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

A Christmas Carol

by Charles Dickens

Start Free Trial

Why does the Ghost of Christmas Past show Scrooge the boarding school where he was left alone in A Christmas Carol?

Quick answer:

In A Christmas Carol, The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge the boarding school where he was left alone for several purposes. Readers are able to see the reason for some of Scrooge's pain and understand that he isolates himself, at least in part, as a means of self-protection. Readers are also able to realize Scrooge's humanity, particularly as the adult Scrooge is moved to tears at the memory of himself sitting completely alone at Christmastime.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge to a poignant memory in his childhood, reminding him of the Christmas when he was "neglected by his friends" and it seems (at least at first) by his family, too.

Scrooge is so moved by this memory that he begins sobbing, which demonstrates the pain that still resonates within him at those memories of childhood isolation. When he enters the school and sees himself reading alone near a fire, Scrooge weeps again "to see his poor forgotten self as he used to be."

First, this scene demonstrates that Scrooge is not heartless. Instead, he carries a great deal of pain that stems from feelings of childhood isolation and rejection. These feelings undoubtedly carry over into his adulthood and cause him to be wary of relationships which could fail him. In his adult life, Scrooge isolates himself quite intentionally, but in this scene, the reader is given access to the likely reasons for that self-isolation. It is easier to choose isolation than to be forced into it.

This scene also demonstrates Scrooge's humanity. As he watches himself read, Scrooge is excited to once again "see" the characters from his favorite books as they come alive near the window where the young Scrooge reads. Ali Baba, Robinson Crusoe, and Friday suddenly appear, and Scrooge reacts with joy to see his old "friends" again. This is quickly juxtaposed with his sadness as he realizes that these were the only real friends the young boy had.

Finally, we see Scrooge's love for his sister, Fan. When she enters, Scrooge's reaction is uncharacteristically warm and endearing. Readers realize that Scrooge can form deep and meaningful relationships. Fan adored her brother, and the Ghost of Christmas Past reminds Scrooge that Fan's son is still alive. This sets a purpose which will continue for the remainder of the plot—Scrooge needs to reconcile the relationship with the son of the sister whom he adored.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Ebenezer Scrooge lives a solitary existence. Rich in material wealth, he has eschewed the company of man seemingly destined to die as he has lived -- alone. Charles Dickens, in his story A Christmas Carol, portrays Scrooge as miserly and perpetually bitter, treating all about him, especially his loyal employee, Bob Cratchit, dismissively and contemptuously. Having depicted his "protagonist," early in his narrative, in such a negative, unlikable way, Dickens then proceeds to follow Scrooge as the elderly businessman arrives at his home and proceeds to his evening routine, all alone. In Stave II, as warned by the ghost of Scrooge's deceased business partner, Jacob Marley, Scrooge is visited that night by a series of spirits, the first being the Ghost of Christmas Past. It is, of course, during the old man's encounter with the first of the three ghosts that he is transported back in time to a reminder of the solitary existence he lead even as a child. As the ghost and Scrooge visit the scenes of the latter's early life, Scrooge is elated to recognize individuals from his past. As described by Dickens, the scene is as follows:

The jocund travellers came on; and as they came, Scrooge knew and named them every one. Why was he rejoiced beyond all bounds to see them! Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up as they went past! Why was he filled with gladness when he heard them give each other Merry Christmas, as they parted at cross-roads and bye-ways, for their several homes! What was merry Christmas to Scrooge? Out upon merry Christmas! What good had it ever done to him?

“The school is not quite deserted,” said the Ghost. “A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.”

Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed.

This poignant scene in A Christmas Carol serves to enlighten the protagonist and the reader as to the origins of Scrooge's current demeanor. This is an important passage as it reveals Scrooge's inner need for the human companionship he has disdained in adulthood. He is overjoyed by the sight of these people from his long-gone childhood, only to be reminded by the vision of himself as a lonely child. For him, the joy in those around him never penetrated into his soul, and he would grow into a man seemingly content to maintain invisible walls between himself and the rest of humanity. It is this scene, as well as those that follow during the course of the night, that helps Scrooge to recognize the error of his ways and to begin a new chapter in his life, one that embraces those he previously spurned. The Ghost of Christmas Past has shown Scrooge his loneliness as a child in order to display for the old miser the length of the road down which he has traveled to reach his current state of being.


Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Scrooge is a mean and nasty man. He treats people unkind and only thinks about himself. When the ghost of Marley comes to visit him, he tries to warn him that this is for his own good. Scrooge doesn't believe him, but soon finds out what he says is true.

Scrooge is shown the school by the Ghost of Christmas Past. In the school they see a young boy all alone. It is Christmas break and everyone has gone home with their families, but the young boy is left to spend it all alone. The young boy is Scrooge and the Ghost shows him this, to remind him of the loneliness he felt as a child.

"The school is not quite deserted." said the Ghost. "A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still." Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed."

We are shown this piece of Scrooge's history to show us how the young Scrooge was abandoned by his friends and father. It goes to show why Scrooge became the man he is. These memories are shown to Scrooge to try to help him remember what it was like for him. He was a young boy and was left all alone at Christmas. These events go on the shape the man Scrooge becomes.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Ghost hopes to remind Scrooge of what it was like to be alone and hopeless around Christmas.  While it is true that Scrooge is bitter and selfish because of the way in which he was treated as a boy, the Ghost tries to show the miser that rather than his past negatively influencing his actions, it should, instead, encourage him to help others to never have to experience the disheartening, cheerless holidays (or life) that he had as a boy.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial