Friday, December 17, 2021

A Christmas Carol

Marley's ghost visits Scrooge

Click to see Vol. I, Issue 8 of the newsletter in which this article first appeared.

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No modern story says as much about the spirit of Christmas--in a non-religious way--as 1843's A Christmas Carol by the English novelist Charles Dickens. It tells the story of a mean old miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, and his transformation into a kind, loving person.

The story falls neatly into five parts or chapters, which Dickens called "Staves."

In the first Stave, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his late partner Jacob Marley on Christmas Eve--the seventh anniversary of Marley's death. Marley wears heavy chains and metal money boxes which he says were forged by greed during his lifetime. He has come to warn Scrooge that his cruelty to the poor and his dislike of Christmas will lead to the same dire consequences if he doesn't change his ways. Scrooge scoffs at his warning.

He also warns Scrooge that he will be visited by three "spirits," and that he must listen to their warnings.

In Stave Two, the Ghost of Christmas Past appears, and shows Scrooge scenes from earlier Christmases in which Scrooge was younger, and had not yet become as hardened. His loneliness at boarding school, his happiness as a young clerk working for a kind boss, his fiancée Belle (who finally rejects him because of his love of money), and other scenes bring forth in Scrooge a nostalgia for the man he could have been.

In Stave Three Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present. The spirit takes him out to see people preparing to celebrate this Christmas. He sees his clerk, Bob Cratchit--whom Scrooge treats very unkindly--and sees Bob's youngest boy, Tiny Tim, who is extremely cheerful despite suffering from a handicap. The spirit tells Scrooge that if things continue as they are, Tiny Tim will die.

They then visit Christmas celebrations in other places--a miner's cottage, a lighthouse, and a ship at sea--before dropping in on a party at the home of Fred, Scrooge's nephew. Fred had invited Scrooge to the party, but with a "Bah! Humbug!" he had refused to attend.

At last, the spirit reveals under his long robe two horrible, emaciated children named Ignorance and Want--the hidden side of these celebrations. When Scrooge expresses concern for them, the spirit mocks his sudden burst of compassion.

In Stave Four, Scrooge meets the third spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. On a Christmas Day in the future, Scrooge sees the mourning of Bob Cratchit's family at the death of Tiny Tim.

He also sees that a man deeply disliked by others has died, and no one mourns his passing: they want a lunch at his funeral; they steal his goods; they rejoice that his passing will give them more time to pay their debts to his business.

When Scrooge asks who the unpopular dead man was, the silent spirit points to a neglected grave with a tombstone that reads "Ebenezer Scrooge." Sobbing now, Scrooge pledges to change his ways.

Stave Five opens on Christmas morning of the same year in which the story began. Scrooge has indeed changed: he sends a large turkey to the Cratchits, and spends the afternoon enjoying the company of Fred and his family. The next day, at work, he gives Bob Cratchit a pay raise, and he becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim, who grows stronger every day.

And "it was always said of him," we are told, "that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge."

Scrooge sees his end (if he doesn't change his ways)


Vocabulary: Match the words to their meaning. Correct answers are in the first comment below.

  1. dire
  2. emaciated
  3. forged
  4. greed
  5. handicap
  6. hardened
  7. humbug
  8. miser
  9. mocks
  10. mourns
  11. neglected
  12. nostalgia
  13. pledges
  14. scoffs at
  15. transformation
  1. a change in appearance or character
  2. extremely thin
  3. not maintained; forgotten and ignored
  4. a physical disability
  5. promises
  6. created; formed
  7. makes fun of
  8. a desire for the past
  9. dismisses; mocks
  10. a very stingy person
  11. a scam; also, nonsense
  12. pitiless; unfeeling
  13. feels sad about
  14. terrible; dreadful
  15. extreme love of and desire for money

Questions to Answer: Answer the following questions in your own words. Suggested answers are in the first comment below.

  1. What is the main point of A Christmas Carol?
  2. What unusual things is Marley's ghost wearing, and what do they mean?
  3. Aside from Marley's ghost, who are the "three spirits" that visit Scrooge?
  4. Who are the children under the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present? How are they related to Christmas?
  5. How do we know that Scrooge has really had a "change of heart"?

Questions to Think About: These questions do not have "right" or "wrong" answers. They only ask your opinion.

  1. As the Ghosts show things, is Scrooge responsible for the death of Tiny Tim?
  2. What responsibility do we have to help the people around us? How much of our own desires should we give up to meet those needs?
  3. Is Scrooge right to think that Christmas (as most people celebrate it today) is a "humbug"?

1 comment:


    Vocabulary: 1. N; 2. B; 3. F; 4. O; 5. D; 6. L; 7. K; 8. J; 9. G; 10. M; 11. C; 12. H; 13. E; 14. I; 15. A

    Questions to Answer (suggested answers; yours may be written slightly differently)
    1. A Christmas Carol teaches that we should be kinder and take better care of the people around us.
    2. The "three spirits" that visit Scrooge are the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come.
    3. Marley's ghost is wearing chains and heavy money boxes, representing the burden he bears for being greedy all his life.
    4. The children under the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present are "Ignorance" and "Want." They are the things people ignore while they enjoy their own Christmas celebrations.
    5. We know that Scrooge has really had a "change of heart" because he shows it in his actions, not just in words.

    Questions to Think About do not have any single correct answer. However, any answers you give should be supported by what you read or by things you know ("I think... because...").