A Christmas Carol is an 1843 novella by Charles Dickens. It is divided into five chapters, which in keeping with the musical theme of the book's title, are called staves.
The story's protagonist is a hardhearted miser named Ebenezer Scrooge whose only interest is making money. Scrooge cares nothing for anything from which he cannot make a profit. He hates Christmas in particular, considering it to be a con, or as he calls it, a "humbug". He is unaware of the poverty in which his employee Bob Cratchit lives and the difficulties he and his family face. Scrooge has a change of heart after he is visited by four spirits. On Christmas Eve, the ghost of his late business partner Jacob Marley warns his of the terrible fate that awaits him if he does not change his ways. Afterwards, Scrooge is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come.
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book, to raise the Ghost of an Idea, which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their houses pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it. Their faithful Friend and Servant, C.D. December, 1843.
In May 1843 Dickens stalled his plan to publish a political pamphlet tentatively titled, "An Appeal to the People of England, on behalf of the Poor Man's Child" in order to work on various other commissions. Dickens, however, felt that this was his strongest message yet to the people of England and in October of the same year he set about finishing his work. Within six weeks, that small; inexpensive pamphlet went on to become ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Many of Dickens’ motivations for the book bore out of his increased dissatisfaction at the recent changes to the welfare system made by the British government. The implementation of the Poor Laws meant that the poor were driven deeper in to poverty and became displaced in society. While the rich were thriving as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the poor were forced to work in ghastly and inhumane conditions. Children were sent to workhouses and women as young as 15 were forced into prostitution.
Dickens's Carol was one of the greatest influences in rejuvenating the old Christmas traditions of England. The story is one of redemption, charity, love and family and a reflection of Dickens’ own Christian values. Many of the Christmas traditions we observe today can be directly attributed to ‘A Christmas Carol’. Scrooge’s redemption is a fine example of how Dickens attempted to influence Victorian society. Ebenezer Scrooge is transformed from a miserly, cold and selfish man to a warm, humble and giving man. While Scrooge is shown visions of the future, he states that they are only visions of things that "May" be, not what "Will" be. He has the power to change the future with his present actions, and Dickens tries to impart this sense of free will to the reader; if Scrooge can change, then so can anyone.
The first part of A Christmas Carol is titled Marley's Ghost, this part of the book introduces us to Ebenezer Scrooge, a grumpy old man who is disliked by most people, and Bob Cratchit, an employee of Scrooge's. In this part of the story Marley, a dead business partner of Scrooge's comes back to him as a ghost, and tells Scrooge that unless he changes his ways and behavior toward people he will be bound to walk the earth forever after his death. His only chance of redemption lies with the three spirits who would visit him that night
The First of the Three Spirits
In part two of the book, The First of the Three Spirits, Scrooge comes face to face with the first ghost to visit him that night: The Ghost of Christmas Past. This ghost shows Scrooge some Christmas's in his past, the first being one with his sister, Fan, who came to remove him from a boarding school where he was unhappy in his younger days. Scrooge feels the first stirrings of regret as he reflects upon how he mistreats Fan's son, Fred. Scrooge is then taken by the spirit to a Christmas party thrown by his old employer, Fezziwig. There Scrooge remembers how kind Fezziwig was, and sorrowfully thinks of his own treatment of Bob Cratchit. The last memory the spirit shows Scrooge is one which reminds him how his greed for money lost him the love of his fiancé, Belle. Scrooge angrily turns on the spirit, then as it disappears he falls asleep on his bed, exhausted by the nights experiences.
The Second of the Three Spirits
Part three of the book is titled, The Second of the Three Spirits. In this part Scrooge is met by a spirit named, the ghost of Christmas present, this ghost shows Scrooge the humble Christmas celebrations of the Cratchit family. Although the atmosphere is happy, the toasting of Scrooge is cause for a full five minutes silence. A shadow is also cast over the party by the recent death of "Tiny" Tim Cratchit. Scrooge is crushed when he is told that if his attitude and behavior remain the same, nothing could be done to save Tim. The spirit then takes Scrooge to the party of his nephew Fred. Scrooge learns that he is a subject for ridicule, albeit gentle, however Fred displays that he is of the firm belief that his uncle can change. The Ghost then shows Scrooge all the miserable Christmas's that the poor of the world experience.
The Last of the Three Spirits
Part four is called, The Last of the Three Spirits. In this stave Scrooge is found by The ghost of Christmas yet to come, this Grim Spirit shows Scrooge the future if he refuses to change his ways, in this future Tim is dead. As is Scrooge himself, it is revealed that his death would sadden none and that his grave would be robbed. Scrooge learns that if he changes then Tim can avoid his fate. Crying, Scrooge swears to be a changed person, he then awakes to find that only one night has passed since Marley's visit, and that it is Christmas morning.
The End of It
In part five, The End of it, Scrooge is a new person, he orders a huge turkey for the Cratchit Family, and a kinder soul not just to Bob and his family, but to the world as a whole.
Tiny Tim also lives on and Scrooge becomes his adopted uncle. From that point on Scrooge is known as a kind and generous man who embodies the spirit of Christmas in his life.
- Sound files of public domain audiobooks of A Christmas Carol from LibriVox:
- Video of the 1910 American silent film A Christmas Carol (now in the pubic domain)
- Video of the 1935 British film Scrooge (now in the public domain)
- The Chimes
- The Cricket on the Hearth
- The Battle of Life
- The Haunted Man and the Ghost's Bargain