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A Christmas Carol | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol | Discussion Questions 11 - 20


How does Dickens use weather in A Christmas Carol to create mood?

When the story opens, the narrator describes gloomy, foggy weather: "it was cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal." This dark atmosphere mirrors Ebenezer Scrooge's mood. Just a few sentences before, Scrooge is described as a carrying "his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas." While Scrooge "humbugs" his way through the holidays, the weather is equally dour. After Scrooge's transformation, descriptions of the weather change alongside descriptions of Scrooge's soul. When Scrooge is happy, or "light as a feather," the weather is described as "no fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring ... piping for the blood to dance to." Now that Scrooge is excited and engaged in the world around him, the weather follows suit.

What is the tone of A Christmas Carol?

The overall tone of A Christmas Carol is hopeful, yet it changes slightly with the visits of the spirits. When Ebenezer Scrooge remembers his childhood pain and broken engagement, for example, the tone becomes sorrowful. Yet hope remains: Scrooge is happy to remember Fezziwig, and his verbalized regrets suggest that his character is changing: "I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now." Sorrow returns with the second spirit, when Scrooge realizes that Tiny Tim could die. Within that sorrow, Scrooge is still able to enjoy Fred's party and vows to help the Cratchit family survive. Sorrow returns a final time when Scrooge realizes his imminent death, but hope prevails as he is transported back to his bedroom with the realization of a second chance.

How is A Christmas Carol an anti-Malthusian story?

Thomas Malthus was a British philosopher who was a proponent for zero population growth. This meant he supported the idea that those who couldn't financially support themselves should die off, reducing population, to keep the economy strong. At the opening of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge's mentality directly reflects this philosophy: "If they would rather die they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population." The reality of the philosophy is that good, kind, hardworking people like the Cratchits (and Tiny Tim in particular) would be the unfortunate victims. When Scrooge realizes that actual human lives are at stake, he sees the devastating result of Malthus's cruel philosophy. The moral of the story—that generosity and goodwill can overcome anything—is a direct critique of Malthus's views.

What role does Martha Cratchit play in Stave 3 of A Christmas Carol?

Martha Cratchit, the eldest daughter in the family, has a small but significant role in the story. She returns home from work on Christmas Day to surprise her family. This shows the unity and dedication of the family, sacrificing their sparse vacation time to be together, while showing the deep bond between father and daughter. When Martha sees Bob Cratchit, she runs into his arms, and Bob hugs "his daughter to his heart's content." It's a heartwarming scene that makes the reader sympathetic while driving home one of Dickens's social critiques: such a lovely greeting should never have happened, because Martha is a school-aged girl who should be studying but is forced into the workplace to help support her family. As a result, part of her innocence and childhood are lost.

What is significant about the structure of A Christmas Carol?

A Christmas Carol is broken into five staves. In music, staves are the five horizontal lines on a composition notation sheet on which notes are placed. This obviously references the story's musical title and nods to the "joyful song" the story sings about Christmas. Each of the five staves functions almost as a stand-alone story, because each has a unique purpose. The heart of the story is Staves 2, 3, and 4, in which Scrooge is visited by the three ghosts. Stave 1 serves to introduce the characters and conflict, while Stave 5 serves to wrap up the story and provide closure.

How does Ebenezer Scrooge's job support the themes in A Christmas Carol?

Ebenezer Scrooge works as a moneylender, which means he is directly involved in the process of putting people in debt. In Victorian England, debtors were put in horrific prisons if they couldn't pay back their loans. While in prison, debtors were unable to support their families, which compounded their debts and wreaked havoc on family stability, a theme Dickens explored more thoroughly in his 1857 novel Little Dorrit. This served to widen the gap between rich and poor, as men like Scrooge profited off the misfortunes of others. In this way, Scrooge builds his fortune on the backs of poor men, yet refuses to help those in need. His singular focus on making money at the expense of humanity results in his customers practically celebrating when he dies because "it would be very bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor."

How did A Christmas Carol help shape Christmas traditions?

Charles Dickens is often referred to as "The Father of Christmas" for the influence his stories, including A Christmas Carol, have had on holiday traditions. At the time of the story's publication, Christmas was a quiet, religious holiday. For many people, it passed without notice or celebration. In Victorian England, many families were simply too poor to afford the lavish feasts popularized in the Middle Ages. The story reminded readers that one needn't spend a fortune to celebrate in style. The most important elements were generosity, togetherness, and hope. The story, which was wildly popular upon publication, celebrates traditions of family feasts, hot drinks like "smoking bishop," and falling snow. Interestingly, snow at Christmastime wasn't common in Victorian London, but after the story's publication, people were nevertheless disappointed when it failed to fall on Christmas Day.

How would you characterize the narrator of A Christmas Carol?

The narrator of A Christmas Carol is a humorous, omniscient narrator with a conversational style. Because the story was written in the old tradition of Christmas ghost stories, it was important that the narrator appear to be speaking directly to the audience, even though the story is being read. As such, the narrator occasionally inserts comments or personal views: "I don't mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail. I might have been included, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade." The narrator occasionally loses himself in thought, giving the story an oral rather than written feel: "The mention of Marley's funeral brings me back to the point I started from," and lures readers into the story by making them feel part of it: "[Scrooge] found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew [the curtains]: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbows." In this way, the narrator forms an essential connection between readers and the story. Dickens himself frequently performed sections from A Christmas Carol during his popular reading tours.

What foreshadowing can be found in Stave 1 of A Christmas Carol?

Examples of foreshadowing can be found throughout A Christmas Carol, but they are particularly strong in the first stave. The first line of the story, "Marley was dead: to begin with" foreshadows Jacob Marley's ghostly return. The narrator goes on for paragraphs describing just how dead Marley is, and how certain Ebenezer Scrooge is of the death. This insistence clearly signals Marley's eventual return. Other examples of foreshadowing can be found in both Fred's invitation to dine and Scrooge's "Are there no prisons?" questions; these foreshadow the moments in Stave 3 when Scrooge visits Fred's party with the Ghost of Christmas Present and sees Ignorance and Want. To show Scrooge the error of his words and of his choices, the spirit causes Scrooge to confront the consequences of his actions from only that afternoon.

Why does Dickens introduce humor into A Christmas Carol?

There are many examples of humorous language and situations throughout A Christmas Carol. Descriptions of Ebenezer Scrooge as a shut-up oyster, or an imaginative child, or a trembling man afraid of the dark, might not be laugh-out-loud funny, but they provide an emotional levity important to the story. Because it's a ghost story, Dickens wanted to ensure readers wouldn't be too scared. He also wanted to let readers know that the story is "safe": even though readers will be concerned about Scrooge's experience, the mood assures them everything will be all right in the end. While the story has a strong moral message, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol primarily to entertain. Injecting humor into the story also prevents audiences from feeling preached to.

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