Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol

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A Christmas Carol Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol is one of the most famous works by English writer Charles Dickens. The novella, fully titled A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost-Story of Christmas, has never been out of print since it was first published in 1843. In five chapters, or staves, it tells the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly man who lives alone and only cares about making and hoarding his money. Through the course of three supernatural visits that occur the night of Christmas Eve, Scrooge learns the true meaning of life and Christmas.

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

When Scrooge arrives home later that evening, he senses that someone is in his house. He is visited by a ghostly specter that turns out to be his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley. Marley is wrapped in chains entwined with moneyboxes. He tells Scrooge that he is doomed to roam earth in the heavy chains as punishment for his greed.

Scrooge learns that three spirits will visit him that night and that he must listen to them to escape the same fate as Marley. If he doesn’t, he may end up bearing heavier and longer chains upon his death.

The first spirit to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Past. He takes Scrooge back to the more innocent days of his youth. Scrooge witnesses his lonely childhood, but is also reminded of his love for his sister Fan (who later died after giving birth to his nephew). Scrooge and the spirit move on to his early adulthood. They stop by the holiday festivities of Scrooge’s first employer, the jovial Mr. Fezziwig, who was a kind mentor that treated Scrooge like family.

Scrooge next witnesses his younger self interacting with his then fiancée, Belle. Their relationship ended when Belle realized that Scrooge would never love her as much as he loves money. The ghost later takes Scrooge to see Belle and her large, happy family. Walking through these memories evokes a range of emotions in Scrooge. He begs the ghost to take him back to his own time and finds himself in his bed.

When the clock strikes again, the Ghost of Christmas Present visits Scrooge. After touching his robes, the ghost whisks Scrooge off to witness various households joyously preparing for Christmas. At Bob Cratchit’s modest home, he sees his employee’s family for the first time. Scrooge wants to know more about Bob’s small, happy boy who is crippled. The spirit tells him the boy is Tiny Tim, and that the boy will die if his future isn’t changed.

At the end of their journey, the spirit shows Scrooge two emaciated children called Ignorance and Want and tells him to beware them both, but especially the latter.

The final spirit to visit Scrooge 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 domestic workers steal from him to make some money, and one couple celebrates because their outstanding debt to Scrooge is now sorted.

Scrooge asks the spirit to show him someone mourned in a loving way. To his disappointment, the spirit reveals Cratchit’s family grieving the loss of Tiny Tim. Scrooge’s horror only grows as the spirit finally leads him to the grave of the despised man 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 this novella is redemption. Self-reflection enables Scrooge to transform from a lonely, tight-fisted man to a generous benefactor, greatly improving the quality of his life. He avoids eternal punishment by his own free will and actions.

Dickens’ social critique of Victorian England in A Christmas Carol is expressed through Scrooge, the greedy, self-interested wealthy, and the Cratchits, the good-hearted poor.  Dickens himself was forced into early work due to his father’s debts, and this childhood experience left him a changed person. He wrote A Christmas Carol after witnessing the working condition of children in tin mines and visiting a school set up for London’s street children.

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.

Following the success of the story, Dickens did a wildly popular public reading and continued to perform versions of it 127 times until the time of his death. It has been adapted for the stage, film, and opera. Some of the terms Dickens used in 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.