A Christmas Carol Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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What morals and deeper meanings are explored in A Christmas Carol?

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Julianne Hansen, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In addition to the other Educators' responses, I would add that Dickens stresses the importance of maintaining authentic human relationships in order to best appreciate and enjoy life.

When Scrooge revisits his past, he is reminded of the close relationship he shared with his sister when they were young children. Fan came to visit him one Christmas while Scrooge was alone at school:

A little girl, much younger than the boy, came darting in, and putting her arms about his neck, and often kissing him, addressed him as her “Dear, dear brother.” (stave 2)

Although she is dead in Scrooge's present, her son lives. Scrooge has all but alienated his nephew from his life, yet Fred still invites his uncle to share Christmas with him.

Scrooge also recalls with fondness the merry atmosphere which Fezziwig created when he was a young man. With just a bit of money, the entire workplace was transformed into a festive environment of dancing and laughter:

There were more dances, and there were forfeits, and more dances, and there was cake, and there was negus, and there was a great piece of Cold Roast, and there was a great piece of Cold Boiled, and there were mince-pies, and plenty of beer. (stave 2)

Through this memory, Scrooge is reminded of Fezziwig's ability to make work "light or burdensome, a pleasure or a toil," which stands in sharp contrast to the work environment he creates for Bob Cratchit.

Scrooge also had a chance to be a husband and father, yet he let Belle slip through his greedy fingers, too busy for acquiring wealth to be troubled by the affections of a woman who had no monetary gain to contribute to the union. He is shown an image of Belle in her current life; she is a happy wife, with children who adore their father. In contrast, Scrooge is alone.

Scrooge has made intentional choices to alienate himself over and over from those who care about him, and this has greatly impacted the quality of his life. He merely exists from one day to the next, with no one in his life to share either joy or pain with. He is shown through various characters, particularly the Cratchit family, that life is more worthwhile when shared with others in daily acts of love.

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Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The book’s main moral or theme has to do with the importance of helping others when one is able to do so.  Ever since he was a young man, Scrooge has placed more importance on acquiring riches than friends or loved ones.  In fact, his love of money chased away the one love of his life.  Perhaps Scrooge, having been abandoned at school as a young boy by an apparently unkind father, simply wanted to hold onto something that he knew would never abandon him, and so he develops an attachment to gold.  In any case, instead of using his vast fortune to help others, or even enjoying it himself, he simply hoards it away for the sake of having it.  

When he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business associate, Jacob tries to impress upon Scrooge how important it is to help others while he still can, that helping others is the only way to decrease the length and weight of the chain he has forged for all these years.  When Jacob's ghost flies out the window, Scrooge cannot help but watch, and he sees a terrible sight:  

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; [...] none were free [...].  He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a doorstep. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

I have placed the last sentence of this quotation in bold because it is the most strongly linked to your question.  These spirits, now dead, exist in a type of hell that is made unbearable by their inability to help a struggling human being.  They want, desperately, to help the poor mother, but they cannot, and it makes them miserable.  Thus, we begin to see that one of the text's main messages is to help us to learn the importance, above all else, of helping our fellows whenever we can.

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kathik eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, is a morality tale like so many of the author's works. Not only is this a story about the old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, but it is also about society and the responsibility society has to take care of its poor. Dickens was considered a socialist by many due to his work in which he championed the poor through his charities and through his efforts to get the government of England to do more for them. His books, including A Christmas Carol, take this one step further. He shows that men of means like Scrooge have a moral obligation to those less fortunate. And he goes further still by pointing out to Scrooge what he has already lost due to his miserliness and what he will lose in the future should he continue on his greedy path.

Further Reading:

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jessecreations eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Kindness and generosity are major moral values in this book.  Scrooge's lesson is about caring for the people around him.  Marley tells Scrooge that people should be his business, and that caring for his fellow man should be more important to him than making money.

From the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge learns that he used to be happy when he had more positive relationships with other people (like his sister and Fezziwig).  He remembers that he used to care about people more than money, but all that changed when he began to work on his own.

From the Ghost of Christmas Present he learns that he is surrounded by people who love one another despite being poor, and that he could have real relationships again if he reached out to those people (his nephew's family and the Cratchits).

From the Ghost of Christmas Future he learns that if he doesn't change his ways, he will die alone and miserable.

Scrooge's reformation at the end comes in the form of newfound kindness and generosity.  He learns to give his resources to others, and in return he gets to build relationships with people and feel better about himself.  He becomes the most generous man who ever lived.

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markchambers1966 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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In A Christmas Carol, Dickens explores the morality of the love of money over the love of family and people. Scrooge sees the way his life has slipped into a basically unhappy and lonely old age where he has lost the possibility of love and friendship. He is pulled into the family of Tiny Tim whose father he employs and is made aware that in helping others his own life will improve.

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Edith Sykes eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Charles Dickens gave a new meaning to the Christmas celebration when he wrote A Christmas Carol.  The story is one of Christian redemption, first and foremost.  Scrooge is given a chance to redeem himself with the help of Jacob Marley who gives him a warning and an opportunity to change his way of living.

Scrooge is a rich, miserly man who does not feel connected to anyone or anything except his money.  Dickens uses the Cratchit family to highlight what a real Christian family is, full of love, caring and kindness.  Even though they are materially poor they are rich compared to Mr. Scrooge.

Scrooge's redemption comes by way of the three spirits who show him images of what was, is, and will be. He wakes up a changed man, ready to share his wealth and embrace the world.

Dickens wrote this book to boost his career as a writer and spent his own money to get it published.  When it came out it was an instant hit.  People in England began to view Christmas celebrations more as family occasions and of reaching out to the needy in society.

Charles Dickens is credited with redefining how England celebrated Christmas. Before A Christmas Carol, some divisions of the Protestant faith looked upon Christmas celebrating as too full of gluttony, drinking, and wild partying.  He, Dickens, helped to shape the celebration into a family event that involved worship and thanksgiving for God's blessings in one's life.    

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jessecreations eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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When it comes down to it, A Christmas Carol is a commentary on kindness, charity, and generosity.  Scrooge learns that he should focus on these values more in his life, and so we learn that Dickens feels there are a few too many "Scrooges" in the world. 

Using a backdrop of Christmas really adds to this message, too, because Christmas is supposed to be a time when we give to others, think of those in need, and remember Jesus, who sacrificed his life to save humanity.  Scrooge's callous attitude is even worse at Christmas than it would be on a regular day.

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Mervin Ridley eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Two prevailing themes or ideas that are presented in A Christmas Carol include generosity and charity. Scrooge, a miserable, penny-pinching old man, is transformed after encounters with the ghost of his partner, Jacob Marley, and three spirits -- the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

By story's end, Scrooge has learned the value of giving to others, and is morphed into a benefactor rather than a stingy old tightwad. This story presents one of the morals of the Christmas season -- "'Tis more blessed to give than receive."

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ms-mcgregor eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Through Scrooge's encounters with Christmases past, present and future, he learns that money is not really the most important thing in life. The life he is currently leading, although he has great wealth, is really void of all human comfort and vitality. From Christmas past, he learns how life was very fun under Fezziwig, even though he was poor and a lowly clerk. He also is forced to remember how he lost the one true love of his life because of his love of money. In Christmas present, Scrooge learns that his own lowly clerk really is much richer than he is because Cratchit has a loving family and knows how to celebrate with them. Finally, in Christmas future, he learns what will happen if he continues his miserly ways. No one will mourn him, he won't be able to take his money with him, and Tiny Tim will die. From that, we can understand that Dickens is telling us the true value of life is not in how much money we have, but in our human relationships and the love we give to those relationships.

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jessecreations eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Authors generally convey a message through their characters, and Dickens was no different. We are supposed to learn a lesson from Scrooge, just as Marley tries to teach Scrooge to learn a lesson from his own fate.

Scrooge is a snobby, stingy, selfish jerk, to be plain. Throughout the novel, he is confronted with his own shortcomings; as he examines them, so does the reader. We are to learn from Scrooge's life just as he learns from it. Here are some examples from his visits:

Marley - tells Scrooge that people should have been his business in life, and that he has forged the painful chain he wears in death by his callousness. He warns Scrooge not to repeat the same mistakes he made in life.

Ghost of Christmas Past - reminds Scrooge that he wasn't always miserable and alone; he was once hopeful, and he had friends. During childhood, his father sent him away, but he had a sister who loved him. During his youth, he had his generous employer Fezziwig and other work friends.

Ghost of Christmas Present - reminds Scrooge to live in the here and now. Shows him that his life is good compared to others around him, and yet they're happy and he's miserable. Shows him what it means to be grateful for what you have.

Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come - shows Scrooge that he is doomed to die alone if he doesn't change his ways and reach out to his fellow man.

As Scrooge learns these lessons, so can we.

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frizzyperm | Student

I think one of the major things that the book tries to promote is the idea of philanthropy. In other words that rich people have a duty to help the less fortunate through charity.

There is a genuine Christmas Carol from Victorian times (I don't know if it is popular in The States) called Good King Weneslaus. It has a very similar message to Dickens's book. The final verse is as follows

  • Therefore Christian Men be sure,
  • Wealth or rank possessing,
  • Ye who now will bless the poor,
  • Shall yourselves find blessing.

In Victorian England most people lived in terrible poverty but a few were very rich. Philanthropy was considered a Christian duty of the wealthy and I think that is the intended central message of Dickens.

frizzyperm | Student

A Christmas Carol is the story of the moral redemption of Ebeneezer Scrooge, a heartless, mean, old money-lender who hates everybody and doesn't have any morals.

On the night before Christmas, Ebeneezer is visited by the ghost of his old business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley's ghost is wrapped in chains and says that in the afterlife people are punished for their sins by being forced to carry heavy chains all the time. The more sins we do in life, the longer the chain we must carry. Jacob tells Ebeneezer that the chain he will carry after death is extremely long and heavy.

During that night, 3 spirits visit Scrooge and they show him his life; past, present and future. Scrooge realizes that he is a miserable, lonely, bad old man and he has lost all the love and hope he had as a young man.

He resolves to be a good person and help the poor and needy.

The moral of the story is that being rich is not as important as being happy and that happiness is found in helping others.