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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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 707

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...

(This entire section contains 707 words.)

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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

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Last Updated on April 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 358


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.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 192

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 Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley. Marley died seven years ago, but Scrooge has not removed his name from the business sign. It is bitterly cold outside, and in the counting house as well because Scrooge does not want to spend money for heat. His only nephew comes in to wish him a Merry Christmas and to invite him to a Christmas party, but Scrooge refuses the invitation and gets rid of his nephew as quickly as possible. He cannot stand so much cheerfulness. Two gentlemen soliciting funds for the poor are sent packing next. At closing time, Scrooge reluctantly gives his clerk, Bob Cratchit, Christmas Day off, then dines in his usual drab restaurant. When he returns to his lodgings, Marley's ghost appears to him. Bound with a heavy chain weighted down with cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses, he warns that Scrooge is doomed to an even more miserable afterlife unless he accepts visits from three spirits who will show him the true way of life.

Literary Style

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Last Updated on April 24, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 336

Point of View

Mainly, this novel is narrated in the third person; that is, the story is usually told as "he said" or "she said" or "Scrooge watched them," etc. In the beginning, though, there is a little touch of a first-person narrator, as someone talking directly to the reader, referring to himself as "I." This narrator is the type of personality who will use a phrase and then mull over its appropriateness ("I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail the deadest piece of ironmongery … ") and to make humorous satirical remarks.

This first-person voice fades away once the characters in the book start interacting with one another, leaving the characters and the action of the novel to keep the readers' attention. The last time this first-person narrator is heard from is when it remarks on how strange it is that Scrooge, who had not thought of Marley since hours earlier, would see his face on the door knocker ("let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that . . .").


London is the setting of this novel, as it is for many of Dickens' works. The character of the city does not come into play much except in the gloomy darkness on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, caused by London's legendary fog. It is also present during the scene on Christmas morning presented by the Ghost of Christmas Present, with the city coming alive. Dickens gives long lists of the objects associated with Christmas (baskets of chestnuts, Spanish onions, tea, coffee, raisins, mistletoe, etc.), a bounty and richness that Scrooge has rejected in favor of his lonely, solitary existence.

The one other notable setting in the novel is the cold, dark house where Scrooge lives, which had been occupied by Jacob Marley before his death. Among its more individual characteristics are the wide staircase and the fireplace, which is decorated with carvings of scenes from the Bible. It is also symbolic of his isolation that Scrooge would live in such spare, dark surroundings.

Literary Qualities

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 370

A Christmas Carol is one of Dickens's better organized short works. The surviving manuscripts of the story plainly show that he lavished a great deal of effort on the story. The focus on Ebenezer Scrooge and the process of his redemption unifies the narrative. Dickens has written a secular morality drama for the early Victorian era, tracing a soul's progress from a life of isolated greed to one of meaningful relationships with fellow human beings.

The story begins in a cold and foggy London. It has not been light all day. The cold, fog, and darkness symbolize Scrooge's condition. No sun can penetrate the coldness within him, and he prefers darkness. His conviction that business and industry are the most important things in the world has obscured his vision for years. After his change of heart, Scrooge goes out into a world bright with sunshine on Christmas Day.

In terms of Christian symbolism, Dickens uses Christmas as a day that holds the possibility of rebirth and redemption. The narrator begins by speaking of Marley's death and points out that Scrooge never bothers to correct people who mistake him for his dead partner. Symbolically, Scrooge himself is not totally alive. His surroundings resemble a tomb; he has buried himself in his business. The three spirits who visit Scrooge enable him to see himself from a different perspective. They show him the boy who once thrilled to the tales of The Arabian Nights and Robinson Crusoe. They force him to remember his sister whom he deeply loved and to relive the painful break-up of his engagement to Belle. He sees Belle in a happy home that might have been his, and he sees the simple joys even poor people can share simply by being together. A wealthy man, he lacks everything that really matters. He sees the contempt and derision his poor corpse is subjected to after his death, and most importantly, he sees the need to redeem himself.

Dickens described his method of writing as "glorious improvisation." He wrote in a sort of frenzy, and the materials seemed to organize themselves. The results vary in effectiveness, but at their best, as in A Christmas Carol, they shine with an unequaled brilliance.




Historical and Social Context