Dickens begins his tale with a bit of humor. After pointing out that Jacob Marley was dead as a doornail, he questions whether this traditional simile is appropriate. He thinks that a coffin-nail would portray death more effectively than a doornail, but eventually decides to acquiesce in the wisdom of his ancestors.
After telling us about the lifeless condition of Marley, Dickens forcefully describes the parsimonious character of Ebenezer Scrooge, Marley’s partner. After introducing these characters, the author begins his story.
To the disgust of Scrooge, it was the day before Christmas. He celebrated the occasion by rebuffing his nephew, who offered the appropriate Christmas greeting, and by repulsing two gentlemen who asked him to donate something for the poor and needy. He also scared away a lad who began to sing a Christmas carol at his door. In general, Scrooge liked to refer to Christmas as a humbug.
Bob Cratchit, his clerk, fared somewhat better. Scrooge grudgingly excused him from work on Christmas Day, but he made sarcastic comments as he did so and insisted that the clerk show up early on the day after Christmas.
That night Scrooge started seeing things. An ordinary doorknocker briefly seemed to take on the appearance of his deceased partner. Then he saw a locomotive hearse moving up a flight of stairs. After further scary phenomena, the ghost of Jacob Marley appeared before him, laden with chains.
Though Scrooge was deeply disturbed, he attempted to remain incredulous. Nevertheless, when the spirit shouted, shook his chains, and allowed his lower jaw to drop in his breast, Scrooge begged for mercy and confessed that he believed that what he was seeing was real.
The ghost explained that he had forged the chain that he was wearing by failing to show mercy in his lifetime. He did not want his partner to share his fate, so he had come to warn him.
Marley told Scrooge that three ghosts would visit him. On three successive nights, one spirit would arrive at one o’clock sharp. The first visit would take place the following night.
Scrooge did not like the idea of entertaining spectral visitors, but Marley insisted. He told Scrooge that without the help of the three spirits, Scrooge would also be wandering about with a heavy chain after he died.
Marley left through Scrooge’s window and joined a host of other spirits who were moaning piteously and wandering here and there. All of them were adorned with chains, just like Marley. A significant part of their sadness was a belated desire to help the poor – a desire that they were no longer able to fulfill. The spirits eventually faded out of sight.
The first spirit appeared at the appointed time. It was the Ghost of Christmas Past. It took Scrooge by the hand and magically transported him to a place where he had spent time as a child. Here Scrooge saw shadows of things that had happened in the past. He had attended a very unsatisfactory boarding school. He saw himself alone and forsaken at Christmastime with no companions except the characters in books that he was reading.
As he contemplated his own situation when he was a boy, he began to wish that he had befriended the lad who had attempted to sing a Christmas carol at his door.
The next scene was happier. At a later Christmas, his sister came to his school. She was going to bring him home, and he would never have to return.
The sister of Scrooge was a delicate creature, but she managed to marry and have one child before she died. Her child was Fred, the nephew whom Scrooge had recently snubbed. Scrooge felt uneasy when he remembered his unkind words to his nephew.
In the next Christmas scene, Ebenezer Scrooge was an apprentice. He was cheerfully enjoying a Christmas party sponsored by Mr. Fezziwig, his master. Dick Wilkins, his fellow apprentice, was present. Others entered the scene and joined in the fun.
Scrooge thoroughly enjoyed the scene. However, after it was over, he felt remorse because he had not imitated Mr. Fezziwig’s generosity in his dealings with his clerk.
In a still later Christmas scene, Scrooge saw a girl dressed in morning. He had loved her until his love of gold displaced every other affection. They had become engaged when they both were poor. Since she knew that Scrooge now regretted his attachment to a girl who had no dowry, she agreed to dissolve their engagement.
Scrooge felt tortured. He wanted to see no more, but the spirit forced him to view the happy home life of the girl that he had despised. This final Christmas scene had occurred nine years before the present, when Jacob Marley was about to die.
The next night, the Ghost of Christmas Present kept his appointment. Unlike his predecessor, he did not appear in the bedroom of Scrooge, but in an adjoining room. When Scrooge entered, a hearty fire was blazing on the hearth. The room was decorated with holly and mistletoe, and all kinds of Christmas goodies were heaped upon the floor.
After showing Scrooge various activities that were currently taking place, the spirit took Scrooge to the home of Bob Cratchit. He had a wife and a host of children, including a lame boy named Tiny Tim. They were a poor but happy family. The spirit blessed their house.
They had goose for Christmas. After eating a hearty meal, Bob Cratchit proposed a toast to Mr. Scrooge, whose wages made their Christmas dinner possible. Since Bob’s salary was small, Mrs. Cratchit did not think that his boss deserved a toast, but she acquiesced in it for the sake of her husband.
Tiny Tim seemed healthy and energetic, but Mr. Scrooge was concerned. He asked the ghost whether the boy would survive. The ghosts answer was ominous. He saw a vacant seat and a crutch without an owner. Unless something happened to alter these shadows, the boy would die.
Scrooge had once remarked that the death of poor people would be a good thing, since the surplus population would thereby be reduced. To prick Scrooge’s conscience, the Ghost of Christmas Present quoted this statement and applied it to Tiny Tim. Scrooge hung his head in shame.
The spirit showed Scrooge various Christmas scenes. They visited the home of miners. They glanced at two men in a lighthouse. They went out to sea and boarded a ship. In all these scenes, people were celebrating Christmas.
The spirit then took Scrooge to the home of his nephew Fred. He was laughing heartily. His wife and their guests joined in the laughter.
Their laughter was occasioned by Scrooge’s attitude toward Christmas. It amused them that he called it a humbug. Fred said that he felt sorry for Scrooge.
Later the company began to play games. Scrooge thoroughly enjoyed watching them. He did not want to leave, but the spirit had other scenes to show him.
The Spirit of Christmas Present and Scrooge visited many homes, as well as hospitals, almhouses and jails. In all these scenes, people were enjoying the Christmas season.
They witnessed scenes from all twelve days of the Christmas season. By Twelfth Night, the Ghost of Christmas Present appeared noticeably older.
The next night, Scrooge was visited by a Phantom, draped and hooded. It was the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He was a mysterious spirit who did not speak a single word.
The spirit led him to a place where Scrooge was accustomed to conduct business. A group of businessmen were talking about someone who had died the previous night. They thought that he would have a cheap funeral, and they suspected that no one would attend. They joked about finding volunteers.
Scrooge expected to see a shadow of himself in this place of business, but the corner where he expected to find himself was occupied by someone else.
The spirit then led Scrooge to a disreputable part of London. He saw three people selling stolen goods to a man named Joe.
Someone had died in bed. Since he was all alone, the three thieves were able to plunder his quarters with impunity. One of them even stole his bed curtains and blankets while the corpse was lying in the bed. She also stole the best shirt that the deceased gentleman possessed. She had to take it off the corpse to get it, since someone had put it on him in preparation for his burial.
Scrooge was horrified when he heard these things. The spirit offered no explanation, but he took Scrooge to a plundered room. A corpse was lying on the bed, covered by a sheet. Scrooge did not have the courage to remove the sheet to see who it was.
The spirit then took Scrooge to the house of someone who owed money to the gentleman who had died. The debt was due, and they had no hope that the creditor would give them further time. His death had saved them from certain ruin.
The setting of the next scene was the home of Bob Cratchit. Tiny Tim had died recently, and the family missed him.
Scrooge wanted to know the identity of the corpse that lay in the plundered bedroom. To answer his question, the spirit took him to a cemetery and pointed to a gravestone that was overrun with weeds. The name on the gravestone was EBENEZER SCROOGE.
Scrooge assured the spirit that he would change. He would honor Christmas and keep it all year. He asked the spirit whether it were possible to expunge the writing on the gravestone. As he was pleading, the Phantom shrunk and turned into his bedpost. He was happy to see that his bed curtains had not been torn down.
While it seemed as if several days had passed since he had seen the ghost of Marley, Scrooge soon learned that it was the morning of Christmas Day. He immediately began to amend his life, spreading cheer with a sincere heart.
First, he bought a huge turkey and sent it to the house of Bob Cratchit. Then he met one of the gentlemen who had solicited a donation the previous day. Scrooge whispered something in his ear that filled him with amazement. He went to church and walked about town. Then he paid a surprise visit to his nephew.
The next day, Bob Cratchit was late for work. Scrooge scowled fiercely at him and punished him by giving him a raise in pay.
From then on, he befriended the Cratchit family and became a second father to Tiny Tim.
His altered conduct caused amazement and even amusement, but Scrooge did not care if people laughed at him. He was happy.
While this story is interesting and masterfully written, it is important to remember its limitations. It does not express the essence of Christmas. Christmas is the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, through Whose work alone postmortem ills are diverted from mankind.
Perhaps Dickens was conscious of this limitation, since Scrooge attended church on Christmas Day.
The Christmas Carol can be read online. It is presented by World English.