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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Which spirit had the greatest effect on Scrooge?

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I think we see the most outward reaction by Scrooge to the final ghost. However, I also think that the Ghost of Christmas Past may have touched one of the biggest nerves with Scrooge - that of his time spent with Belle, and how he ended up losing her because of his ambition for wealth.  When the ghost shows Scrooge the time that Belle broke off their engagement, Scrooge is very upset:

'"Spirit!" said Scrooge, "show me no more! Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?"'

After the ghost takes Scrooge to see Belle with her husband and children, Scrooge then says, "Leave me! Take me back! Haunt me no longer!"

I think Scrooge reacted quite strongly to the visions shown by this Ghost of Christmas Past, and that the emotion and agony he demonstrates with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is the culmination of all the horrors he has been shown that night.

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Every time I read this book I ask myself the same question.  I believe that all of the ghosts affect Scrooge equally in some ways; however,  I, too, believe that the Ghost of Christmases Yet to Come has greatest impact upon him in the end.

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There's a fairly straightforward answer to this question, and a somewhat more complicated one. The straightforward answer is, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come had the most effect on Scrooge. Of the four spirits and the visions they showed him, this one spurred him most directly to change. Right after that visit he began to share his fortune with those in his life.

The somewhat more complicated answer is that you could make a case for Marley's ghost having the most impact, because Marley and Scrooge had shared their lives and Marley opened the way for the other ghosts.

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No single ghost has a "best" effect on Scrooge.  In fact, the messages of all of the spirits, including Marley's ghost, are essential in helping Scrooge become a better person.  Looking at what Scrooge gains from each of them will help illuminate their joint effect.

Marley's ghost not only shocks Scrooge, he also gives him a direct warning regarding his chains and the connection to the chains that Scrooge is forming in life.  By starting with Marley's ghost, Scrooge is given a touchstone and a level of familiarity with the ensuing events in his journey.  While the spirits do wish to shock him, their entire goal is to help him change.  As terrible as his afterlife is, Marley's  afterlife is significantly better than the afterlife that awaits Scrooge if he does not change.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is essential to reminding Scrooge of where he came from and of the kindness that Scrooge experienced earlier in his life.  Through a glimpse of Scrooge's childhood at the boarding school, the spirit reminds Scrooge of what it is like to be lonely and abandoned. However, the spirit also shows Scrooge what it is like to feel love through Scrooge's sister.  This scene also reminds Scrooge to love Fred, the only family he has left.  Through Fezziwig, the spirit shows Scrooge how a boss should act.  Through Scrooge's breakup with Belle and the view into her life on the eve of Marley's death, the spirit shows Scrooge what he could have had.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge a number of important scenes that help him to change.  By showing Scrooge Cratchit's meager home and Fred's dinner party, the spirit shows Scrooge the kindness, love, and forgiveness of the holiday season.  Though Scrooge has mistreated all of them, they all toast him and wish him the best.  Further, the spirit also introduces Scrooge to Ignorance and Want, the manifestation of humankind's worst traits.  Finally, the spirit also throws Scrooge's own words in his face to show him how calloused Scrooge has become.

Finally, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come reveals the future that lies ahead if Scrooge fails to change.  Rather than hint at Scrooge's afterlife, as Marley did, the spirit shows Scrooge the world without him.  Tiny Tim dies, and Scrooge dies cold and alone; his possessions are stripped from him and pawned off.  The only good that comes from his death is the relief of those who owe him money.

Each spirit is essential to Scrooge's movement from greedy to giving.  Without the combination of past, present, and future, Scrooge would not have been able to change.  This reflects Dickens's own belief in the importance of experience.  Experience is important;  it comprises who we are and who we will become.

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In A Christmas Carol, each of the three spirits has a profound effect on Scrooge but, arguably, it the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come who truly changes his life. 

First of all, let's look at the ghost's physical appearance. The Ghost of Christmas Past is bright and child-like, the Ghost of Christmas Present is akin to a "jolly Giant" while the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come genuinely terrifies Scrooge. He is a "phantom...shrouded in a deep, black garment." He does not speak to Scrooge, only points with an "outstretched hand." When Scrooge meets him, he is instantly filled with a "solemn dread" and it is this dread which has the most profound affect on Scrooge. 

Secondly, the images shown to Scrooge by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come are the strongest in the book. While Scrooge has relived many painful experiences, through the first two ghosts, it is the uncertainty of his future which truly haunts him. Scrooge shudders from "head to foot" when confronted with his own death. Later, in the Churchyard, Scrooge is almost driven to madness when he sees his own grave. It is not just the fear of death which bothers him, it is the ghost's inability to communicate. Here, we find Scrooge "trembling" and "clutching at the spirit's robe." 

Finally, we see the strongest evidence to support this view in the closing lines of the chapter. Scrooge is finally broken and ready to reform:

"I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!''

Neither the Ghost of Christmas Past nor the Ghost of Christmas Present is able to solicit such a response from Scrooge. This is irrefutable proof of the ghost's effect on him and it kick-starts the process of change in Scrooge. 

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