A Christmas Carol | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What is significant about the appearance of the first spirit in Stave 2 of A Christmas Carol?

The first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, is described as looking "like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man." He is a literal embodiment of the past as viewed through the eyes of an old man, "giving him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions." He represents memory, particularly the importance of childhood memories remembered in old age. This is reinforced by the contradiction of its accessories: "a branch of fresh green holly in its hand [and] its dress trimmed with summer flowers"—it carries both summer and winter plants, suggesting that the spirit is not constrained by time.

How do the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit compare and contrast in A Christmas Carol?

Both Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit work in the financial sector of Victorian London. They work in the same office, but have very different experiences there. Scrooge, a miserly cheapskate, is solely focused on making money. At the opening of the novel, he has no time for humanity or holidays. Bob, on the other hand, is abysmally poor, yet he symbolizes the optimistic ability to rise above suffering to celebrate life. While Scrooge represents the powerful elite, he is miserable and cruel. Scrooge is the obstacle of suffering that men like Cratchit must overcome. Although the wealth gap is wide between the two characters, the emotional gap is even wider.

How does Dickens present wealth in A Christmas Carol?

When the reader first meets Ebenezer Scrooge, he is obsessed with money. In the first pages, he is described as a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner," primarily because of his greed. Scrooge ignores the suffering of those around him—even those very close to him—because he is single-mindedly focused on his wealth. As a result, he becomes a greedy miser, "secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster." Even though wealth is the root of Scrooge's evil, it is not solely destructive. At the end of the novel, Scrooge is able to use his wealth to improve the lives of Tiny Tim and his family. Dickens's message isn't that the poor are "good" and the rich are "bad," but that the wealthy should use their fortunes to help humanity. Generosity, Dickens proposes, can overcome anything.

In what ways does A Christmas Carol promote socialism or capitalism?

At the beginning of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge cares about the pursuit of money over all else. He is a successful businessman who enjoys limited government regulation on how his money should be spent (taxes to fund institutions for the poor, for example). As a result, he becomes mercilessly cruel, sacrificing familial and community relationships to acquire money. The same could be said about unregulated capitalistic pursuits—such as sweatshops or factory farms—which value profit over human or animal lives. When Scrooge becomes altruistic at the end of the story, his actions seem to promote socialism—sharing equally in society—but Scrooge could never have become a benefactor had he not made a fortune through capitalist gains. Scrooge doesn't try to "save" the entire poor neighborhood. He chooses one charity and one family to support and keeps the rest of his money for himself. For this reason, A Christmas Carol promotes capitalism while also promoting generosity and good will.

What role do each of the three spirits have in helping Ebenezer Scrooge become a better person in A Christmas Carol?

During his visits with each of the three spirits, Ebenezer Scrooge learns a specific lesson, which helps him become the "infinitely" better man he is transformed into at the end of the story. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is selfish, greedy, and cruel. Through his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Past, he looks carefully at his childhood and early adulthood to understand what events caused him to withdraw from society. He learns that many things, including family, are more valuable than money. During his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge is forced to look directly at those he has injured, including Bob Cratchit and Fred. Scrooge learns the unexpected consequences of his cruel actions. Finally, during his visit with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge learns the meaninglessness of his life's work. With no one to share his happiness with, and no one to mourn him when he's gone, his life and wealth are worthless.

Why is Tiny Tim's disability important in Stave 3 of A Christmas Carol?

In A Christmas Carol, Tiny Tim is disabled and walks with a crutch. Primarily, the disability makes Tiny Tim a more sympathetic character, giving readers (and Ebenezer Scrooge) more reason to want to help him. However, the disability also sheds light on Scrooge's isolation from his sole employee. He had no idea Bob Cratchit had a disabled son. When he discovers this and learns that Tiny Tim will likely die, Scrooge has a new motivation to transform. He is not only working against the clock to redeem himself but also to save the boy. Tiny Tim's disability also helps symbolize him as suffering under Victorian rule. His character represents the struggles of vulnerable people—particularly children and the disabled—under a government that offers few social supports, while a wealthy upper class callously ignores their plight.

How does A Christmas Carol portray women?

A Christmas Carol portrays women primarily as essential animators of the home. For example, the reader learns about Fan that when she comes to pick Scrooge up from boarding school, she represents to him all the delights of home. Similarly, Fred's wife and Mrs. Fezziwig are important guarantors of the success of the parties at their houses. Belle likewise is, when the reader sees her in Stave 3, seated in the center of her children, and while nothing explicit is stated about her role in the current festivities, the reader must deduce from the scene that she is enjoying the fruits of many years of forming her home into a place of family life. And of course there is Mrs. Cratchit, whose hard work is indispensable in ensuring that the Christmas celebration in her house is joyful and heartwarming for her family. The reader also gets a glimpse of women as workers in characters such as Martha Cratchit and the laundress Mrs. Dilber, although Dickens portrays this work as necessary for survival rather than a choice.

Why is it significant that Ignorance and Want are children in Stave 3 of A Christmas Carol?

Ignorance and Want, the two emaciated, filthy creatures hiding under the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present, are children. They represent the abysmal poverty or "want" of vulnerable people in Victorian England. While many upper-class English "ignorantly" believed the poor were responsible for their condition, children were sometimes treated with sympathy. While children were still expected to work, wealthy benefactors sometimes funded education, food, or clothing. By casting the society's lowliest as children, Dickens knew he would garner more sympathy and effect more social change than if Ignorance and Want had been adults. Ignorance and Want represent how greed and selfishness breed "ignorance" and "want," devastating communities.

How do Ebenezer Scrooge's relationships with Bob Cratchit and Fred in Staves 1 and 5 influence his character change in A Christmas Carol?

Ebenezer Scrooge has no time, energy, or love for either his employee or his nephew at the start of the story. He finds both to be foolhardy, ridiculous, and annoying. Both make terrible decisions with their money ("What reason have you to be merry? You're poor enough!" he reproaches Fred) and deserve their struggling fate ("I don't make merry myself at Christmas, and I can't afford to make idle people merry.") As Scrooge's character transforms, he sees the men differently: Bob Cratchit represents the suffering poor (whom Scrooge now desires to help), while Fred represents all that is good about the holidays (which Scrooge wishes to partake in).

What is the meaning of the line "Joe Miller never made such a joke as sending it to Bob's will be!" in A Christmas Carol, Stave 5?

Joe Miller was a popular stage actor in the early 1700s. He performed primarily in Shakespearean plays and was said to particularly love comedies. After Miller died in 1738, author John Motley published a joke book with a few jokes aimed at Miller. The rest of the jokes, silly puns and off-color one-liners, had nothing to do with Miller but nevertheless became known as "Millerisms." The narrator's reference to Miller during the scene in which Ebenezer Scrooge sends the turkey to Bob Cratchit's home on Christmas Day suggests the immense joy (and laughter) Scrooge felt through the kind gesture. Scrooge has transformed so fully that he goes from shouting "humbug!" to engaging in pop-culture references to famous comedians.

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