A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

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Summary at a Glance

A Christmas Carol is a novella about Ebenezer Scrooge, an aging businessman who cares only for money. 

  • On Christmas Eve, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Marley, his former business partner. Marley's selfishness condemned him to misery in the afterlife, and he warns that Scrooge faces a similar fate.
  • Scrooge is then visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the Ghost of Christmas Past. The ghosts force Scrooge to take stock of his life, reminding him of those he once loved and opening his eyes to the suffering caused by his lack of sympathy. 
  • Scrooge emerges from this experience a transformed man, committed to living with generosity and love.

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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol opens with the protagonist, miserly businessman Ebenezer Scrooge, working late on Christmas Eve in his London office when his nephew Fred drops by to invite him to Christmas dinner. Fred’s Christmas greetings—repeated annually and annually declined—send Scrooge into a rant against the holiday and those who celebrate it. When Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, quietly applauds Fred’s inspirational defense of Christmas, Scrooge threatens to fire him. As Fred leaves, a pair of gentlemen collecting money for the poor call on Scrooge, but he quickly dismisses them with the reminder that he already supports prisons and workhouses for the poor.

At closing time, Scrooge grudgingly gives Cratchit the next day (Christmas Day) off before heading home to a gloomy structure that once belonged to his business partner Jacob Marley, who died on Christmas Eve seven years before. As Scrooge enters, he sees Marley’s face on the door knocker. He rushes inside and goes upstairs to his bedroom, seeing a hearse traveling up the stairs in front of him. In the bedroom, he locks the doors and sits down to eat. Suddenly, bells begin to ring, the bedroom door flies open, and in walks Marley’s ghost, bound in a chain made of cash boxes, padlocks, and ledgers.

Marley tells Scrooge that the spirits of men must walk among their fellow men, if not in life then in death. His chain, he informs Scrooge, was forged, link by link, over a lifetime of ignoring his responsibilities to others, and he warns that Scrooge has forged a chain much more ponderous than the one he, Marley, is carrying. He offers Scrooge one chance to avoid his fate: to be visited by three spirits that night. Marley shows Scrooge one last vision, a sky full of phantoms, but Scrooge concludes that the evening has been a figment of his imagination, perhaps caused by indigestion, and goes to bed.

At one o’clock in the morning, a childlike spirit with a white tunic appears and introduces itself as the Ghost of Christmas Past. The spirit takes Scrooge to an institution where he grew up, where they witness Scrooge’s boyhood friends going home to celebrate Christmas, leaving the young Scrooge behind with only imaginary friends from books he has read. The spirit then takes Scrooge to a happier Christmas, when his sister Fan, Fred’s mother, came to the institution to bring Scrooge home.

They visit yet a third Christmas, a party at the warehouse where Scrooge was apprenticed as a young man. Scrooge reminisces about his kindly boss, Fezziwig, and how meaningful Fezziwig’s generosity had been. The spirit then transports Scrooge to the Christmas when his fiancé, Belle, left him because of his preoccupation with wealth and business. Scrooge begs the spirit to take him home, but the spirit shows him one final Christmas seven years before, when Belle’s husband tells her he saw Scrooge that day, all alone and still working, even with Marley at the point of death. At that, Scrooge returns to his sleep.

When the clock strikes again, Scrooge awakens to find his room decorated in holly and ivy with a roaring fire in the fireplace. A gigantic spirit wearing a green robe trimmed in white fur, the Ghost of Christmas Present, takes Scrooge on a tour of dingy, soot-covered...

(The entire section is 1,013 words.)