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

Stave 4 Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Scrooge meets the terrifying Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge says to him,

I fear you more than any spectre I have seen.

However, despite his terror of this spirit, Scrooge has learned from his experiences with the first two ghosts to expect a helpful lesson.

The spirit takes Scrooge to the center of London, where Scrooge realizes that people are discussing someone who has just died, but in unflattering terms. They speak of him as someone unloved and laugh harshly about attending his funeral, but only if they get a lunch out of it. The scene then dissolves.

Scrooge and the ghost next appear in a poor and filthy part of town that is full of narrow, ramshackle streets. In a sordid secondhand shop run by Old Joe, three people meet up: a laundress, a woman named Mrs. Dilber, and a man wearing faded black. They are all fencing goods they have stolen from a dead man. They dislike him so much that they have taken the shirt off his back and ripped the sheets and curtains from his deathbed. They comment that the man who has died was so hard-hearted in life that he deserves this fate. Scrooge watches, not knowing who the man is, but understanding the parallels with his own life. He states,

The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way, now.

The scene then dissolves to a dark bedroom where a dead man lies. Scrooge is chilled as he hears the scratching of rats behind the walls, thinking they want to get at the dead body—and the scratching of a cat who wants the rats. Scrooge doesn't know who the dead man is. However, after all the callousness he has heard expressed over this man’s death, he asks to be shown someone who feels emotion that the man died. In response, the ghost takes Scrooge to see a woman, Caroline, along with her husband and children, who are joyful over the man’s death. They were about to be ruined for not being able to pay a debt, but now that the man has died, they will have time to gather the money to repay the loan.

Scrooge is not pleased that the family is so happy about the unknown man’s death and now asks to see someone who feels a tender or sad emotion about death. The ghost then takes him to the Cratchit house, where the heartbroken Cratchits are mourning the death of Tiny Tim. Bob Cratchit speaks very kindly of Scrooge’s nephew, who is helping their son Peter get a better job. But it is clear the family is overcome and devastated by the loss of their youngest son.

Scrooge still does not realize that he is the dead man who has been the subject of all these scenes, excepting the one with Tiny Tim. At this point, he says to the ghost,

Tell me what man that was whom we saw lying dead?

The spirit points Scrooge to his house. His office is still there, but someone else is in it, and the furniture is different. The ghost then sends Scrooge toward a graveyard. There, in the weedy, overgrown churchyard, the ghost points at Scrooge's gravestone.

As he realizes that the hated dead man who has been the subject of these scenes is himself, Scrooge is utterly overcome with emotion. He falls to his knees and cries,

No, Spirit! Oh no, no!

He clutches the ghost, tells him he is a changed man, and begs the spirit to give him hope that he can alter this grim and horrible future into a better one. The spirit does not speak, but hope is foreshadowed in the image of his “kind hand” trembling and in Scrooge’s reasoning:

Why show me this, if I am past all hope!

As the stave ends, the ghost disappears, and all Scrooge sees is his bedpost.

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

Stave 3 Summary


Stave 5 Summary