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 point of Scrooge's visits to the lighthouse and the ship in A Christmas Carol?

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In Stave Three, Scrooge is introduced to the Ghost of Christmas Present, who takes him on a journey throughout the festive city streets and eventually brings him to Bob Cratchit's humble abode, where the Cratchits enjoy Christmas dinner together. Despite their meager dinner and poor garments, the Cratchit family is...

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In Stave Three, Scrooge is introduced to the Ghost of Christmas Present, who takes him on a journey throughout the festive city streets and eventually brings him to Bob Cratchit's humble abode, where the Cratchits enjoy Christmas dinner together. Despite their meager dinner and poor garments, the Cratchit family is happy, grateful, and content as they celebrate the holiday meal together. After witnessing Tiny Tim interact with his family, Scrooge is overcome with sympathy and concern for the poor boy. Suddenly, the Ghost of Christmas Present transports Scrooge to the desolate home of poor miners celebrating the holiday on a desolate moor and takes him to a solitary lighthouse, where two men wish each other Merry Christmas.

The spirit proceeds to transport Scrooge to a ship on treacherous waters, where the passengers sing Christmas songs, exercise grace and hospitality towards each other, and thoroughly enjoy themselves during the holiday. The purpose of taking Scrooge to the solitary lighthouse and ship is to illustrate the powerful nature of the Christmas spirit and demonstrate the uplifting, hopeful essence of the holiday, which fills the hearts of the most desperate people with joy and satisfaction. Despite the solitary nature of these locations, people find comfort in each other's company and rejoice together, which significantly contrasts with Scrooge's reclusive, depressed lifestyle. Essentially, the spirit is introducing Scrooge to an alternative way of experiencing life by encouraging him to engage in fellowship with his family, neighbors, and peers during the festive holiday.

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In stave three of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge encounters the second of the three spirits. In the story's beginning, Scrooge is described as a bitter misanthrope. It is the purpose of these supernatural encounters to enact a change in spirit within Scrooge himself. In his encounter with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge comes to realize just how impoverished his own life has become, when compared with the scenes the spirit shows him.

Speaking specifically of the lighthouse and the ship, I'd suggest that the key theme here is that both are scenes of isolation. In the lighthouse, we only have two people sitting together, and with the ship, we are fully cut off from civilization. Even so, however, in both these scenes, even in all this isolation, we can still observe a sense of fraternity, brought out by the spirit of the Christmas holiday. Even if we are looking at two people sharing a meal in a lighthouse or the crew of a ship out at sea, they join together in fellowship. This provides a stark contrast to Scrooge's own loneliness, so powerfully conveyed in the beginning of the book.

In the next chapter, Scrooge will have his terrifying encounter with the last of the three spirits, revealing the legacy he risks leaving behind, should he refuse to change his ways. These encounters result in a profound transformation, expressed in the book's fifth (and final) section.

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The theme of Stave III is to show Ebenezer Scrooge how easy it is for others to have Christmas in their heart. We see this through multiple examples of people Scrooge knows and people he does not know, all celebrating Christmas with those around them. Most of them are doing so under challenging circumstances where it might be very easy to be sad or downtrodden and give up on Christmas all together. Instead, they celebrate heartily, and the two men in the lighthouse, and the men on the ship are extreme examples of this.

For the lighthouse, Dickens describes an inhospitable scene where the inhabitants STILL find Christmas joy.

"Built upon a dismal reef of sunken rocks, some league or so from shore, on which the waters chafed and dashed, the wild year through, there stood a solitary lighthouse. Great heaps of sea-weed clung to its base, and storm-birds—born of the wind one might suppose, as sea-weed of the water—rose and fell about it, like the waves they skimmed.

But even here, two men who watched the light had made a fire, that through the loophole in the thick stone wall shed out a ray of brightness on the awful sea. Joining their horny hands over the rough table at which they sat, they wished each other Merry Christmas in their can of grog; and one of them: the elder, too, with his face all damaged and scarred with hard weather, as the figure-head of an old ship might be: struck up a sturdy song that was like a Gale in itself" (Stave III).

Then, Dickens takes Scrooge and the Spirit over a ship where the waves are beating against it, it is freezing cold, and yet, 

"every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it" (Stave III). 

Overall, these two examples of the lighthouse and the ship further demonstrate that even under the loneliest, most difficult of circumstances, Christmas can bring joy to those who choose to embrace it and those around them. 

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