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 role of Belle in A Christmas Carol?

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The classic story A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens tells of the selfish miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is visited on Christmas Eve by three ghosts that reveal to him past, present, and future in an attempt to transform him into a kinder man. Belle appears in Stave Two of the book, in which the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge events in his life that have already transpired. Belle's role is crucial in Scrooge's transformation, as the scenes show Scrooge what he might have had in his life if he had not been so avaricious.

Accompanied by the ghost, Scrooge first sees Belle as she sorrowfully breaks off her engagement with him when he was a younger man. She tells Scrooge that he has changed and that he now loves money more than he loves her. Rather than apologize, Scrooge justifies his actions by stating that there is nothing worse than poverty and nothing better than the pursuit of wealth. He attributes the change he has undergone to maturity, not greed. This scene of parting with Belle hurts the elderly Scrooge so much that he tells the ghost, "Why do you delight to torture me?"

The ghost then takes Scrooge to another scene in which Belle is married to another man and has children. The family is obviously joyously happy celebrating Christmas together. Scrooge looks on the family scene and realizes that he might have had such a life.

And now Scrooge looked on more attentively than ever, when the master of the house, having his daughter leaning fondly on him, sat down with her and her mother at his own fireside; and when he thought that such another creature, quite as graceful and as full of promise, might have called him father, and been a springtime in the haggard winter of his life, his sight grew very dim indeed.

Belle's husband then tells Belle that he saw Scrooge, whose his partner was on the point of death, and that Scrooge seemed very lonely. "Quite alone in the world, I do believe." This experience of seeing Belle as she first breaks their engagement and then is together with her family so devastates Scrooge that he begs the Ghost of Christmas Past to take him away from there. The incidents help him realize what all the selfish decisions in his life have cost him.

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Belle is only a minor character in this novella, as she only appears in the visions that are showed to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Past. However, her importance lies in representing how Scrooge has changed since his youth, and how he exchanged hope of happiness and companionship for his all-encompassing greed. This section details how Belle and Scrooge used to be engaged. However, one of the memories that the Ghost of Christmas Past conjures up for Scrooge's reflection is Belle's decision to break the engagement. Note her reasons for this:

You fear the world too much... All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?

Belle therefore is an important character in terms of tracing the moral degradation of Scrooge, and identifying what led him to become the money-obsessed, avaricious character that is presented to the reader at the beginning of the story. She represents a key moment of Scrooge's history and also details how Scrooge began his lonely journey towards the present through his increasing obsession with money. However, at the same time, her importance lies in the way that she is testament to a different Scrooge, who used to be characterised by happiness, generosity, and a giving spirit. This also establishes that a moral regeneration is possible and gives the reader hope that the Scrooge of the past may return and impact the Scrooge of the present. 

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