A Christmas Carol summary

Table of Contents

A Christmas Carol Summary – Chapter I

In keeping with the title of his work, A Christmas Carol, Dickens has divided his story not into chapters but into “staves”-that is, verses of a song.

Note: Some analytical comments in the following commentary are indebted to Michael Patrick Hearn, ed., The Annotated Christmas Carol (1976; New York: Norton, 2004). Page references are given in parenthetical documentation.

Stave One: “Marley’s Ghost” Before beginning his story, the narrator shares two important points of information with his readers: the physical death of Jacob Marley (which, we learn, occurred exactly seven years prior to the beginning of the story, on a Christmas Eve), and the emotional-spiritual death of Ebenezer Scrooge. The narrator states four times, “Marley was dead,” leaving no room for misunderstanding. And while Marley’s business partner Scrooge is still physically alive, the omniscient narrator’s description of Scrooge’s character makes readers wonder what kind of “life,” if any, Scrooge actually has. Scrooge is drawn as a character so hard, solitary, and unfeeling-especially in contrast to the people and city around him-that it can be said he too, in a sense, is dead. Readers can surmise that Scrooge’s emotional-spiritual “death,” just as Marley’s physical one, “must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story” the narrator is about to tell.

One Christmas Eve-the narrator goes so far as to use the phrase, “Once upon a time,” thus alerting readers to what genre the story that follows belongs-Scrooge is busily at work in his chilly counting-house. The exact nature of Scrooge’s work remains unspecified, but it is clearly financial, and that is what matters to Scrooge. As he works, Scrooge watches his (here unnamed) clerk, who struggles to keep warm by the meager light and heat of a candle on his desk. Scrooge keeps the coal for the fire in his own office, and will not allow his clerk access to it-a small, almost sadistic detail that highlights Scrooge’s misanthropic attitude.

Scrooge’s miserable character is thrown into further relief with the introduction of his (also here unnamed) nephew, who arrives with glad Christmas greetings for his uncle. Scrooge famously responds, “Bah! Humbug!” With unfailing joviality, and radiating a physical glow that must emanate as much from a good heart as it does from his rapid walk in the fog outside, Scrooge’s nephew defends Christmas to his uncle as a season worthy of celebration. His speech is important because it sounds one of the defining themes of A Christmas Carol. Christmas, the nephew declares, is “the only time . . . when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.” While the nephew’s words may strike some twenty-first-century ears as overly sensitive to class, readers should recognize that class distinctions mattered in Victorian society. People generally did not move between social strata as freely as they may today. The nephew’s words represent, therefore, an attack on his class-conscious society, recognizing its faults even while celebrating its ability to transcend them-at Christmas, at least. More broadly, the nephew’s words fix our attention on Scrooge’s prime failing: an inability or unwillingness to view those around him as fellow human beings. Scrooge-and, surely in Dickens’ mind, each person who is like Scrooge-does not have a generous enough spirit to grant others human status!

Scrooge’s nephew invites his uncle to dinner, an invitation Scrooge refuses. Scrooge’s nephew leaves after extending warm season’s greetings to Scrooge’s clerk. As Scrooge’s nephew exits, two other gentlemen enter. They seek donations to charitable work: “We choose this time,” they explain, “because it is a time, of all others when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.” (Note the capitalization of these abstract nouns; the use of capital letters nearly personifies the two concepts. Look for a similar, albeit more dramatic, personification of abstractions at the close of Stave Three.) Through the words of the solicitors, Dickens attacks his society’s inequities. Scrooge responds only with sneering sarcasm, asking the charity workers if such institutions as debtors’ prisons and workhouses are still in operation: “[T]hose who are badly off must go there.” Scrooge believes that his taxes, which help fund these establishments, constitute sufficient support of the poor on his part. He further insists that the lot of others is not his business. Dickens does not, at this point, allude to Cain’s question to God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9, KJV; but see the fireplace scene still to come). Scrooge’s attitude, however, certainly shares much in common with that of the world’s first murderer. When the charity workers respond that many would rather die than be institutionalized, Scrooge snaps, “[T]hey had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” Dickens’ insistence on the solidarity of the human race (refer back to the nephew’s comments) could lead readers to infer that he regards any failure to help another human being as fratricide.

Sensing the futility of further argument, the charity workers depart. As the cold outside intensifies-mirroring, no doubt, the intense cold within Scrooge’s heart (e.g., the narrator refers to “misanthropic ice” on the streets)-people of every social station, from the Lord Mayor himself to a simple tailor, nonetheless prepare to celebrate Christmas.

Readers may at this point note, as Michael Hearn points out, that A Christmas Carol did more than merely record customs we associate with a “Victorian Christmas.” Indeed, it went a large way towards rescuing them from obscurity. By the mid-eighteenth century, many of the old holiday traditions we see throughout the book’s pages-decorating homes with holly and ivy; enjoying live music and dancing; feasting on plum pudding and playing parlor games-were nearly gone altogether. Under the reign of Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century, Parliament outlawed all Christmas observances, including religious ones; and during the Industrial Revolution in the next century, many factories continued to operate during the holiday. Dickens has sometimes been seen as saving what modern readers consider a “traditional Christmas” from these social forces which might have otherwise banished it (see Hearn, pp. xiv-xvi).

A young boy begins to sing a Christmas carol outside Scrooge’s door. The moment may deserve attention because, after all, the title of the work is A Christmas Carol, and this boy’s song is the only actual carol specifically quoted. Perhaps Dickens chose to cite this carol because its final verse-which the boy is not able to sing before Scrooge scares him away-speaks of embracing each other “with true love and brotherhood.” By its absence, then, the stanza may serve to reinforce the importance of people treating and caring for each other as brothers and sisters, a prime concern for Dickens.

When the end of the business day arrives, Scrooge reluctantly closes his office. He complains about the fact that his clerk will be taking Christmas Day as a paid holiday. Scrooge makes his clerk promise to arrive at work earlier the day after to make up for lost time. Despite Scrooge’s gruff treatment of him, his clerk still finds the enthusiasm to slide down a hill with boys twenty times in honor of the holiday. The narrator notes that the clerk has no greatcoat (heavy overcoat) to help him keep warm, as Scrooge has-a further detail that contributes to Dickens’ indictment of social inequities.

Scrooge continues to work even through dinner at a “melancholy tavern”: he reads newspapers and his banker’s book while eating. He then heads for home. Readers see that, for all his money, Scrooge lives as cheaply as possible. (Compare the laundress’ comment in Stave Four, that Scrooge is “a wicked old screw,” or miser [Hearn, p. 135].) He is the sole resident of an old and dreary office building in an out-of-the-way neighborhood. He occupies a suite of rooms that once belonged to Marley-whose face Scrooge sees that night in place of the door knocker. Marley’s hair is being blown “as if by breath or hot air,” and wears an expression of horror. Suddenly, Scrooge sees only a knocker again. Surprised and experiencing fear for the first time in many years, Scrooge pauses to peer behind the door as he enters; seeing nothing else unusual, he shuts the door and dismisses the incident. As he goes up the stairs, however, he believes he sees a hearse going ahead of him.

After inspecting his rooms for strangers and finding no one hiding-unusual behavior for, as the narrator has stated, a man who has “as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the City of London,” and yet understandable given his recent strange visions-Scrooge double-locks himself in, “which [also] was not his custom.” He believes himself to be “secured against surprise”-a sure foreshadowing that surprise is exactly what he will receive!

Scrooge dresses for bed and sits before a small fire to eat a small dish of gruel, a thin, oatmeal-like substance. Gruel was common fare among the poor in Victorian England; readers will perhaps be reminded of another Dickens character, young Oliver Twist, daring to ask for another serving of gruel at his orphanage. Again, Dickens’ attention to detail conveys much information. Scrooge is a man who chooses to live well below his means, not out of any noble commitment to modest living, but out of the simple desire to hoard his wealth. He refuses to spend any more than a bare minimum on food, heating, or lighting; as the narrator comments, “Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.”

The fireplace in front of which Scrooge sits is lined with tiles illustrating stories from the Bible. While every tile may not carry symbolic significance for the story, a few may be legitimately considered as important. One tile depicts Cain and Abel, figures in the story of the human race’s first murder (Genesis 4:1-16; see the comments about Gen. 4:9 above). Cain slew his brother Abel, and his image on the tiles may offer mute commentary on the discussion which will soon take place between Scrooge and Marley’s Ghost: the crimes of neglect against his fellow humans to which Marley confesses may be seen as tantamount to murder. Another Scriptural figure illustrated on the tiles is Belshazzar, who was judged by God for the sin of pride (Daniel 5). Whereas Belshazzar’s hubris took the form of extravagant feasting, Scrooge’s miserliness could be viewed as no less prideful, for his attitude is that only he and his money matter. Whether the tiles serve a symbolic function or not, Scrooge is preoccupied with Marley’s face. The text is ambiguous as to whether or not the dead man’s face actually appears on each tile, but Scrooge is unsettled enough that he feels compelled to utter a dismissive “Humbug!”

Suddenly, a long-silent bell connected to a room elsewhere in the building begins to ring, gradually growing louder. Scrooge also hears “a clanking noise, deep down below; as if some person were dragging a heavy chain . . . .” He recalls stories in which chained ghosts haunt houses, but he refuses to believe he is being haunted. All the same, the chains grow louder as they near Scrooge’s door. The fire flares, as if alarmed, as Marley’s Ghost enters the room, indeed wearing a heavy chain of “cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” Scrooge notes that he can see straight through Marley’s body, and remembers that he “had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels”-meaning no “bowels of compassion,” a phrase archaic in today’s English but more common in the Victorian Era, familiar from the King James Version of the Bible: “But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1 John 3:17) The question is applicable, of course, not only to Marley but also to Scrooge-although readers may ask how much of others’ need Scrooge actually does see. Indeed, the ghostly visitations he is about to receive will help him see such need as if for the first time.

Even when confronted by Marley’s Ghost, Scrooge admits he does not believe in it. When Marley asks why Scrooge doubts his senses, Scrooge notes that they can be affected by things such as undigested food. “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!” he quips. The line illustrates Dickens’ fondness for puns throughout the book, but it also represents, as the narrator notes, yet another uncustomary act on Scrooge’s part. Here, Scrooge’s attempt at humor is an attempt to hide from his fear. The fear is probably caused in part by the fact that the Ghost’s hair and clothing are “still agitated as by the hot vapor from an oven.” Dickens seems to be suggesting that Marley has been damned by drawing on traditional conceptions of Hell as an inferno. Readers may note the influence of Dante’s Inferno on Dickens’ work. Just as Virgil guided Dante through the various circles of Hell, so will Scrooge’s supernatural visitors guide him through various “hells” on Earth-some of which are of Scrooge’s own making, for himself and for others.

When Scrooge dismisses Marley’s Ghost as humbug-the same way, of course, in which he earlier dismissed Christmas-the specter shouts and shakes his chain loudly. He also unwraps the bandage around his head, allowing his lower jaw to drop to his chest. (Hearn notes that, in Victorian society, corpses were often so bound to prevent their faces from making unpleasant expressions [p. 42].) This demonstration convinces Scrooge of the Ghost’s reality. He asks Marley why spirits walk the earth. Marley tells Scrooge that the spirits of all people must walk with their fellow human beings-if not in life, than in death. Dickens here presents a view of human beings much at odds with a view often advanced in the modern age. We are not (or ought not to be) autonomous, isolated individuals. Rather, we know who we are only in relationship with others. Human identity depends upon connection with other humans.

When Scrooge asks Marley why he is chained, Marley expresses surprise that Scrooge does not understand. He tells Scrooge that he (that is, Marley) forged his own chain while he was living. He informs Scrooge that he (that is, Scrooge) wears an even heavier chain. Scrooge looks at himself, but sees nothing. He begs Marley for some words of comfort. Marley tells him that he has none to give, and that he cannot linger. In life, his spirit never wandered outside his and Scrooge’s counting-house; in death, however, his spirit must wander forever. His journeys are an “[i]ncessant torture of remorse”- another allusion to familiar ideas of Hell, yet the unending torture is here suggested to be emotional-spiritual rather than physical (see the notes on various kinds of “death” at the beginning of this commentary). Marley laments that any human spirit not aware of the good it may do, even in its own small sphere of influence, is “captive, bound and double- ironed . . . . Yet such was I!” Scrooge-whom, the narrator notes, is at last beginning to apply Marley’s words to himself-reminds Marley that he (that is, Marley) was always a good businessman. Given the narrator’s comment regarding Scrooge’s fledgling self- awareness, readers may surmise that Scrooge’s words are an effort to console himself as much as-or perhaps more than-an attempt to reassure Marley. To be sure, Marley is not comforted. He retorts that his profession was not the same as his “business,” the true business given to all human beings: “charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence.” The Ghost’s words rebuke Scrooge for his earlier comment to the charitable workers that the lot of the poor was none of his business. Here again, Dickens plays the role of social prophet. Marley’s words may contain an allusion to the denunciation of an unjust society given by the Old Testament prophet Micah: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Micah 6:8, KJV).

Marley tells Scrooge that he suffers most during the Christmas season. While alive, Marley never raised his eyes “to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode.” He asks, “Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?” Dickens is alluding to the biblical account of the Magi’s visitation of the child Jesus, found in Matthew 2:1-12. The Magi, of course, gave costly treasures to the child, who-as Luke’s birth narrative (2:1-20) emphasizes more than Matthew’s-was born into poverty. Marley is expressing regret, then, that he shared neither financial nor emotional treasures with the poor who surrounded him, yet whom he ignored. Once again, we see here Dickens’ concern for the oft-neglected lower classes.

Marley tells Scrooge that he does have one chance of escaping damnation. Three Spirits will visit Scrooge-a prospect Scrooge clearly does not relish. Marley says the first Spirit will arrive at one o’clock on Christmas morning, the second on the following night at the same hour, and the third on the next night at midnight. As Marley moves toward Scrooge’s window, which opens by itself, Scrooge hears “incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret” from outside. Marley joins the “self-accusatory” chorus and floats out, through the window, into the night. Looking after him, Scrooge sees countless ghosts filling the air, some of whom he recognizes, every last one of them in chains.

Before collapsing into bed, Scrooge inspects the door through which Marley entered, only to find the double-lock and bolts still in place. “He tried to say ‘Humbug!’ but stopped at the first syllable.” This small but significant detail alerts readers that Scrooge’s transformation has already been set in motion.

A Christmas Carol Summary – Chapter II

Stave Two: “The First of the Three Spirits” Scrooge awakens in the night and at first thinks he has slept either through an entire day: nearby church bells are striking twelve, and Scrooge had gone to bed after two in the morning. Confused, Scrooge reflects on his meeting with Marley’s Ghost. He cannot decide whether the experience was real. As if to test his earlier hypothesis that the entire encounter was “humbug,” Scrooge stays awake until the hour of one o’clock, when Marley had claimed that the first of three spirits would arrive. Just prior to the striking of the chimes, Scrooge is convinced that nothing will happen. As soon as the hour of one sounds, however, lights flash in his room and a hand draws the curtains from around his bed.

This strong hand belongs to a delicately-built being who is like both a child and an old man, with long white hair and no blemish of age on its face. The figure has bare arms and legs but wears a white tunic and shining belt, and carries “a branch of fresh, green holly,” even though the being’s garb is “trimmed with summer flowers.” A “bright, clear jet of light” springs from the figure’s head; Scrooge surmises that the large cap under the figure’s arm serves at times as “a great extinguisher.” The figure is the Ghost of Christmas Past. While Dickens refers to this being as the first of three “spirits,” the term “ghost” must now be understood as a synonym-not, as in the previous chapter, the word with which we are familiar, an immortal soul haunting the world of the living. Archaic usage of the term “ghost” to mean “spirit” can still be found in the Christian liturgy with which Dickens and his Victorian society would have been familiar: e.g., naming the Persons of the Trinity as “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.”

The physical details with which Dickens describes the Ghost of Christmas Past are evocative. If the Ghost is taken as an embodiment of the “spirit,” or essence, of past Christmases, its indeterminate age suggests that experiences from childhood can, if we allow them to do so, remain with us well into maturity. This suggestion will prove to be one important lesson Scrooge must learn in order to find redemption. Further, these memories can light our way into adulthood; even as they shape the people we become, they summon us to keep them alive in the present. The presence of the “wintry emblem” of holly alongside “summer flowers” reinforces this analysis. For the purposes of Dickens’ tale, memories of Christmas in particular are not to be packed away when the holiday passes; rather, they are to be allowed to blossom throughout the year and throughout our lives.

Scrooge asks if this mysterious figure is the first of the three spirits whom Marley told him to expect. The Ghost responds, “I am!,” in a voice the narrator notes is “singularly low, as if instead of being so close beside [Scrooge], it were at a distance.” This seemingly trivial detail actually illustrates the “distance” at which Scrooge has kept the memories of his past. Further evidence of this distance appears when Scrooge asks the Ghost if the “Christmas Past” of its name refers to the “long past” -in other words, a generic past, an ancient past with little to no bearing on Scrooge himself. The Ghost does not allow Scrooge to cling to this misconception: “No. Your past.” The direct response puts Scrooge on notice: even though, as readers will see, he will not be able to interact with the people whom the Ghosts show him, Scrooge cannot remain detached from them. The way in which Scrooge keeps himself at a distance from his “fellow-passengers to the grave” (see Scrooge’s conversation with his nephew in Stave One) will not be allowed to stand. Scrooge’s redemption-or, to use the Ghost’s word, his “reclamation” – will depend upon his reintegration with the rest of the human race.

Scrooge feels an inexplicable desire to have the Ghost cover its light-filled head. The Ghost reacts to this suggestion with vehement disapproval: “What! Would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the light I give? Is it not enough that you are one of those whose passions made this cap, and force me through whole trains of years to wear it low upon my brow?” To this point in the book, readers have not seen Scrooge particularly passionate about anything, save his money. It seems to be exactly this passion to which the Ghost refers. Scrooge’s obsession with earning money in his present has obscured the light shining from the valuable lessons to be learned from his past. (See again the description of the Ghost’s physical appearance two paragraphs previously.)

The Ghost commands Scrooge to rise and follow. Scrooge, seeing that the Ghost intends to lead him through the same window by which Marley exited earlier, protests that he will fall. The Ghost assures him that, should Scrooge “bear but a touch of my hand” upon his heart, he will be “upheld in more than this.” Once more, Dickens is symbolizing the function the past may play in our lives, and issues a warning about the perils of forgetting it (“bonneting” it, as Scrooge, albeit unconsciously, has done to the Ghost).

Immediately, Scrooge finds himself in a country field. He recognizes the place: it is where he spent his childhood. An overwhelming flood of sensory connection with the place even brings a tremble to Scrooge’s lip and a tear to his cheek-evidence that, in a moment, the past has become more alive to Scrooge than ever before. This moment marks a notable change in Scrooge. Recall that, in Stave One, Scrooge mentions Marley’s death to the charitable solicitors, and even remarks that Marley died exactly seven years prior, on Christmas Eve itself. Yet the narrator tells us and we can safely assume that he is a reliable source-that Scrooge gives no further thought to Marley until the strange apparitions at his lodgings begin. How remarkable that the same man who could spare no thought to his deceased business partner on the anniversary of his death now trembles and tears up when confronted with the memories of his youth! Clearly, Scrooge’s transformation-first signaled with that unfinished “Humbug” at Stave One’s close-is continuing at a rapid pace.

Scrooge and the Ghost walk to a small town. The sound of the villagers greeting each other with “Merry Christmas” makes Scrooge glad. The Ghost reminds Scrooge that the local school is not quite empty: one boy remains behind, by himself, not headed home for Christmas with his fellow students. Scrooge weeps to remember how he spent the holiday alone as a child in a school that cannot help but reminds readers of both Scrooge’s own counting house and apartment: “There was . . . a chilly bareness in the place, which associated itself somehow with too much getting up by candle-light, and not too much to eat.” These suggestive details may lead readers to consider whether this adolescent experience of isolation destined Scrooge for his misanthropic and solitary later life, or whether he could have resolved to live differently as an adult. To what extent need our past to determine our present and future? This question touches on the thematic heart of A Christmas Carol and is a question with which all of its readers should wrestle.

Scrooge sees himself as a boy, passing the time alone by reading-and so we discover that Scrooge was not entirely alone, at least not in his imagination. He seems to see, physically, the colorful characters he encountered in literature; for example, Ali Baba (of The Arabian Nights, one of Dickens’ own favorite books and one he connected with Christmas [Hearn 58]), and Robinson Crusoe and Friday (from the 1719 novel by Daniel Defoe which, by Dickens’ day, had become a standard gift for boys at Christmas [Hearn 60]). Recall that in Stave One, the narrator informed us that Scrooge “had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man.” In this touching scene, we learn that he was not always so. Seeing his former self, Scrooge feels empathy for the young boy who attempted to sing a Christmas carol at the counting-house: “I should like to have given him something, that’s all.” In other words-to borrow languages from that carol’s absent, last stanza (see the discussion in Stave One) – he would have liked to “embrace” that boy “with true love and brotherhood.”

The Ghost presents a vision of a later Christmas to Scrooge. Young Scrooge is still alone in the schoolhouse, which has grown darker and dirtier. This Christmas, however, Scrooge knows joy. His sister, Fan, arrives to bring him home. Fan tells Scrooge that their father has changed: “Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven!” With this glimpse into the changed character of Scrooge’s father, Dickens may be further preparing readers for the experience of Scrooge’s similar transformation.

Fan announces that Scrooge’s school days have ended; he “is to be a man” now. As if to symbolize this transition into adulthood, the schoolmaster-a figure Scrooge has up to this point feared (much as Scrooge’s own clerk fears Scrooge)-offers Scrooge and Fan cake and wine. Although we can infer from the post-boy’s rejection of the wine that the refreshments are perhaps not of the finest quality, the schoolmaster seems to offer them in the finest spirit: a spirit of generous celebration-qualities which mature Scrooge, of course, must recover in order to recover himself. Indeed, Scrooge’s heart must grow to match his sister’s. Based on the flow of the dialogue between the Ghost and Scrooge as this vision ends, readers could justifiably conclude that her “large heart” is the reason that Fan “died a woman.” In other words, one-such as Scrooge-may grow to physical maturity, and still die as less than a full man or woman, since a large heart defines a full human being. The Ghost, somewhat impishly, forces Scrooge to acknowledge his nephew: the Ghost states that Fan left “children” behind when she died, and Scrooge must amend the plural form to the singular. The moment is small, but it seems to jolt Scrooge into recognizing that his nephew is his only remaining tie to Fan. Here, again, we see the “light” that the past can-if allowed to do so-shine on the present.

The Ghost now takes Scrooge to a city, bustling with activity as its residents prepare to celebrate Christmas. The Ghost asks Scrooge if he recognizes a particular warehouse. Scrooge does; it is the warehouse where he served as an apprentice to one Mr. Fezziwig. Scrooge watches in delight as Fezziwig instructs the young Scrooge and his fellow apprentice, Dick Wilkins, to stop their work and to prepare the warehouse for a holiday dance. It is at this point that readers first learn that Scrooge’s first name is Ebenezer, a Hebrew word meaning “stone of help.” In 1 Samuel 7:12, the prophet Samuel gives the name to a rock that commemorates an Israelite victory over their enemies the Philistines, saying, “Hitherto hath the LORD helped us” (KJV). While some readers have charged Dickens with anti-Semitism on the grounds that he gives miserly Scrooge a Hebrew name, the author need not necessarily have been drawing a stereotyped character. Given the book’s central theme of redemption, Scrooge, when Christmas morning finally dawns, may find more meaning in his name than ever before!

Young Ebenezer and Dick quickly clear the warehouse floor, and soon a festive party fills the space. The narrator remarks that “the great effect of the evening” occurs when Fezziwig himself joins the festivities, dancing with his wife: “Top couple, too, with a good stiff piece of work cut out for them . . . people who were not to be trifled with; people who would dance, and had no notion of walking.” The narrator states that a “positive light appear[s] to issue from Fezziwig’s calves” as he dances-an image that might provoke snickers from some modern readers, but a significant detail, as it continues to develop the imagery of light in the book. The light which the past may shine on the present does not kindle itself; rather, it shines due to the goodwill and joy of people like Fezziwig.

The light proves contagious; as the party breaks up and the guests depart, we read a mention of “the bright faces of [Scrooge’s] former self and Dick,” and note that “the light upon [the Ghost’s] head burned very clear.” The Ghost seems to mock Fezziwig for his generosity, but, as before, it is provoking a self-incriminating reaction from Scrooge. When the Ghost asks whether Fezziwig’s inexpensive celebration deserves to be praised, Scrooge insists that his praise of his former master is due, not to the amount of money Fezziwig spent on the party, but to the fact that Fezziwig chose to make his apprentices and all around him happy. As the Ghost surely intended, Scrooge’s remarks make him wish he could “say a word or two” to his clerk. This Ghost’s behavior, as well as that of the Ghost of Christmas Present, finds biblical precedent in the prophet Nathan’s confrontation of King David, in which he goaded the king into confessing his own sin (see 2 Samuel 12). How appropriate that the Ghosts should resemble biblical prophets, who preached against hypocrisy and social injustice as did Dickens himself. No doubt Dickens intended A Christmas Carol to provoke in his readers an awareness of their own complicity in social sin, to recognize the “Scrooge” within themselves. Indeed, according to contemporary reports, people who read A Christmas Carol often immediately engaged in more charitable behavior than before, or with a new spirit. The book continued to have this effect even after Dickens’ death; for instance, in 1874, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote to a friend that, after having read several of Dickens’ Christmas stories, “I want to go out and comfort some one . . . . I shall give money; not that I haven’t done so always, but I shall do it with a high hand now” (Hearn, p. xxxviii).

The Ghost presents Scrooge with another vision of the past, set still later in time. In this scene, Scrooge is “in the prime of his life,” but his face already shows “signs of care and avarice.” He sits with a young woman (here unnamed; compare the absence of name for the clerk and Scrooge’s nephew in Stave One) who is dressed in mourning clothes; significantly, the tears in her eyes are illuminated by the light from the Ghost. She is mourning, not the death of a person, but the death of a relationship. We see, then, that he light of the past can expose not only the pleasant, but also the painful; Scrooge must see both if he is to be redeemed. The young woman accuses Scrooge of abandoning her for his love of money. She tells Scrooge that he is too afraid of the world, and that his fear has driven him to seek security by shedding his “nobler aspirations” in favor of greed. For his part, Scrooge sees his change only as a sign of wisdom. The girl insists that Scrooge is no longer the man with whom she fell in love, and “for the love of him you once were,” she releases him from their betrothal. With the prediction that, one day, Scrooge will look back on their failed relationship as only “an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke,” his former fianc�e leaves Scrooge to the solitary, loveless life that he has chosen.

The Ghost then shows Scrooge a final vision. Scrooge is in the home of his former betrothed, who is now married with raucous, vivacious children of her own. He is witnessing the life that might have been his. The children’s father arrives home, Christmas presents in hand. He tells his wife (whom we now learn is named Belle-the French word, of course, for “beauty”) that he saw “an old friend” of hers: Scrooge, alone in his counting-house, seven years previously, as his partner Marley lay dying. “[T]here he sat alone,” Belle’s husband tells her. “Quite alone in the world, I do believe.”

Scrooge reacts to this vision with hurt and anger. The Ghost reminds him, “That [these shadows of the past] are what they are, do not blame me!” Scrooge begins to wrestle with the Ghost, in whose face he now sees “fragments of all the faces it had shown him.” Whether deliberately crafted to do so or not, the scene echoes Genesis 32:24-31, in which the biblical patriarch Jacob wrestles with a mysterious figure (variously interpreted as an angel or as God himself), and emerges from the struggle as a man with a new name, a new identity, and a blessing. The scene may foreshadow the blessing Scrooge will receive by the story’s end for having wrestled with his past (and present, and future!). In the moment, however, Scrooge presses the Ghost’s cap down upon its head with all his might, but “he could not hide the light.” Having seen and understood his past for the first time in years, if not in his entire life, Scrooge cannot now go back to willful ignorance or denial of it. At the point of exhaustion, Scrooge falls asleep.

A Christmas Carol Summary – Chapter III

Stave Three: “The Second of the Three Spirits” Understandably, given his experiences with the first Spirit, Scrooge is now ready, when the clock strikes one, for anything: “nothing between a baby and a rhinoceros would have astonished him very much.” When nothing happens, then, Scrooge is agitated. For fifteen minutes he stays in his bed before investigating the “ghostly light” that shines from the room next to his. Scrooge’s reluctance to get out of bed perhaps signifies his internal reluctance to join his fellow human beings in celebrating Christmas, and in celebrating life-for Scrooge’s second visitor is, of course, the Ghost of Christmas Present. Christmas-which readers may take as a microcosm of all that Dickens sees as worthy of celebrating in life is happening all around Scrooge, but Scrooge refuses to join it.

No sooner has Scrooge touched the door to the adjoining room than the Ghost tells him to enter, calling him by name. Scrooge enters the room and sees that it has been transformed into a beautiful display of abundance, in sharp contrast to the way in which Scrooge (and, before him, Marley) had kept it. The gigantic Ghost sits on top of a mountain of food, surrounded by holiday greens, holding a torch “in shape, not unlike Plenty’s horn” (that is, a cornucopia, traditional symbol of abundance), and all in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace. “Come in,” calls the Ghost, “and know me better, man!”- another external representation of Scrooge’s internal resistance to engage Christmas and life itself.

The generosity of the Ghost’s surroundings is reflected in the Ghost’s physical appearance. Readers realize that the Ghost is not only large in size; it is also large in heart, as suggested by its bare, “capacious breast . . . as if disdaining to be warded or concealed . . . .” The Ghost’s open robe symbolizes its open heart-the kind of heart Scrooge will receive before his spiritual visitations end. Dickens continues to use words that evoke the Ghost’s generous spirit: its hair is described as “long and free, free as its genial face”; its hand is “open”; its manner is “unconstrained.” Dickens here presents the Ghost as a warm, welcoming, inviting figure-yet Scrooge, has been the exact opposite for so long, find the Ghost imposing: he enters the room timidly and hanging his head, as if in shame. He knows how different he is from this Spirit, and, we may assume, he is regretful.

Hearn suggests that the Ghost is Father Christmas, “the ancient patriarch of the English holiday,” who is depicted just as Dickens depicts the Ghost (p. 83).

The Ghost understands Scrooge’s situation. It tells Scrooge he has never known any of its brethren, of whom it says there are more than eighteen hundred-a references, of course, to the years that have passed since the birth of Jesus. Scrooge’s only response is a pragmatic, utilitarian concern: “A tremendous family to provide for.” Still, he submits to the Ghost’s guidance. Touching the Ghost’s robe, he finds himself in the city streets, on Christmas morning itself. The descriptive, vividly-drawn scene is best summed up in these lines: “There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet there was an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavored to diffuse in vain.” We learn that the cheer is due to the presence of the Ghost-that is, to the season of Christmas. The Ghost sprinkles passersby and their dinners with his torch, which has the effect of ending quarrels. The Ghost’s torch thus reminds readers of another piece of its equipment, described while the Ghost was still in Scrooge’s room: an old, rusted scabbard, lacking a sword. Both the empty scabbard and the peacemaking torch serve as fitting symbols of a season celebrating the birth of the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6) at whose coming whom choirs of angels sang, “on earth peace, good will toward men” (Luke 2:14, KJV).

The Spirit takes Scrooge to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Hearn suggests that the name “Cratchit” derives from “cratch,” “an ancient English word for cr�che, the manger in which the infant Jesus was laid” (p. 94). Perhaps readers are to be alert for signs of the Christ Child’s presence in the home and life of this family; perhaps they are to seek them especially in the smallest child of the family, Tiny Tim. Whatever the derivation and significance of the name, readers will recall that Cratchit was unnamed in Stave One; now, however, thanks to the presence of the Ghost, Scrooge, and we, will see this anonymous clerk as a human being, with family, concerns, and joys of his own. We are, through Scrooge’s eyes, undergoing the same transformation he must undergo (see again Scrooge’s nephew’s defense of Christmas in Stave One).

Dickens’ description of the Cratchit family dinner is one of his most familiar and most excerpted passages. Despite their poverty, the Cratchit family is quite merry this Christmas day. Two of the younger children gleefully anticipate feasting on a meager goose, for instance, and Mrs. Cratchit and her daughter Martha even play a practical joke on Bob as he arrives home, pretending that Martha will not be joining them for the meal.

Bob has been attending a Christmas Day worship service with their son, Tim. “Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!” Bob tells his wife that Tim was “as good as gold” during the service, and mentioned that he hoped people saw him in worship and thought of the man “who made beggars walk and blind men see.” Here again-as with Marley’s comments about the Wise Men’s Star in Stave One-readers see that, despite the lack of explicitly theological commentary, Dickens’ Christmas is more than Victorian sentiment: it is a celebration whose essential meanings are rooted in Dickens’ Unitarian, morally-minded Christian faith.

Dickens describes the Cratchit’s modest meal in lavish detail, again accentuating the feeling of abundance that Christmas can produce even in the midst of want. He also no doubt hopes to prick the conscience of his original readers (recall the comment of the charity worker in Stave One, that Christmas is a season in which want is keenly felt while abundance rejoices). After the dinner, Bob proposes a toast to Scrooge, “the Founder of the Feast.” His wife and family react to this toast with dismay and anger, yet Bob seems to offer it in all sincerity: “My dear,” he tells her, “Christmas Day.” His generosity of spirit is a sharp contrast to the miserly spirit of his employer.

Yet we see more evidence that Scrooge is changing when he asks the Ghost-notably, “with an interest he had never felt before”-if Tiny Tim will survive. The Ghost responds with an ominous reference to an empty chair and an ownerless crutch. When Scrooge expresses alarm at this possibility, the Ghost throws Scrooge’s earlier words about the “surplus population” back at him, and Scrooge once more hangs his head, in “penitence and grief.” The Ghost then questions Scrooge’s humanity-“Man, if man you be in heart . . . .”-echoing what readers learned from the example of Fan, Scrooge’s sister, in Stave Two: full humanity requires a full-to-overflowing heart.

The Ghost now transports Scrooge to a variety of far-flung locales: from the streets of London, where even the solitary lamplighter is cheered by the Ghost’s presence; to a deserted moor (waste land) where only miners live in mud and stone huts, yet sing joyful Christmas songs; to a lighthouse on the coast, where the light’s keepers sing and wish each other “Merry Christmas”; to a ship on the ocean, every member of its crew humming carols, reminiscing about Christmases past, or sharing kind words with his shipmates.

Finally, the Ghost and Scrooge arrive at the home of Scrooge’s nephew, where a glad holiday party is in progress. Scrooge’s nephew (whom we now learn is named Fred) and his friends are laughing-at Scrooge! His earlier denunciation of Christmas as a “humbug” has them roaring with laughter. While Fred’s family and friends speak ill of Scrooge, Fred himself maintains a generous spirit toward his uncle. Fred declares his intention to keep inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner every year, whether or not Scrooge ever accepts. Fred hopes that the repeated offers may at least move his uncle to pay Bob Cratchit more money.

The party continues with music-a song, in fact, that Scrooge heard in his childhood. Scrooge remembers all that the first Ghost showed him. The tune becomes for Scrooge a symbol of the happiness he might have known, had he but listened. The partygoers then turn to games, including a round of “blindman’s bluff” in which Topper, one of the guests, enjoys a rendezvous with Fred’s “plump” sister behind drawn window curtains. During other games, such as guessing games, Scrooge joins in with great glee, even though no one in the room can see him or is in any way aware of his presence. The last game in which Scrooge participates is a game of “yes and no” questions, in which other players must discover what Fred is thinking about. Fred’s plump sister guesses the correct answer: “It’s your uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!” Fred then drinks his uncle’s health (mirroring the toast seen earlier in the Cratchit home), to which the merrymakers give their glad assent. Like Fred, and like the Ghost of Christmas Present, their spirits are generous; to echo Fred’s language in Stave One, the partygoers’ hearts, perhaps usually “shut-up,” are freely open to all people, even such a one as Scrooge.

This expression of affection moves Scrooge so that he wants to return the good wishes, but the Ghost continues to take him from place to place. At every stop on his supernatural journey-whether “almshouse, hospital, [or] jail, in misery’s every refuge”-Scrooge witnesses the joy-giving effect of the Ghost’s presence. During their travels, however, Scrooge notices the Ghost aging in appearance. He comments on this change as they leave “a children’s Twelfth Night party”-indicating that he has spent the entire season of Christmastide (the traditional “twelve days of Christmas”) in the Ghost’s company.

Before the Ghost’s life ends (since the Christmas season is over), Scrooge notes something strange, like “a foot or a claw,” protruding from beneath its robes. The Ghost opens its robes to reveal “two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable.” The children, a boy and a girl, cling to the Ghost’s robes-for a chance, however small, at survival? Scrooge, repulsed at the children’s appearance, asks if they belong to the Ghost. The Ghost informs Scrooge that they are Man’s children: “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want.” The Ghost warns Scrooge to beware them both, but the boy most of all, for he is doomed. When Scrooge protests that the children must have some help, the Ghost retorts with Scrooge’s own words: “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?” The Ghost departs as the clock strikes twelve, leaving Scrooge-and the readers-to ponder the consequences of treating one’s fellow human beings with anything but the utmost generosity and love.

As the last stroke of the ringing clock fades, the final Ghost-an ominously shrouded phantom-approaches Scrooge.

A Christmas Carol Summary – Chapter IV

Stave Four: “The Last of the Spirits” In Stave Four, Dickens employs irony to great effect. Each vision the Ghost shows Scrooge leads to the revelation of Scrooge’s own death in the future, yet Scrooge remains unaware (whether deliberately or not, readers must decide) of the visions’ significance until the last possible moment.

All Scrooge can see of the final Ghost is its outstretched hand. Scrooge surmises that this dreadful apparition is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, which the phantom itself neither confirms nor denies; it will remain silent throughout its time with Scrooge. For his part, Scrooge admits that he fears this visitor more than the others, but that he is ready to learn the lessons it has to offer him.

The Ghost takes Scrooge to the Royal Exchange, “the financial center of London” (Hearn, p. 8), where it directs Scrooge’s attention to a group of merchants deep in conversation. They are discussing a man’s (Scrooge’s) death. They make light of it, idly speculating on what the deceased has done with his money, and whether anyone will attend the funeral; one man offers to go only if lunch is provided afterward.

The Ghost then points Scrooge to two more businessmen who are discussing the same man’s death. Scrooge recognizes the men as wealthy and influential; indeed, “he had made a point of standing well in their esteem.” They discuss the man’s death only briefly-“Old Scratch (that is, the Devil) has got his own at last, hey?”-before changing topics to discuss the cold weather.

Scrooge does not know of whom these people are talking. He surmises that the dead man cannot be Marley since this Ghost is concerned with the future; neither can Scrooge think of anyone with whom he is associated who might be the subject of these conversations. Yet, as he has already told the Ghost, Scrooge knows that he is supposed to learn a positive lesson from all he sees, so he “resolves to treasure up every word he heard”-an ironic allusion on Dickens’ part to the biblical Christmas story (see Luke 2:19): where the Virgin Mary ponders the words of shepherds which anticipate her son’s life, Scrooge ponders the words of businessmen which point (though he does not yet realize it) to his own death. Dickens compounds the irony by telling readers that Scrooge has been waiting to see himself in the future; he assumes “the conduct of his future self would render the solution of these riddles easy.” Scrooge is more correct than he knows!

The Ghost then takes Scrooge to a poor part of the city he has never before visited, an area that “reeks with crime, with filth and misery.” There, Scrooge watches “old Joe,” proprietor of a makeshift store, purchase items brought to him by a charwoman (house servant; she is named Mrs. Dilber), laundress, and an undertaker’s employee. The odds and ends-including bed-curtains, “rings and all”-used to belong to a dead man. Scrooge is appalled by this scene, and tells the Ghost he realizes that “the case of this unhappy man might be my own.” As if to move him closer to the inevitable realization, the Ghost takes him to the corpse’s curtain-less bed, now “plundered and bereft.” The stiff body lies under a sheet. The Ghost beckons Scrooge to move the sheet and look at the corpse’s face. Scrooge is tempted to do so but does not. Instead, he reflects on how this dead man’s concern with money has not ultimately profited him: he has died alone, with only a cat and some rats expressing any interest.

Scrooge asks the Ghost to show him anyone who feels emotion at this man’s death. The Ghost obliges and takes him to a mother with children, who are anxiously waiting for the man of the house to return home. He does and tells his wife (who is named Caroline; we never learn his name) that the man to whom they are in great financial debt has died. Caroline’s first reaction is happiness, even though she is then ashamed of her reaction. The family’s debt will be transferred to someone else, but before it is due, the husband plans to have the money to repay it. “The only emotion that the Ghost could show Scrooge, caused by the event, was one of pleasure.”

Scrooge begs to see “some tenderness” linked to the event, and so the Ghost returns him to Bob Cratchit’s house, where the noise of the dinner in Stave Three has been replaced by sad silence. Bob’s son Peter is reading aloud from the Bible: “And He took a child, and set him in the midst of them” (Matt. 18:2)-a text in which Jesus teaches his disciples that those who hope to enter the Kingdom of Heaven must become like children. Apparently overcome with emotion, Peter stops reading. Mrs. Cratchit and her daughters are sewing clothes; she stops, saying, “The color hurts my eyes.” Although the text does not specify, we know the color is black and the clothes are for mourning garb, for the narrator laments, “Ah, poor Tiny Tim!” Mrs. Cratchit remarks that her husband is late getting home; Peter comments that his father has been walking more slowly than usual. The entire family recalls how Bob used to walk quickly when carrying Tim on his shoulder. When Bob at last arrives, he breaks down in tears; he has been visiting Tim’s grave. He goes upstairs to sit in an empty chair-the one foreseen in Stave Three by the Ghost of Christmas Present. Bob tells his family that he had a chance meeting in the street with Scrooge’s nephew Fred, who expressed sympathy over Tim’s death and offered his assistance in any way needed. Bob hopes that Fred will arrange good employment for Peter. Before Scrooge and the Ghost depart, they see the family embracing as they remember Tiny Tim. “Spirit of Tiny Tim,” the narrator declares, “thy childish essence was from God!” In connecting “childish essence” with divinity, in reminding readers of Jesus’ words regarding child-like faith, Dickens is, in fact, advocating for a segment of his society’s population often exploited, overlooked, and undervalued.

The Ghost still will not tell Scrooge who the dead man is. It instead takes him to a churchyard-located near his counting-house, which now has a different occupant. The Ghost points Scrooge to a specific headstone in the cemetery. Before Scrooge looks at it, he asks the Ghost if the visions he has seen represent “things that Will be, or . . . things that Maybe.” Again, the Ghost says nothing. It only points at the headstone, which reads, EBENEZER SCROOGE. Even then, Scrooge must still ask, “Am I that man who lay upon the bed?” The Ghost nods its head in confirmation. Scrooge clutches at the Ghost, appealing to it for intercession and pity. The Ghost’s outstretched seems to shake for the first time-a visible clue, perhaps, that Scrooge’s redemption is indeed still possible. Scrooge pledges to honor Christmas in his heart and to live by the lessons his supernatural visitors have taught him. Once more, Dickens is most likely alluding to Jacob’s wrestling match with an angel/God in Genesis 32 (see commentary at the end of Stave Two), for he writes: “In Scrooge’s agony, he caught the spectral hand. It sought to free itself, but he was strong in his entreaty and detained it”-even as Jacob detained the stranger at the Jabbok river, saying, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me” (Gen. 32:22, KJV). As he clutches the Ghost, it shrinks in size. Scrooge discovers that he is clutching his own bedpost.

A Christmas Carol Summary – Chapter V

Stave Five: “The End of It” Scrooge is in his own bed-whose curtains are still intact (a reference to their presence in the charwoman’s plunder; see Stave Four)-and is overjoyed to find that he has time to repent of his former ways. For the first time in a long time, Scrooge even laughs. “Really,” the narrator remarks, “for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh . . . .”

Wondering what day it is, Scrooge opens his window. Outside, churches are pealing their bells. Scrooge asks a young boy on the street below what the day is; the boy, puzzled, replies that it is Christmas Day. Scrooge expresses astonishment that his three supernatural visits were accomplished all in one night. He tells the boy to go to the Poulterer’s store and buy the large prize turkey. He plans to send it, anonymously, to Bob Cratchit. Scrooge promises the child “half-a-crown” in payment if he can accomplish the task in under five minutes. Excited, the boy races away to perform the errand.

Scrooge dresses in his best clothes (though one might wonder how fine the clothes of a life-long miser can be!) and shaves-no small feat for, as the narrator notes in a delightful aside, “shaving requires attention, even when you don’t dance while you are at it”-before going out into the city. He encounters one of the charitable workers (from Stave One), wishes him a merry Christmas, and pledges a generous amount of money for his good work. The only repayment Scrooge requires of the astonished charity worker is a promise of future visits.

Scrooge visits a church next, and though the narrator does not say whether or not Scrooge attends services, it is clear that what Scrooge does throughout the morning constitutes acceptable worship in Dickens’ mind. The reformed miser befriends children and beggars along his walk. As a Unitarian concerned with the potential of religion to be a positive force for social change, Dickens would no doubt have seen such actions as an illustration of biblical texts such as 1 John 3:18 (“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth,” KJV) and James 1:27 (“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world,” KJV). By showing Scrooge engaged in such interactions with poor and vulnerable members of society, Dickens is confirming that his protagonist’s change of heart runs deeper than new words. It yields new deeds.

Although it takes Scrooge some time to muster the courage to do so, he eventually joins his nephew for Christmas dinner. Noting the startled reaction of Fred’s wife to his arrival, Scrooge introduces himself: “It’s I. Your uncle Scrooge.” Hearn suggests that Scrooge deliberately echoes her cry of “Your Uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!” in Stave Three (p. 156). And true to his own stated intention in that earlier passage, Fred welcomes his uncle in with heartfelt generosity. No longer must Scrooge only wish he could join in the Christmas merrymaking; he can join it in truth, just as he is rejoining the human race, engaging life with his fellow travelers toward death (see Fred’s comment to Scrooge regarding the nature of the Christmas season in Stave One.)

The following day-December 26 which is, as Hearn notes, Boxing Day, when servants could expect special treatment from their masters (p. 157)-Scrooge arrives early at his counting house and, when Bob Cratchit reports for work, acts as though he is very angry with his clerk for arriving late. Eventually, however, Scrooge reveals that he is going to raise Bob’s salary. Bob is shocked, and even wonders if his employer has gone crazy; the narrator tells us that Bob thought of “calling the people in the court for help and a strait-waistcoat.” In this way, Scrooge’s comments about the “madness” of Christmas in Stave One find ironic fulfillment: that too much talk of a merry Christmas, especially from the poor, would cause him to “retire to Bedlam,” the famous mental institution. Scrooge promises to discuss all the details of assisting him and his family over a hot bowl of Christmas punch.

In a closing statement, the narrator reveals that Scrooge “was better than his word.” The comment reminds readers of the first paragraph of the book, in which we learn that Scrooge’s name “was good upon the ‘Change [that is, the London Exchange] for anything he chose to put his hand to.” Whether as a stingy miser or as a reformed man of generous spirit, then, Scrooge’s word can be trusted. Readers have no reason to doubt that he will follow through on his resolutions to live a better life. Indeed, Scrooge even becomes a second father to Tiny Tim-who, the narrator emphatically points out, “did NOT die.” (According to Hearn, Dickens had omitted this important detail in the original manuscript and added it prior to the novel’s publication). A pun on ghostly spirits and alcoholic spirits informs readers that Scrooge “had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle.” As teetotalers abstain from all alcohol, so did Scrooge abstain from further ghostly emissaries. For their mission had been accomplished: Scrooge keeps Christmas, and he keeps it well. “May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!”

With those words, this Christmas “fairy tale” (see comments on Stave One) comes to what Hearn calls its “happily ever after” ending (p. lviii). Yet Dickens’ fairy tale is not one to be forgotten when put down; rather, he intends his readers to make real in their own lives, not just at Christmas, but throughout the whole year.

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