Last Updated September 5, 2023.
When Ebenezer Scrooge awakens in the dark room, the clock strikes midnight. He frets over Marley’s apparition and warnings and cannot stop his mind from wondering whether he has dreamed the whole thing. Wary of the approach of one o’clock, when Marley has predicted the first spirit will arrive, he finally hears the hour strike with a “deep, dull, hollow, melancholy” tone. A silent hand then draws aside the curtains of his bed, and Scrooge sees an “unearthly visitor” standing there.
Although it seems like a child, it also resembles a shrunken old man. While its face is smooth, its long hair is white. Its only clothes are a pure white tunic, girded by a shiny belt and trimmed with summery flowers; these contrast starkly to the wintry holly branch it holds in its strong hand. A ray of light emanates from its head, which makes the figure visible in the dark room. A cap carried under its arm would extinguish the light if it were placed on its head. The more Scrooge tries to scrutinize and make sense of the apparition, the more its parts seem to shift around, with light replacing dark and the number of arms and legs constantly changing. Yet even as its outline dissolves, the figure somehow still remains clear.
Scrooge inquires if this is the spirit whose arrival was predicted and demands its name. Stating, “I am the Ghost of Christmas Past,” it clarifies that this means Scrooge’s personal past. As they converse, the spirit tells Scrooge he is concerned with his welfare. Taking him by the arm, the spirit commands,
Rise! And walk with me!
This “walk” is a journey to places Scrooge formerly lived, from his childhood through the moment of Marley’s death. Moving out through the wall, they enter a transformed landscape, the countryside of his youth. The children all around cannot see him; they are only “shadows of the things that have been.” This day is Christmas, a day old Scrooge insists was useless. He finds the sight of his old school unbearable and weeps at the memory of the lonely boy in the “long, bare, melancholy room.” This pitiful memory stirs something in the elderly Scrooge. He momentarily regrets that he had failed to give anything to the boy who was singing carols outside his home the night before.
The ghost then moves him to another Christmas memory. Scrooge’s sweet-tempered sister, Fan, appears to take him home, and the ghost reminds him of her goodness and frail constitution. She grew up to be the mother of Scrooge’s nephew but was still a young woman when she died. She and the school fade away, replaced by the factory where young Scrooge was apprenticed.
Scrooge recognizes his former boss, Fezziwig, a rich, fat, jovial man who taught the boys his business. On Christmas Eve, Ebenezer and the other apprentice have the night off. The warehouse is transformed into a giant ballroom; Fezziwig’s family and employees dance merrily around, and there is a massive feast. When it ends, the boys head for bed in the shop. As the ghost seems to mock Fezziwig’s efforts, Scrooge defends him, remembering how he had glowed with joy at his boss’s generosity. He thinks pensively about what he would say to his own clerk.
In the next scene, Scrooge appears as a middle-aged man showing “signs of care and avarice.” His lovely young companion complains that she has been displaced in his heart by a “golden idol.” They had committed to each other when young but still have not married. She knows her love no longer...
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has any value to him and that he will not marry her because she has no dowry. She releases him from their understanding.
Despite the pain this memory causes Scrooge, the ghost insists on making one more stop. The lovely girl is now a grown woman in a room filled with happy, boisterous children. Scrooge is overcome with envy and regret. When her husband comes home, laden with Christmas presents, he tells her he just saw Scrooge avoiding Marley’s imminent death.
The old Scrooge cannot bear this reminder of how he neglected Marley. He pleads with the spirit to leave and stop haunting him. Finding they are once more in his room, Scrooge tries to extinguish the ghost’s light, but it keeps spreading outward. Exhausted, Scrooge drops into bed and sleeps at once.