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A Christmas Carol | Study Guide

Charles Dickens

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A Christmas Carol | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


What method do the spirits undertake to show Ebenezer Scrooge the error of his ways in A Christmas Carol, Staves 1, 2, and 3—and why?

None of the spirits tell Ebenezer Scrooge directly what he has done wrong or what needs to change. Jacob Marley draws a clear comparison between his own mistakes and Scrooge's faults, but allows Scrooge to draw his own conclusions about the way Marley lived his life: "You were always a good man of business, Jacob," Scrooge insists. Similarly, the Ghost of Christmas Past minimizes Scrooge's memories—such as the importance of Fezziwig's party ("a small matter")—forcing Scrooge to defend them: "The happiness he gives is quite as great as if it cost a fortune." The Ghost of Christmas Present uses a similar tactic, using Scrooge's own words against him regarding Tiny Tim's fate—"If he is going to die, he had better do it, to decrease the surplus population"—allowing him to hear the callousness of his words.

What is Jacob Marley's mood during his visit with Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, Stave 1 and why does he feel this way?

When Jacob Marley's ghost visits Ebenezer Scrooge in Stave 1, he is frustrated. He is frustrated that he wasted his life collecting wealth when he could have been helping others: "Why did I walk through the crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down?" He is frustrated by his sentence: "I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house!" And he is frustrated by Scrooge's reluctance to listen to his message, raising "a frightful cry, and [shaking] its chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair." He is doing what he can to save Scrooge from a fate similar to his, but his power to change Scrooge's heart is limited.

In what ways did Ebenezer Scrooge have a happy or unhappy childhood in A Christmas Carol?

The reader is given very little insight into Ebenezer Scrooge's childhood, but much can be inferred from the few glimpses into his past. Fan's promise in Stave 2 that "Father is so much kinder now" suggests that he had been cruel when Scrooge was sent away. There were entire school years, including holidays, that passed without word or visitors from home: "Scrooge sat down upon a form, and wept to see his poor forgotten self as he had used to be." Scrooge appears not to have had any friends aside from those he imagined: "One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, [Ali Baba] did come, for the first time, just like that." Until his sister joyfully returns to his life and brings him companionship, Scrooge leads a lonely existence during his formative childhood years.

How does the mention of Ebenezer Scrooge's name affect the Christmas parties in A Christmas Carol, Stave 3?

Ebenezer Scrooge's name is mentioned in toasts at both the Cratchit family party and at Fred's Christmas party. Bob Cratchit insists on toasting to Scrooge's health, calling him "the Founder of the Feast," despite his wife's objections, because he wouldn't have a job at all without Scrooge. Despite the positive words, however, just hearing Scrooge's name puts the family in a bad mood: "Scrooge was the Ogre of the family. The mention of his name cast a dark shadow on the party, which was not dispelled for full five minutes." At Fred's house, he is once again the recipient of a toast, and again the generosity is met with scoffs: "More shame for him, Fred!" His name also serves as a hilarious party game answer for guests who must solve which "savage animal" is being described, after which Fred praises Scrooge for having "given us plenty of merriment."

Why would being poor and sick, as is Tiny Tim, during the time of A Christmas Carol be so terrible?

In Victorian London, the air was dense and foggy as smoke poured from factories and hundreds of thousands of coal fires each day. The air was so thick, often residents were literally not exposed to sunlight. The air also stank from the tons of sewage that poured into the Thames River. London was rainy and cold, particularly in winter, and streets weren't paved. Rather, they were a mixture of cold mud and the 100 tons of horse manure that dropped onto the roads each day. The streets were busy and noisy—filled with horses and carriages, street peddlers, crowds of people, and rambunctious children. Despite the millions of people in the city, little sympathy or compassion could be found as it was generally believed that the poor were in their circumstances due to their own poor decisions. These conditions made children such as Tiny Tim susceptible to diseases such as rickets, softened bones and a compromised immune system due to a vitamin D deficiency, and tuberculosis, a bacterial infection. Without money to buy foods rich in vitamin D or to travel out of the city to experience regular sunlight, over half of London's poor children suffered from preventable diseases that killed many of them.

In what ways is Gabriel Grub the precursor to A Christmas Carol's Ebenezer Scrooge?

"The Goblins Who Stole a Sexton," a story that appears in Dickens's popular 1836 serialized book Pickwick Papers, stars Gabriel Grub, described as "an ill-conditioned ... surly fellow—a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself." As he walks through the streets on Christmas Eve watching people prepare for their holiday parties, he thinks viciously of "measles, scarlet fever, thrush, whooping-cough" and other infectious diseases that might wipe out the population. He is happy to be spending his Christmas Eve digging a grave because it means someone has died. While he digs, Gabriel is visited by a troop of goblins who drags him into the underworld where they show him a series of images to teach him a moral lesson. One striking image is of a poor family whose youngest child lies dying. Through the visions, Gabriel's character changes completely. He is filled with grief, remorse, and a desire to change. Unlike Ebenezer Scrooge, however, Gabriel runs away from his town when he awakens on Christmas morning, fearing backlash from the townsfolk.

What is significant about Ebenezer Scrooge's rejection of Fred's party invitation in A Christmas Carol, Stave 1?

Ebenezer Scrooge doesn't simply decline Fred's party invitation in Stave 1 of A Christmas Carol. He says "that he would see [Fred]—yes, indeed he did. He went the whole length of the expression," meaning that he said he would "see Fred in Hell" before seeing him at a party. This is significant for two reasons: first, it shows how much Scrooge's character changes from the ghostly visits; he transforms from a heartless recluse to an engaged party guest. Second, it foreshadows Scrooge's redemption. Scrooge literally escapes hell by changing his outlook, joining the party, and sharing in the holiday merriment in Stave 5. By accepting Fred's invitation, Scrooge escapes Jacob Marley's hellish fate.

What weakness can be found in Dickens's representation of the wealth divide in A Christmas Carol?

A Christmas Carol was written hastily in just six weeks, so it's no surprise that some aspects of the story feel rushed. In his haste to create strong characters to represent the rich and poor, Dickens created overly simplified symbols. While the characters of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit and his family make a strong argument for benevolence and generosity, they don't accurately represent the wealth divide in Victorian England. Unlike Scrooge, many rich Londoners celebrated Christmas, had friends, and loved their families. Similarly, the Cratchit family is almost entirely untouched by the negative emotions of poverty (envy, despair, and anger). For this reason, many critics of the novella argue that Scrooge's transformation and the Cratchits' contentment are unbelievable and emotionally cheap.

If Ebenezer Scrooge experiences a rebirth by Stave 5 of A Christmas Carol, at what point is he symbolically dead?

Ebenezer Scrooge's character experiences a rebirth when he wakes up on Christmas morning and realizes he has been given a chance to make amends for his cruel behavior. References to babies—Scrooge crying like a baby and shouting that he'd "rather be a baby"—reinforce this idea. Rather than having a rebirth from the "death" he viewed with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Scrooge experiences a rebirth from his emotional death at the opening of the story. He is described much like a corpse: "External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him." No one speaks to him on the streets, and he lives alone in the dark. Through his rebirth, all this changes as Scrooge becomes a lively member of his community.

In A Christmas Carol, how is hell portrayed?

Hell is portrayed as the inability to help humanity. Jacob Marley's ghost in Stave 1, who wanders through a "hellish" eternity, is wrapped in chains of "cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel," which weigh him down physically and symbolize the emotional baggage he carries. All the phantoms Ebenezer Scrooge sees that first night carry similar chains and weep about their inability to intervene on earth: "one old ghost ... cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a doorstep." Not only individuals are sent to a hellish fate, but also governments who fail to help their citizens: "some few [spirits] (they might have been guilty governments) were linked together; none were free." All who forget their obligation to the poor and needy are punished for their selfishness.

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