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Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

330px-Charles_Dickens-A_Christmas_Carol-Cloth-First_Edition_1843Book: A Christmas Carol

Published: 1843

Author: Charles Dickens. Dickens’ novella was immediately embraced by the public and critics alike. In 1843, the British were exploring not only their Christmas traditions from the past, but new ones as well, such as exchanging cards, putting up Christmas trees, and caroling. It seems as though the author relied on many sources for his classic tale, but as with many of his previous books he relied heavily on his impoverished childhood. His empathy for the poor, combined with his positive message of good will toward his fellow citizens are in part what makes this story such a popular and enduring one that to this day captivates new readers.

Main Characters:

  • Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge – The miserly owner of a London “counting-house” which would today be referred to as an accountant’s office.
  • Bob Cratchit – Scrooge’s much abused clerk. He’s a kindly and generous man who adores his large family, particularly his ailing son, Tiny Tim.
  • Tiny Tim – The Cratchit’s youngest son who has been crippled from birth, and who’s health is extremely delicate. Despite this, he maintains a positive outlook on life and possesses a generosity of spirit that many of us could learn from.
  • Fred – Scrooge’s nephew who is everything that his uncle is not. While not successful in business like Scrooge, Fred is rich in friends and family due to his jovial personality. His love of Christmas is a particular bone of contention between him and his uncle.
  • Jacob Marley – When he was living, Jacob was just as greedy and cruel as his partner Scrooge. Now appearing to Scrooge as a ghost seven years after his death, he tries to warn his old friend to mend his ways before he winds up like him, weighted down by heavy chains and doomed to restlessly wander the world for eternity. It is Marley who tells his old friend that he will be visited by three spirits, and to take heed of their guidance.
  • Fezziwig – The cheerful merchant with whom the young Ebenezer and Jacob first apprenticed.
  • Belle – The beautiful woman who Scrooge fell so deeply In love with, yet ultimately chose making money over her.
  • Fan – Scrooge’ s sister who he adored. Having a cold, indifferent father, and basically no friends to speak of, Fan was the one constant during Ebenezer’s childhood. Unfortunately she dies giving birth to Fred.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Past – The first ghost to visit Scrooge, this spirit represents memory. He takes him on a journey to the Christmases in his past.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Present – This second majestic spirit, represents charity and empathy, and he guides Scrooge on a tour of his contemporaries’ Christmas celebrations.
  • The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come – The third and final spirit is also the most menacing. The physical embodiment of everyone’s fear of death, He’s a faceless, silent spectre dressed in in black robes, and he shows Scrooge a frightening view of his death, which will happen if he doesn’t see the error of his ways.

Plot: A Christmas Carol is a fairly straightforward allegory which Dickens cleverly divides into five “staves” (song stanzas) rather than chapters which is much more in keeping with the title. Each of the five staves has it’s own symbolic meaning, each building upon the others. As the story begins it’s Christmas Eve, but the miserable Scrooge has no cheer in his heart. Because of his greed and his complete indifference to the suffering of others, he is friendless, and has alienated even his family. He particularly hates Christmas, calling it “humbug”. Refusing Fred’s invitation to join them for Christmas dinner, he proceeds to rebuff two gentlemen who are seeking donations to provide Christmas dinners for the poor. He considers himself quite generous in allowing the unappreciated and overworked Bob Cratchit Christmas day off with pay. Once at home alone in his cold, dark house Scrooge is visited by Marley who is there to tell him he is to be visited by three spirits over the next three nights. Marley warns his old friend that unless he mends his ways he will suffer the same fate. Through his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Past, the reader gets a much better sense of what led Scrooge down the destructive path he is on. When you see how he suffered as a child with only his sister as solace, you can’t help but feel sorry for him. As wonderful a role model as Fezziwig is, by the time he enters young Ebenezer’s life, it’s too late. Ebenezer has been permanently scarred by his father’s cruel neglect, and already sees the acquiring of money and power are the only things that will make a man truly secure. The most important visits the Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge on is the one to Fred’s Christmas party where he speaks of his uncle with pity, and the visit to the Cratchit house where the impoverished family joyously embraces the holiday despite their constant worries over their finances and Tiny Tim’s declining health. It is Tiny Tim, who is so full of happiness and love, despite being so ill that makes the biggest impact on Scrooge. Near the end of the third stave, the spirit ominously warns Scrooge that Tim will die soon unless something happens to correct the course of events. The Ghost of Christmas Future is the scariest and shows Scrooge the bleak and dismal future which awaits him if he doesn’t change his ways. He will die alone and miserable with no one morning his passing. Seeing this future as well as Tiny Tim’s is what turns Scrooge into a new man. He awakens on Christmas day with joy and love in his heart, and determines to pass his new generosity of spirit on to others. As the story ends, Scrooge is truly a changed man who now treats everyone with kindness and compassion. In essence, he’s become the embodiment of the spirit of Christmas.

That Moment In: There are many important moments In this short little tale, but I’m going to detail the one that had the most impact on me when I was six-years-old and listening enraptured as my dad read this to me. This scene takes place in Stave four as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows Scrooge scenes involving the death of a nameless “wretched man”. Scripts is horrified as he sees that people are only planning on attending this man’s funeral if a free lunch is provided. When Scrooge implores the spirit to show him anyone who feels any emotion over this wretch’s death, he’s shown a poor young couple expressing their happiness that his death will give them more time to pay off their debt. Desperate, Scrooge now begs the spirit if he can see any tenderness connected with any death. Much to his surprise and dismay he’s shown Bob Cratchit and his family as they mourn the death of Tiny Tim. It seems as though this young child with his love, compassion and joyous nature touched more people in his short life than Scrooge has done in his many decades on earth. Finally the spirit shows Scrooge the lonely neglected grave which to no surprise bears the inscription of his name. As he lies sobbing at the shrouded figure’s feet, Scrooge finally realizes what his greedy, shallow, and loveless life has wrought. He implores the spirit to give him another chance saying:

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead, ‘said Scrooge.’ But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.

Scrooge goes on to fervently make this promise if he is given a chance:

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, The Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

Why It Matters: Speaking for myself, Scrooge’s epiphany and the resulting change in his personality and the way he treats others had a profound effect on me as a child which has carried over into my adult life. Even as a young child this opened my eyes to how the smallest act of kindness can have such a positive effect on someone else. While I am by no means a saint, I try to do my best to treat others with kindness, compassion and respect, the way I myself would like to be treated. A Christmas Carol is a story I re-read every year during this time to remind myself of the truly important things in life and too not focus so much on the material things.

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  1. David December 20, 2015