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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Stave 1 Summary

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Ebenezer Scrooge is a grumpy old broker and banker, and he detests the holiday season. At the beginning of stave 1, we meet him as he works at a counting house named Scrooge and Marley—even though Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s partner, passed away seven years before. Scrooge is so stingy that he only allows his clerk, Bob Cratchit, to burn a single piece of coal to stay warm during December’s cold. He is also grumpy about having to allow Bob to take Christmas Day off with pay.

Fred, Scrooge’s young and optimistic nephew, stops by his uncle’s office to see Scrooge and wish him a Merry Christmas. Scrooge famously responds, “Bah, humbug!” Fred wonders why his uncle does not appreciate the Christmas season. Ever grouchy, Scrooge reminds his nephew that he is poor, so he really has nothing to celebrate. Fred explains that he appreciates the Christmas season because people are warm, open, and giving; he does not need wealth or materialistic possessions. He even invites Scrooge to Christmas dinner with his family. Scrooge grumbles at the invitation.

After Fred leaves, two men enter the counting house and ask Scrooge for a donation to the less fortunate, citing the holiday season as the perfect time to give to the needy. Scrooge refuses and shoos them out of his office. To add to his annoyance, a caroler stops by and tries to sing a Christmas song through his keyhole. Scrooge is so infuriated he grabs a ruler and scares the singer away.

When it is finally time to close for the night, Scrooge reluctantly sends Bob home. Bob goes on his way, cheerfully playing with children as he walks down the foggy street. Scrooge, exhibiting some semblance of happiness, is relieved to finally be able to return to his dark, empty house and escape the holiday cheer outside.

As Scrooge approaches his front door, he is startled as—for a moment—he believes he sees his old partner Marley's face in the door knocker. Since Marley has been dead for years, Scrooge knows this cannot be, but he carefully checks his house for anything mysterious regardless. He grumbles when he finds nothing out of place in any of its rooms and tries to ignore the ghostly feeling from the event.

Scrooge settles down in his bedroom to warm up by his fire, helping himself to some gruel. Suddenly, a bell begins to swing on its own, and then it begins to ring. Soon, it is followed by all the other bells in Scrooge's house. Scrooge then hears a strange rattling sound coming from his cellar. Frozen in fear, Scrooge suspects that the noise is a ghost rattling their chains.

Just then, Marley’s ghost sweeps through his double-locked bedroom door. Scrooge is absolutely terrified but tries to remain calm in the face of the apparition of his old partner. Marley slowly begins to remove the bandage that binds his jaw and speaks.

Marley shows Scrooge the chain wrapped around his waist. Oddly, it is covered in tools from their industry, like deeds, padlocks, and purses. Marley warns Scrooge that he was chained to his work while he should have been caring for others, not the relentless pursuit of materialistic possessions. Marley tells Scrooge that he should spend his time on acts of charity and kindness.

As Marley is about to leave, he gives Scrooge a final warning. While there is still hope for him, he will be visited by three ghosts. Marley’s ghost flies out through the window, and Scrooge spots the other ghosts outside, ready to enter. Each one wears their own chain. After the encounter, Scrooge manages to fall asleep.

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Stave 2 Summary