Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In A Christmas Carol, three spirits take Ebenezer Scrooge on tours of his past to show him where he went wrong, of the present to introduce him to the joy of the holiday season, and of the future to warn him of what may happen unless he changes. Scrooge learns his lesson well and is transformed into a man with a conscience.

On Christmas Eve, Scrooge terrorizes his clerk, Bob Cratchit, and reluctantly grants the poor man a day off. Impatient with those who waste their time on any pursuit other than making money, Scrooge angrily dismisses two gentlemen collecting for the poor and repulses his nephew, Fred, who invites him to Christmas dinner. At home that evening, Scrooge is confronted by the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him against purely materialistic pursuits and tells him that he will be visited in the night by three spirits.

The first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, gives Scrooge a series of visions of his childhood and early manhood. Scrooge sees himself as a neglected child at school, then as an apprentice of Mr. Fezziwig, enjoying warm festivities on Christmas Eve, and finally as a prospering entrepreneur whose fiancée breaks their engagement because Scrooge loves money more than he loves her. He must suffer the agony of the vision of her with another husband and their children.

The second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge out onto the streets on Christmas morning to see many happy families and, in particular, the love and warmth of Bob Cratchit’s home. Although they have barely enough to live on, the members of the Cratchit family share a devotion to one another that the old man recognizes as absent in his own life. The mild-mannered Cratchit is adored by his wife and children. Scrooge is concerned about their crippled child, Tiny Tim, and is informed that Tim will not live to see another Christmas unless circumstances change. Finally, the spirit deposits Scrooge into Fred’s home, where a jolly evening of games is taking place. Scrooge sees good friends enjoying one another’s company and is reluctant to depart when the ghost tells him it is time to move on.

The final spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is shrouded in black, with only a hand showing. It first takes Scrooge to the stock exchange, where he hears his business associates speaking of a recent death, but Scrooge does not know whose. He then witnesses a scene in a junk shop as two women and a man bring in objects plundered from the dead man’s house, even from the death bed, while his body was still there. The spirit then shows Scrooge his stripped bed, with his own body upon it, in his empty house. Upon asking whether anyone will feel emotion at his death, he sees a couple who owe him money; they are relieved and hope that their debt will be transferred to a less relentless creditor. Scrooge has another glimpse of the future: It is the Cratchit home, with Bob Cratchit as a broken man because of the death of Tiny Tim.

As Scrooge has one final glimpse of the future—that of his own grave—he pleads with the ghost to assure him that the visions are of what may be, not what will be. He desperately grasps the hand of the spirit and sees it turn into his bedpost: He is in his own bed, alive, and is a new man delighted with the opportunity to change his life. He begins his transformation immediately by sending an enormous turkey to the Cratchits and then goes through the streets wishing all a Merry Christmas. In the afternoon, he astounds Fred by showing up for Christmas dinner. The next morning at the office, when Bob Cratchit comes in late, Scrooge makes the clerk think that he is about to be fired, then announces that he will receive a raise. Scrooge provides the help needed so that Tiny Tim will not die. The new Scrooge becomes as good a man, as good a friend, as good a master as London ever knew, because he has learned how to keep Christmas.

Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*London. Scrooge’s first nocturnal journey is guided by the Ghost of Christmas Present, who whisks him from his bed on a nighttime journey to observe London’s joyful holiday season. They oversee Christmas delight in the Cratchit home, located in a poor section of London (where author Charles Dickens himself had once lived). Before this ghost withers away on the streets of London, he escorts Scrooge to holiday scenes among northern miners and coastal lighthouse keepers; he even whisks him out to sea to watch Christmas’s softening effect on rough sailors. Scrooge next visits scenes from the past and future.

Scrooge’s bedroom

Scrooge’s bedroom. Room to which Scrooge retreats after Marley warns him about night-time visitors and the place at which his nocturnal adventures begin. The old miser is then spirited from his bed and escorted through the air to his childhood home, west of London in Rochester—which was also Dickens’s childhood home. Here they drop down in three locations, designed to soften Scrooge: a sad and lonely schoolroom, a warehouse magically transformed for Christmas fun by the generous Fezziwig, and a park bench where a youthful Scrooge coldly breaks off his engagement.


Churchyard. Cemetery where Scrooge sees his own grave during his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. The callous and bleak atmosphere of a shop where Scrooge sees his own bed being sold and the even greater shock of seeing his own name on a tombstone in the overgrown churchyard complete the reformation of the old miser, especially after he realizes that the future he has been seeing is not immutable. When he awakens back in his bedroom on Christmas morning, he is a very different man from the one who fell asleep there the night before.

Scrooge’s countinghouse

Scrooge’s countinghouse. Scrooge’s London offices; a bleak, cold working place, warmed by the smallest imaginable fire, even on the coldest winter days when the story opens. On the day after Christmas, however, the story comes full circle in this setting, with Scrooge filling his office with both physical warmth and true holiday cheer.

Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

Victorian Christmas
At the time when Dickens was writing, the Christmas tradition was not nearly as important as it is...

(The entire section is 403 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A Christmas Carol takes place in London during the early 1840s. The story begins at 3 p.m., December 24, in the counting house of...

(The entire section is 192 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Point of View
Mainly, this novel is narrated in the third person; that is, the story is usually told as "he said" or...

(The entire section is 338 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

A Christmas Carol is one of Dickens's better organized short works. The surviving manuscripts of the story plainly show that he...

(The entire section is 370 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Like most of his works, A Christmas Carol reflects Dickens's indignation at the treatment of the poor in Victorian England. His...

(The entire section is 137 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Novels for Students)

  • 1843: The world's first Christmas cards are sent out by Henry Cole, a director of a London museum.


(The entire section is 324 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. To what extent is Scrooge a comic character? What makes him funny?

2. Is Tiny Tim an effective character in this story? Would...

(The entire section is 222 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. All three of Dickens's first Christmas books (A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, and The Cricket on the Hearth) have...

(The entire section is 208 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

  • Write a synopsis for an updated version of A Christmas Carol, using people who are in the news or who are famous in your...

(The entire section is 155 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Following the success of A Christmas Carol Dickens planned a Christmas book almost every year until 1868. Many of these stories have...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

  • One of the most highly regarded versions of A Christmas Carol stars Alastair Sim as Scrooge, directed by Brian Desmond Hurst....

(The entire section is 197 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

  • One of the most poignant Christmas stories ever written is Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory" (1966), which is often included in fiction...

(The entire section is 166 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Clark, William Ross. "The Hungry Mr. Dickens," in Discussions of Charles Dickens, edited by William Ross Clark. Boston: D.C. Heath,...

(The entire section is 248 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Cecil, David. "Charles Dickens," in Early Victorian Novelists: Essays in Revaluation. The...

(The entire section is 285 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Donovan, Frank. Dickens and Youth. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1968. A discussion of Dickens’ extensive use of children in his novels. A Christmas Carol is considered in detail, in two ways. Scrooge’s unhappy childhood is considered as the major cause for his present loneliness and misanthropy. The children of Bob Cratchit, especially Tiny Tim, are examined as examples of innocents who are happy even when their circumstances are difficult.

Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Dickens: Being a Good-Natured Guide to the Art and Adventures of the Man Who Invented Scrooge. New York: Penguin, 2001. A lighthearted and enthusiastic biography of Dickens that includes critical summaries of sixteen of his novels, with illustrations and references to popular culture that elucidate Dickens’s work and demonstrate his influence.

Gissing, George. Charles Dickens: A Critical Study. 1898. Boston: Adamant Media, 2001. A biography and critical analysis written only thirty years after Dickens’s death by a prolific Victorian novelist who shared Dickens’s concern for exposing social problems.

Kaplan, Fred. Dickens: A Biography. New York: William Morrow, 1988. A comprehensive biography of the author, with more than 500 pages of text and more than 100 illustrations. The focus is on Dickens’ psychological makeup, and how it affected his written works.

Newey, Vincent. The Scriptures of Charles Dickens: Novels of Ideology, Novels of the Self. Aldershot, England: Ashgate, 2004. An examination of Dickens’s view of humankind’s options for living in a world of flux, including a chapter exploring “A Christmas Carol’s” view of conversion.

Pool, Daniel. What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew: From Fox Hunting to Whist—The Facts of Daily Life in Nineteenth Century England. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. An engaging look at social customs and everyday objects from the period in which Dickens’s novels are set.

Prickett, Stephen. Victorian Fantasy. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979. A study of fantasy writings in Victorian England. Chapter 2, “Christmas at Scrooge’s,” discusses the use of fantasy elements in A Christmas Carol and Dickens’ other Christmas stories.

Slater, Michael, ed. Dickens 1970. Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.: Stein & Day, 1970. An anthology of essays on Dickens’ works, on the occasion of the one hundredth anniversary of his death. Particularly of interest is Angus Wilson’s article “Dickens on Children and Childhood,” which focuses on Tiny Tim as a symbol of innocence, hope, and faith.

Stone, Harry. Dickens and the Invisible World: Fairy Tales, Fantasy, and Novel-Making. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979. A treatment of Dickens’ use of fantasy elements in his literary works. The fifth chapter focuses on five short works, including A Christmas Carol. The emphasis is on the emotions of the characters as reflected in their supernatural experiences.