bob has a life beyond the office and that underpaying Bob is spreading misery.

Scrooge begins to feel a great deal of remorse for the selfish life he has led and a desire to be a force for good in the world. When he wakes up still alive Christmas morning, he is overjoyed and filled with gratitude for life. He devotes his wealth to making life better for other people.

There is not a story that more clearly articulates Dickens's politics and philosophy of life than this one. It shows his deep belief that awakening compassion and generosity in those who had money would cause them to spend it in ways that would transform society for the good.

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There are a number of very important moral messages that one can take from A Christmas Carol, but arguably the most important is that money doesn't automatically bring you happiness.

The truth of this moral is illustrated by the respective examples of Ebenezer Scrooge and the family of his put-upon employee Bob Cratchit. Scrooge is a fantastically wealthy man, a self-made man whose riches are the result of years of phenomenally hard work.

And yet, despite his vast wealth, Scrooge isn't happy; far from it. Here is a man who leads a thoroughly miserable life, characterized as it is by chronic loneliness. Scrooge is such an incorrigible skinflint, such a heartless, unfeeling miser, that he has no friends and, by extension, no love or warmth in his life. Indeed, he's even so stingy that he refuses to splash out on a nice house; instead, he's content to live in a “gloomy suite of rooms” in chambers that once belonged to his business partner.

Contrast Scrooge's life with the Cratchits'. The Cratchits are dirt poor, thanks in no small part to the head of the house, Bob, being chronically underpaid by old Ebenezer. To make matters worse, they have a seriously disabled son, Tiny Tim, whose condition doesn't seem to be improving.

Even so, the Cratchit household is full of love and warmth, the very things notably missing from Scrooge's life. And despite not having much money, the Cratchits are still determined to celebrate Christmas. They'd have every reason to proclaim "Humbug!" at the very mention of the word "Christmas," but unlike Scrooge, who does utter that expression with tiresome regularity, they understand the true meaning of this most special of celebrations.

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The moral of A Christmas Carol has everything to do with the transformation of the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge.  He begins the story as a miserly, closed-hearted man.  Through the events of the novel, he is transformed into a man whose heart is open to the pain and struggle (and love) of others, a man who has become someone who will participate in the world around him, rather than withdraw from it.

Dickens wrote his novels during a time when the society around him was changing rapidly.  The working world, especially the world of a city like London, was becoming more mechanized, more factory-based, and it seemed to Dickens that the needs and good of the common man were slipping through the cracks.  In all of his works, he appealed to his readers to empathize with those who are without -- the poor, the destitute and the orphaned.

The moral can be found in Scrooge's transformation at the end of Chapter Four.  Scrooge says:

'Good Spirit,' he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it: 'Your nature intercedes for me and pities me. Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life!'

'I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.'

His appeal shows the moral, which is that it is never too late to begin to act in a loving and caring way towards one's fellow man in, as Dickens saw it, the necessary Christian spirit of love, forgiveness and generosity.

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The moral of A Christmas Carol is, in its simplest statement, that we should be kind to and take care of others. Of course, the story develops this basic moral with added details and glimpses into circumstances of situations when such behavior has particularly been lacking in the character and actions of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Jacob Marley's ghost explains to Ebenezer that all people should be involved with taking care of others, ensuring the welfare of those who were in need and providing for the benefit of all.

My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house-mark me!...any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness...The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business.

The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Ebenezer how deeply meaningful simple acts of caring were or could have been at times in his past. Ebenezer justifies the actions of the Fezziwigs to the Ghost, and recognizes a change he could make in his relationship with Bob Cratchit.

He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome;...The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune....I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now.

The Ghost of Christmas Present introduces Ebenezer to scenes of Christmas joy in varied locations and conditions. Regardless of the luxury or hardship in which the party was located, in all the places they viewed there were people loving and sharing with each other. This heightened the shock when Ebenezer is shown the children being shielded by the Ghost's robe - children separated from humanity by Ignorance and Want in an uncaring world. Ebenezer cannot understand how they are unable to get help until the Ghost answers with Scrooge's own words.

Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge. "Are there no prisons!" said the Spirit..."Are there no workhouses?"

When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Ebenezer the joy with which his death is greeted by those who sold his bedclothes and other belongings; when Ebenezer views the anguish in the Cratchit family following the unnecessary death of Tiny Tim; when Ebenezer realizes he is fated to die alone and unmissed, he declares his intention to change. And, when he awakens to realize that he has been given the opportunity to do so, Scrooge

became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world.

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