What Is A Stave

What is a stave ( in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol)?

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In musical notation, a stave (or staff) is a set of five lines separated by four spaces. Each one of those lines and spaces represents a different musical pitch. Dickens calls the chapters in A Christmas Carol staves because each individual stave is a stand-alone story with its own distinctive mood. When taken together, all five staves combine to form a harmonious whole. This is important to Dickens. He wants to convey a picture of Christmas in which disparate characters ultimately come together to celebrate the true meaning of the holiday season.

The title of the book also has great significance for Dickens. He wanted his story to have the same kind of communal resonance as a Christmas carol; something to be widely shared that would bring people together.

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The word stave has many different definitions. If used as a noun. stave refers to a wooden plank used in the construction of a building or a musical staff (symbol). If used as a verb, stave refers to breaking something by force or averting something negative. None of the previous definitions define stave's use in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol (although the musical staff is the closest). 

Dickens use of the word stave refers to chapters in the text. This is a common concept for him given that he uses similar musical terms for other texts ("quarters" in The Chimes and "chirps" in The Cricket on the Hearth). Here are the names of the five staves in the novella.

Stave I: Marley's Ghost

Stave II: The First of the three Spirits

Stave III: The Second of the Three Spirits

Stave IV: The Last of the Spirits

Stave V: The End of It

The use of the word stave here refers to songs (in order to make the reader more aware of the relevance of the title (Christmas Carol--in reference to songs sung at Christmas time). 

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