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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What is the role of memory in A Christmas Carol?

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So absorbed in the accumulation of wealth is Ebenezer Scrooge that he loses his humanity in his miserliness.  When his nephew stops by to see his uncle Ebenezer Merry Christmas, Scrooge reproaches his nephew, "What right have you to be merry? You're poor enough." Nevertheless, the nephew continues with his good wishes and retorts, "What right have you to be dismal?....You're rich enough!"

Later, when gentlemen ask Scrooge to contribute to the poor, he scolds,

"I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry."

So, Scrooge contents himself with profit and eats his "melancholy dinner in his usual melancholoy tavern" until Marley's ghost appears and disturbs his life by telling Scrooge that his chain is bigger than the one he drags.  Further, he tells Scrooge he suffers "an incessant torture of remorse." That night the sky was "full of phantoms," and the next evening the Ghost of Christmas Past appears to Scrooge, displaying for the old miser poignant memories of his past. With these memories, Scrooge is so moved by the vision of himself as a "lonely boy before a feeble fire" that he cries. Additionally, the sounds from the old school

...fell upon the heart of Scrooge with a softening influence, and gave a freer passage to his tears.

After Scrooge is further moved and even elated as he sees his daydreams of Ali Baba and other characters come to life. These memories act to reignite Scrooge's heart, for he suddenly says, "Poor boy!" Then, the Spirt of Christmas Past questions him, and Scrooges reveals,

"There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that's all.”

The Ghost smiles and shows Scrooge another Christmas. He witnesses Fezziwig, for whom he worked as a youth. Realizing that Mr. Fezziwig doled out much happiness to his employees because of his kindness.

Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up, what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.

This is the moment of Scrooge's epiphany; he now realizes the power of kindness, and wishes that he could say something to his clerk, Bob Crachit, acknowleging to himself his cruelty of the previous day and other days, as well. And, it is memory that has been the catalyst of this epiphany.

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Dickens uses memory as a way to initiate change within Scrooge.  Memory is what enables Scrooge to change.  It provides a lens or looking- glass through which he can see himself.  Memory operates in this manner throughout the narrative.  Memory of Marley is what begins this process.  Memories of Scrooge's youth continue it, helping to show the imagination and moral scope that the young Scrooge had at one point in his life.  Memories of Fezziwig show how far Scrooge has strayed from his apprentice roots and the memory of Belle shows the lack of emotional affect beginning to take a toll on his sense of being in the world.  These memories compel Scrooge to beg the ghost to take him home.

The role of memory in this sequence is one in which the individual is able to see their present is in light of their past.  Memory is not shown to be static.  Similar to what Faulkner would suggest about the past, memory is shown to be an active and living being.  Memory is shown to reveal a past that is not dead.  It's shown to not even be the past.  It is alive, part of Scrooge's present.  The presence of Ghost of Christmas Past is a force that shows the living compulsion of memory serving as an agent of change for it depicts where our present is in light of our past.

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How does Dickens present the theme of memory in A Christmas Carol?

Memory is a central theme in Charles Dickens's 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol. It is presented primarily via its personification in the form of the Ghost of Christmas Past. The Ghost of Christmas Past is the first of three ghosts who visit the protagonist, Ebenezer Scrooge. As its name suggests, it shows Scrooge scenes from his own past, including his childhood memories. Scrooge is made to revisit his school days and his relationships with his sister, Fan, and his first employer, Mr. Fezziwig, who had been like a father to him. He also relives his first love with his jilted fiancee, Belle, who left him upon realizing that he would never love her as much as he loved making money. Lastly, he is made to once again experience the death of his friend, Marley.

An argument could also be made that the Ghost of Christmas Present likewise pulls from Scrooge's memories of the present, but this theme is undoubtedly illustrated more straightforwardly via the Ghost of Christmas Past, as explained above.

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