A Christmas Carol Summary

Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol

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A Christmas Carol Summary

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First published in 1843, Charles Dickens’s novella A Christmas Carol tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a selfish man who lives alone and only cares about making and hoarding his money. However, through the course of some miraculous experiences that happen the night of Christmas Eve, Scrooge learns the true meaning of life and Christmas.

The story opens with Ebenezer sitting in his office as usual. It is Christmas Eve, but he isn’t in the Christmas spirit. He is visited by his nephew Fred but refuses to attend Christmas dinner at his house. He turns away two men looking for donations for the poor. He only grudgingly grants his employee, Bob Cratchit, the day off for Christmas to spend with his family.

Later that evening, when Scrooge arrives home, he feels that someone is in his house. He is visited by a ghostly specter, his former partner, Jacob Marley. Marley is wrapped in chains entwined with moneyboxes, and he tells Scrooge that he is doomed to walk the earth in the heavy chains as punishment for his greed.

Marley tells Scrooge that three spirits will visit him later that night, and that he must listen to them. If he doesn’t, he may end up carrying heavier and longer chains after he dies.

The first spirit arrives and calls itself the Ghost of Christmas Past. He takes Scrooge back into his childhood to remind him of a time when he was more innocent and less miserly. We see his lonely childhood, but we also see his love for his sister Fan. We see his first employer, a jovial man named Mr. Fezziwig. who was kind to Scrooge during his youth.

During this trip, we also see that Scrooge had a fiancée, Belle. Their relationship ended when Belle realized that Scrooge would never love her as much as he loves money. The ghost then takes Scrooge to see Belle and her large, happy family.

The second spirit that visits is the Ghost of Christmas Present. He takes Scrooge to see people preparing for Christmas festivities. They visit several different households so that Scrooge can see their joy. The ghost then takes him to his employee Bob Cratchit’s Christmas preparations. He sees their family, and asks about a small happy boy that seems to be limping. The spirit tells him that this is Tiny Tim, a boy the spirit says will die if his future isn’t changed.

The spirit then shows Scrooge two emaciated children that it calls Ignorance and Want. He mocks Scrooge’s concern for their welfare, but tells him to beware the former most of all.

The final spirit is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. This silent spirit takes Scrooge to the funeral place of a widely despised man. Although Scrooge is appalled at the deceased man’s treatment, the spirit is unable to show him anyone that is sad to have the man gone. Rather, his peers will only attend the funeral if lunch is provided, the man’s house employees steal from him to make some money, and a couple rejoices that their outstanding debt to him is now sorted.

Scrooge asks the spirit to show him someone mourned in a loving way, and to his disappointment, the spirit shows him Tiny Tim. Scrooge’s horror only grows as the spirit finally leads him to the grave of the despised, and he discovers his own name on the headstone. Scrooge finally breaks and begs the spirit to return him to his life so that he can change his ways and avoid this bleak future.

Once returned, Scrooge is delighted to find that it is Christmas morning. He spends the day with Fred and his family, and sends a turkey to Bob Cratchit’s family anonymously. He increases Bob’s pay the next day, and eventually becomes like a second father to Tiny Tim. From then on, Scrooge displays kindness and generosity to everyone he meets and embodies the true spirit of Christmas.

The major theme of the novella is redemption. Dickens himself was forced into early work due to his father’s debts, and this childhood experience left him a changed person. Many of his stories deal with social issues of the day, and A Christmas Carol displays one of Dickens’ greatest passions, the care of the less fortunate.

A Christmas Carol was published at a time when Victorian England was experiencing a renewed interest in Christmas customs. It was a chance for Dickens to advance some of his social critiques in a form that resonated with his audience. Scrooge experiences his transformation on Christmas Eve, and through the spirit of that holiday becomes generous and kind to people of all classes. He even goes so far as to repeat his and Mr. Fezziwig’s relationship with his own employee and family.

The novella has never been out of print, and is one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time. Quite a few terms from the book became popular vernacular including “Merry Christmas,” and the use of “Scrooge” to mean miserly. It is now a classic of both English literature and Christmas holiday stories.