A Christmas Carol Summary
by Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol Summary

A Christmas Carol is a novella about Ebenezer Scrooge, an aging and selfish businessman. 

  • 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 visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come. They force Scrooge to examine 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.

Summary

Stave 1

Seven years to the day after the death of his business partner, Jacob Marley, Ebenezer Scrooge is still running their company from the same building. A greedy and heartless man, Scrooge is counting his money in his office on Christmas Eve, reluctant to let his employee, Bob Cratchit, go home. When Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, arrives to invite him to Christmas dinner, Scrooge responds that he has no interest in Christmas or love and rejects the invitation. Later, he responds similarly to a pair of men collecting money for charity, suggesting that poor people deserve to find themselves in the workhouse. Scrooge’s only concession to Christmas is to allow his clerk the day off for Christmas, on half pay.

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After Cratchit leaves, Scrooge is confronted by an apparition: the face of Marley in the door knocker. Scrooge convinces himself that he is seeing things, and he is sitting down to eat when all the bells in his house begin ringing, after which Marley’s ghost bursts forth from the cellar, draped in chains.

Scrooge conducts himself in very collected fashion with the ghost, demanding to know who he is and then asking him to sit down. He declares the apparition to be “humbug”—that is, until the phantom begins unwinding the bandage from around its head, and its lower jaw becomes detached. At this point, Scrooge demands “mercy” from the ghost and asks what he wants.

Marley says that because he was a bad person in life, he is forced to spend his afterlife making up for it. He has come to Scrooge in order to offer him a chance to reform his life before it is too late. He tells Scrooge that three ghosts will come to visit him, and that he must expect the first tomorrow. If Scrooge does not heed their advice, he too will be forced to wander the world in chains, as Marley does. Exhausted, Scrooge goes to sleep.

Stave 2

When Scrooge wakes, he is confused, because it seems that he has slept for more than twenty-four hours—it is almost one o’clock the following morning, the time at which Marley told him to expect the first ghost.

The ghost pulls apart the curtains on Scrooge’s bed, revealing itself to be something between an old man and a child. It tells Scrooge that it is the Ghost of Christmas Past. The spirit emits a light which is painful to Scrooge; it says that Scrooge has tried to “bonnet” this light all his life. The ghost takes Scrooge’s hand and leads him through the wall.

The two alight on a country road that Scrooge recognizes from his childhood. The ghost leads Scrooge to a small school in which the young Scrooge is reading alone. The sight makes Scrooge weep. His young self is reading fantastical stories, such as Robinson Crusoe and the tale of Ali Baba. Clearly, he is filled with imagination.

Next, Scrooge’s sister, Fan, appears to tell Scrooge he may return home from school for good. Fan is now dead; Fred, who came to invite Scrooge for Christmas dinner, is her son.

Next, the ghost brings Scrooge to see himself as a young adult, celebrating at Christmas with Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig. Scrooge realizes that they are treating the neighborhood children with a charity and goodwill Scrooge himself has never shown. After this, Scrooge is shown with his fiancée, who protests that Scrooge is fonder of money than he is of her, then breaks their engagement.

Finally,...

(The entire section is 1,206 words.)