A Christmas Carol | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol | Discussion Questions 31 - 40


According to A Christmas Carol, what is the most important aspect of Christmas?

The most important aspect of Christmas is sharing the experience with loved ones. When the ghost of Christmas Present takes Ebenezer Scrooge on a tour of the country, he sees a variety of holiday traditions—from turkey dinners, to party games, to singing Christmas songs. No matter where people were living, rich or poor, they come together to celebrate in some small way: "every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, more spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day." The unity of man across social divides creates the true meaning of Christmas.

In A Christmas Carol, Stave 1 in what ways is Ebenezer Scrooge happy or unhappy?

At the opening of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge is very wealthy, which is all he cares about. Everything in his life revolves around making and keeping money. He has no friends or family, eats his meals alone, and lives in darkness (because "the dark is cheap"). While Scrooge's money makes him content, he is far from happy. He is miserable, cruel, and lonely: "Nobody ever stopped him in the street to say, with gladsome looks, 'My dear Scrooge, how are you?'" While Scrooge may think he's happy, at the end of the story he understands what true happiness feels like.

What significance can be found in Ebenezer Scrooge's name in A Christmas Carol?

Charles Dickens was an author who paid close attention to the tiniest details in his stories. Therefore, it is safe to assume that he chose the protagonist's name very carefully. The name "Scrooge" appears to be an alteration of the Old English verb "scurze," which meant "to squeeze." This name is particularly apt given Dickens's description: "he was a tight-fisted hand at the grind-stone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!" The first name, Ebenezer, is a hopeful name, drawing its meaning from the two Hebrew words eben (stone) and ezer (helper). Together, Ebenezer roughly translates to "help from a stone." At the beginning of the story, Ebenezer Scrooge is hard-hearted and as set as stone in his ways. He is "hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire." By the end of the story, however, Scrooge is generous, kind, and helpful. His transformation is so complete that many people do end up receiving help from a "stone."

When does the reader first see Ebenezer Scrooge's character change in A Christmas Carol?

As soon as Ebenezer Scrooge is transported back to his childhood village in Stave 2, his memories affect him as he becomes excited and nostalgic: "He was conscious of a thousand odours flowing in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten!" The emotions Scrooge had avoided for so many years come rushing back, and he is overwhelmed. The ghost notes that Scrooge's "lip is trembling" and he has tears on his cheeks: "Why did his cold eye glisten, and his heart leap up!" This is a stark and sudden change from the cold, miserly man at the beginning of the story.

What is the significance of the light beaming from the Ghost of Christmas Past's head in A Christmas Carol, Stave 2?

The bright light, described as a "clear jet of light by which all this was visible" bursts from the top of the Ghost of Christmas Past's head, symbolizing the power of self-discovery. Through this light, Ebenezer Scrooge is able to view memories from his past, which "shine new light" on his worldly outlook. He sees precious moments from his childhood, and happy memories from his adult years. When he begins to see the pain his greed has caused, however, he wishes to turn away from the light. When the self-realization becomes too strong and Scrooge sees the happiness his greed caused him to miss out on, he "seized the extinguisher-cap and by a sudden action pressed it down upon [the spirit's] head."

What similarities and differences can be found when comparing Ebenezer Scrooge's and Jacob Marley's characters in A Christmas Carol, Stave 1?

Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley were business partners with the same values: money was the most important thing; swindling customers was fine so long as you made a profit; there was no need for outside relationships—the primary focus is on money. Both were greedy, heartless men. Marley is the first to seek redemption. He realizes the errors of his ways much earlier than Scrooge: "Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down?" Yet it is only Scrooge who is fully redeemed. Still alive, Scrooge is given the second chance Marley wished for, and he uses it to avoid Marley's fate.

How does A Christmas Carol, Stave 1 place the story in history?

The primary details setting A Christmas Carol in Victorian England are the references to workhouses and Poor Laws, which were in full effect until the late 1800s. When the charity collectors ask Ebenezer Scrooge for a donation, he says that the only "charities" he wishes to support are government run: "Are there no prisons? ... Are there no workhouses?" He also mentions that The Treadmill and Poor Laws (mid-1800s) are still in effect. Further, the use of coal fires, quill and ink for writing ledgers, gas lamps, the lack of cars, and style of dress (comforters, pigtails, nightgowns, and so forth) are also clues to the era.

How did Dickens's personal history affect the writing of A Christmas Carol?

Dickens was deeply concerned with the wealth gap between rich and poor, particularly the plight of exploited, working-class children. He had been deeply traumatized as a child when he was forced into the workplace to cover his father's debts and wished to change government policies. He thought the Poor Laws, workhouses, and debtors' prisons devastated families and communities, and believed wealthy benefactors supporting poor community members was a much better solution to wealth disparities. At the time of the story's publication, Dickens was personally in debt, despite the popularity of his books, and was struggling to support his growing family. The message of family togetherness and generosity being more valuable than money would have resonated deeply with him.

In what ways did the original publication of A Christmas Carol bring Dickens success—financial or otherwise?

When A Christmas Carol was first published in 1843, the entire print run of 6,000 copies sold out in a matter of days. This was a considerable success given that there was little advertising for the publications because Dickens funded the publication himself. Demand for the story remained, and the novella has never gone out of print. While the story brought Dickens considerable fame, it did not bring him riches. This is likely due to the elaborate (and expensive) printing process he insisted on: covers were printed in red and green, pages were gilded, illustrations were hand colored, and the title letters were etched in gold. These expensive processes left small profits for the author. Copyright laws were difficult to enforce in those days, and the book was often pirated and sold in cheap editions from which Dickens received no compensation.

In what ways is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come the most frightening of the Ghosts in A Christmas Carol, Stave 4?

For audiences, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a terrifying specter because of its similarities to the Grim Reaper, or angel of death. The spirit does not have a face nor does it speak, yet it appears somewhat kind: "The spirit paused for a moment, as observing his condition, and giving him time recover." For Ebenezer Scrooge, however, the spirit is frightening because he knows it represents the future. He has not led a worthy life and after seeing Jacob Marley's ghost, anticipates an unhappy fate and does not look forward to the visit. He is filled with "solemn dread," not knowing whether these shadows of his future can be changed.

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