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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How is Scrooge's character presented in stave 1 of A Christmas Carol?

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In the first stave of "A Christmas Carol", Scrooge is portrayed as a cold, callous, and miserly businessman. Described as a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner," his frigid demeanor is mirrored by the cold environment around him. His interactions with his nephew and employee further illustrate his bitter, solitary nature and his refusal to participate in the warmth of the Christmas season. However, his character undergoes a remarkable transformation by the end of the story, becoming warm, hospitable, and generous.

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In stave one, Ebenezer Scrooge is depicted as an extremely cold, callous businessman who is insensitive, cold-hearted, and miserly. Dickens vividly describes Ebenezer Scrooge by writing,

Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous...

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fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice.

Scrooge's character is synonymous with the cold, frigid environment, and his features seem to highlight his miserable, unfriendly demeanor. Dickens further characterizes Scrooge as a bitter, callous man by revealing how the citizens of London go out of their way to avoid him in the street. Even animals purposely avoid Scrooge and never make eye contact with him.

Scrooge is further characterized as a greedy, solitary man during his interactions with his nephew and with his employee, Bob Cratchit. Scrooge rejects his nephew's offer to celebrate Christmas, threatens to fire his employee, and dismisses the two gentlemen collecting holiday donations to the poor. Dickens's portrayal of Scrooge's unfriendly, miserly personality only emphasizes his remarkable transformation after he is visited by three spirits that night. By the end of the story, Scrooge has transformed into a loving, charismatic, friendly man who is generous, warm, and hospitable.

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Ebeneezer Scrooge is probably one of the most famous characters in English Literature. Very few people do not understand a reference to "Scrooge" and they immediately associate with him the idea of a miserly, grumpy old penny pincher.

Dickens, layer by layer, builds this impression of him from the very outset. Perhaps the earliest indication of this aspect of his character comes from the fact, revealed in the early part of the story, that he will not heat his own home in spite of being the owner of a business and obviously able to do so. When he gets to his place of business the same idea is reinforced when he refused to allow Bob Cratchitt any extra coal to increase the heat in the office.

From the very first word Dickens paints an undeniable picture of this type of character without ever revealing the reason behind it. The only hint will come later in the vision of the schoolhouse during his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present.

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Rather than focusing entirely on Scrooge's shortcomings, let's take a look at some of his strengths.

For example, Scrooge is scrupulously honest.

Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.

The term "'Change" refers to the London Stock Exchange, and this means that Scrooge can be taken at his word—not only at the Exchange, but in any of his business dealings.

It comes as no surprise, then, that Marley trusted Scrooge implicitly.

Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.

It also means that, at one time in his life, Scrooge had at least one friend.

Scrooge is generally unsentimental and extremely practical.

Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

Scrooge's practicality and lack of sentimentality are also shown by his lack of concern for the "Scrooge and Marley" sign hanging outside the counting house.

Scrooge never painted out Old Marley's name. There it stood, years afterwards, above the warehouse door: Scrooge and Marley.

Scrooge's lack of sentimentality even extends to Christmas, one of the most sentimental days of the year.

"If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

There's also a suggestion that, although Scrooge doesn't particularly care much for other people or their company, he isn't particularly egocentric.

Sometimes people new to the business called Scrooge Scrooge, and sometimes Marley, but he answered to both names: It was all the same to him.

This might also be another example of Scrooge's practicality. A person's ego can sometimes interfere with a business deal, so Scrooge might have reasoned that it was more practical not to have an ego.

Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge!

Bob Cratchit knows this all too well. Scrooge expects a day's work for a day's wages, even if the wages he pays seem to be well below poverty level.

“And yet,” said Scrooge, “you don't think me ill-used, when I pay a day's wages for no work.”

That Dickens called Scrooge "a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner" supports his fundamental business sense.

Scrooge has a sharp mind, keeps his own counsel, and strikes a hard bargain, all good qualities for a successful businessperson to have.

Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

This is an odd simile. Oysters are confined solitarily inside their shells, of course, but they nevertheless function quite well on their own and within the oyster community, the oyster bed. Oysters also sometimes contain a valuable pearl inside their shells.

Scrooge has remarkable self-discipline.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn't know where to have him. The heaviest rain, and snow, and hail, and sleet, could boast of the advantage over him in only one respect. They often “came down” handsomely, and Scrooge never did.

Scrooge is generally unapproachable, and he prefers it that way.

Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, “My dear Scrooge, how are you? . . .

But what did Scrooge care? It was the very thing he liked.

This keeps people at a distance from Scrooge, keeps them out of his business, and allows him to conduct his business dealings without unnecessary distractions.

Scrooge scorns love as eminently impractical, at least in his impecunious nephew Fred's situation.

“Why did you get married?” said Scrooge.

“Because I fell in love.”

“Because you fell in love!” growled Scrooge, as if that were the only one thing in the world more ridiculous than a merry Christmas.

We learn later in the story exactly why Scrooge is so scornful toward love.

Scrooge is extraordinarily single-minded in the pursuit of his own business, to the exclusion of anybody else's business.

It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly.

Scrooge has a scientific mind. When Marley's Ghost comes to visit him, Scrooge reasons that Marley's apparition might simply be the result of "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato."

“I have but to swallow this [a toothpick] and be for the rest of my days persecuted by a legion of goblins, all of my own creation."

Even when he is shaking in his slippers at the sight of Marley's Ghost, Scrooge can still think clearly in the moment and ask pertinent questions.

“Who are you?”

“Ask me who I was.”

“Who were you then?” said Scrooge, raising his voice. “You’re particular, for a shade.” . . .

“You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,” Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.

“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.

“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time?”

Even under duress, Scrooge can pay an honest compliment to a ghost:

But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.

After his traumatic experience with Marley, Scrooge still has the presence of mind to assess his current situation.

Scrooge closed the window, and examined the door by which the Ghost had entered. It was double-locked, as he had locked it with his own hands, and the bolts were undisturbed.

In all, we might think of Scrooge as simply misunderstood, rather than misanthropic. It's all a matter of perspective.

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In Stave One of A Christmas CarolDickens sets the scene of the story. He also introduces us to Ebeneezer Scrooge, in all his glory. It's Christmas Eve in London, and as Scrooge is still toiling away in his office, we realize immediately that we are dealing with someone who's, at best, a workaholic. But as we read further, we come to see that Scrooge is more than simply a hard-working businessman; he's actually a miser. And quite ornery too. Even though it's freezing cold, he won't pay for Bob Cratchit to have an extra lump of coal for the fire; he rudely turns away a couple of charity collectors from his door; he rails against the festive season, giving a hearty "Bah, Humbug!" to his nephew Fred as he invites him over for Christmas dinner. Christmas is just one big inconvenience to Scrooge. Why on earth should it get in the way of business?

We're not very far into Stave One and already we're left in no doubt as to what kind of person Scrooge really is. The visit of the ghost of Jacob Marley gives Scrooge a bit of a fright but doesn't change his ways. It'll take a little more persuasion, not to mention the visit of three spirits, before Scrooge's redemption finally takes place.

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Dickens presents Scrooge's character through exposition, dialogue, and point of view.  Early on in the stave, Dickens gives us some background information about the main character, referred to as exposition, including that the feeling he most cherished on the day of his sole friend's funeral was the satisfaction that he "solemnised it with an undoubted bargain" on the ceremony and proceedings.  Scrooge is further described as being unaffected by either heat or cold.  In fact, 

No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him.  No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.  

Thus, we learn fairly quickly that Scrooge is uncompassionate, marked by bitterness, inexorable, and inflexible.

The dialogue with his nephew—as well as the dialogue with the two gentlemen soliciting donations for the poor—helps us to understand Scrooge's character.  He calls Christmas a "humbug," insults his nephew, and suggests that every "idiot" who goes about wishing people a "Merry Christmas" should be murdered with dessert.  To the gentlemen, he insists that he pays enough for public institutions like the prisons and workhouses (both truly terrible places), and he says that poor people should go there if they need help—a rather cruel perspective.

Finally, Dickens also uses a third-person omniscient point of view to help us further understand Scrooge's thoughts and feelings.  We do get the thoughts and feelings of many characters, and this has the effect of helping us to better understand all of them.  

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In stave one of A Christmas Carol, the reader is presented with a number of scenarios which Dickens uses to convey Scrooge's character. 

In the opening paragraphs, Dickens talks about Marley's funeral. Scrooge was Marley's only friend in life and sole mourner at his funeral. But he appeared to feel no emotion about Marley's passing:

"Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral."

We see Scrooge, then, as a cold and calculating administrator who values his business affairs over his relationships with others. This is further emphasised by Dicken's description of how other people in society view Scrooge. Children and beggars, for example, do not stop to talk to him in the street, nor did anyone ever enquire about his health or well-being. He even spurs his own nephew who invites him for Christmas dinner. 

Further on, two gentlemen call on Scrooge to ask for a charitable donation to the city's poor and needy and this provides us more key information on Scrooge's character. His response is characteristically miserly: he feels nothing for the plight of the poor and, in fact, believes that their deaths would be useful in "reducing the surplus population." For Scrooge, poverty is the result of idleness and the gentlemen cannot inspire in him any feelings of empathy or philanthropy: 

"It's not my business,'' Scrooge returned. "It's enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people's. Mine occupies me constantly. Good afternoon, gentlemen!''

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