Plot Summary of A Christmas Carol
Charles Dickens divided A Christmas Carol into five “staves.” A stave is usually a section of a song, as in a Christmas carol.
Stave One: Marley’s Ghost
Charles Dickens began A Christmas Carol by telling us that Ebenezer Scrooge’s business partner, Jacob Marley, had died and was unquestionably dead. That part, he said, was very important.
Ebenezer Scrooge was a cold, penny-pinching old man who liked to keep to himself. No one ever greeted him on the street, but he liked it that way.
On Christmas Eve, the weather was cold and foggy, and Scrooge was busy in his counting house. He was keeping an eye on his clerk, Bob Cratchit, who was busy reproducing letters. Both men had very small fires to keep themselves warm, and the clerk was suffering from the cold.
Scrooge’s nephew came by to wish Scrooge a Merry Christmas, but Scrooge retorted with his characteristic, “Bah! Humbug!” The nephew also invited Scrooge to Christmas dinner, but Scrooge refused.
Next, two fat gentlemen came to ask Scrooge for donations for the poor, but Scrooge was not interested in helping.
When the time came to go home, Scrooge begrudgingly gave his clerk the whole day off for Christmas, but Scrooge told him to be back at work early on the day after Christmas.
Before heading home, Scrooge had dinner in a tavern, where he read all of the newspapers. When he reached his door, he was shocked to see the face of Jacob Marley, his dead business partner, appear on the door knocker.
Scrooge went upstairs and locked the door of his room. All of a sudden, all of the bells in the house began to ring. Then the bells stopped and Scrooge heard a clanking sound. Marley’s ghost appeared. It was pulling a long chain made of locks, deeds, and many other objects related to money.
Marley’s ghost told Scrooge that it was continually plagued by regret. When Scrooge insisted that Marley had been a good businessman, the spirit said that there was so much more to life than money. The spirit told Scrooge that three more spirits would visit him, and then it left.
Stave Two: The First of the Three Spirits
Scrooge woke up at 12:00 a.m. and felt disoriented. He lay in bed until 1:00 a.m., at which point light entered his room and his bed curtains were pushed aside. A strange small figure appeared. Light was shooting from its head, and parts of its body came into and out of view by turns. The figure said that it was the Ghost of Christmas Past, and it asked Scrooge to take a walk with it.
The ghost and Scrooge visited several scenes from Scrooge’s childhood. He saw a lonely child whose friends had left him. As Scrooge sat down on a school bench next to his former self, some tears began to fall from his eyes. Next, he saw himself as an older boy, and he saw a girl come to tell him that he was going home, that his father had become kinder.
In the next scene, they found themselves in a busy city. They entered a warehouse where Scrooge had been an apprentice. In the warehouse, the apprentices had cleared away space for a dance floor, and many people came to dance there. After the dance, the master and his wife greeted the guests as they left. Scrooge saw that, although the dance had not cost the master much money, everyone had had a good time anyway.
Next, the ghost and Scrooge viewed a scene with a younger Scrooge and a young woman. The woman accused Scrooge of chasing another idol—Gain. She said that he had abandoned his other nobler goals. She said that their contract had been made when they were both poor, and she accused him of being a different man than he once was. She said that they were no longer one but two, and that she released him. She wished him happiness, and they parted ways. Scrooge refused to view any more painful scenes.
But the ghost showed Scrooge one last scene. In the scene, a man was telling his wife of seeing Scrooge at his office while Scrooge’s partner lay dying at home. Scrooge demanded to leave the vision immediately and tried to put out the light coming from the head of the ghost. Then Scrooge became aware of being in his own bed, and he fell fast asleep.
Stave Three: The Second of the Three Spirits
Scrooge woke up, and when 1:00 a.m. had come and gone, he began to think that the next spirit might be in the adjacent room, and he was right.
As Scrooge opened the door, a voice called his name. The room was filled with living greenery and shining berries. The fireplace was roaring, and all kinds of meat, fruit, cake, and punch surrounded the giant visitor, who held a torch. The visitor identified itself as the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge took hold of the ghost’s robe, and the room disappeared.
They were in the middle of a city on Christmas morning. People were clearing away the snow and cheerfully throwing snowballs at each other. The grocers were about to close their shops, the steeples called people to church, and people were taking their dinners to the bakers’ shops.
Next, the two went to the house of Scrooge’s clerk, Bob Cratchit, who was preparing dinner with his family. After they had feasted on goose, mashed potatoes, and apple sauce, Mrs. Cratchit went to get the pudding.
Bob made a toast to the health of Scrooge, but Mrs. Cratchit said that she would like to give Scrooge a piece of her mind, and the way she described him was not at all flattering.
Scrooge and the ghost visited a variety of locations and each person was celebrating Christmas in his own way. They visited a mine where an old couple and their children were singing. They visited a lighthouse where two men wished each other a Merry Christmas. And they visited a ship where each man had a Christmas memory or spoke of a past Christmas Day.
Then the two visited the house of Scrooge’s nephew. They heard the nephew laughing at the memory of Scrooge’s saying that Christmas was “humbug.” The people in the house were discussing the idea that Scrooge never gained any benefit from all of his money, nor did anyone else benefit from it.
After dinner, dessert, and tea, they sang some songs and played games. Scrooge began to play the games with them, and to shout out the answers, although he could not be seen or heard. Then the party drank a toast to the health of Uncle Scrooge.
Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present visited many other places, each with a happy ending. At the stroke of twelve, the spirit disappeared, and yet another spirit appeared.
Stave Four: The Last of the Spirits
The phantom approached Scrooge. It was clothed in a black garment, and Scrooge could only see its hand, with which it pointed.
Immediately, they were in the midst of the city. Scrooge and the spirit overheard two men talking about a man that had died. The men were wondering what the man had done with his money. They said that the man would probably have a cheap funeral.
Scrooge didn’t know why they were listening to these conversations, but he suspected that they held some lesson, so he was determined to remember every word. Scrooge looked everywhere for himself in these images of the future, but he could not find himself.
Next, Scrooge and the spirit visited a seedy part of town, where they entered a beetling shop. Three people were carrying big bundles into the shop.
The people had been helping themselves to the dead man’s belongings. The man in charge of the shop appraised each person’s loot. The man wrote the sums of what he would pay on the wall. One of the women had taken the dead man’s bed curtains, blankets, and shirt. The woman had taken the deceased man’s best shirt from off of the dead body, and replaced it. Scrooge was appalled.
Next, Scrooge was near a bed, and on the bed was something that was covered with an old sheet. It was a body. They heard a cat scratching at the door and heard rats under the hearthstone. Scrooge desperately wanted to leave, but the ghost pointed at the head of the body.
Scrooge asked to see someone in the city who might feel emotion caused by the man’s death. They saw a man who was trying to hide his happiness. He told his wife about the death of the man, and the woman said she was glad to hear it, and then she said that she was sorry for her reaction. They had had a debt to pay the man, and now they could rest in peace for a while.
Then they saw Bob Cratchit’s family. Bob had met Scrooge’s nephew on the street and the nephew had seemed a little sad. When Bob asked him what the matter was, the nephew told him, and Bob said he was sorry for it.
Scrooge asked the spirit to tell him who the dead man was. They went to where Scrooge used to work. Scrooge looked in his office, but he saw someone else there. They went to a churchyard. The spirit pointed at a grave, and Scrooge went to look at it. Then he saw his own name on the tombstone: EBENEZER SCROOGE. Scrooge asked whether he was the man on that bed. The spirit made an affirmative answer. Then Scrooged asked the ghost whether he might change the future and erase the writing on the stone.
Scrooge grabbed the spirit and tried to keep it from leaving, but the spirit grew smaller and smaller and turned into a bedpost.
Stave Five: The End of It
Scrooge realized that he had time to change and correct his life. Scrooge confirmed that his bed curtains were still on his bed and that he was still alive. He could still change the future. He became disoriented because he had not felt this excited and happy in so long. He realized that it was all true, what he had experienced with the spirits. He began to laugh.
He realized that he didn’t know what day it was. He opened the window and asked a boy outside what day it was. The boy told him that it was Christmas Day. Scrooge realized that he hadn’t missed Christmas after all. All of the spirits had visited him in one night.
Scrooge told the boy to buy the biggest turkey at the Poulterer’s and to bring it back to his place so he could tell him where to take it. He was planning to send it to his clerk, Bob Cratchit. He paid for a cab to deliver the turkey and he sat down and laughed until he cried.
Scrooge walked outside and smiled at the people, some of whom wished him a Merry Christmas. Scrooge had never thought that a walk could bring him as much pleasure as it did on that Christmas Day.
Scrooge went to visit his nephew. They had dinner together and had a great party with terrific games and great joy.
The next day, Scrooge went to his office early to try to catch Bob Cratchit coming in late. Bob did come in late, and Scrooge pretended to be angry with him. Then Scrooge announced that he was going to raise Bob’s salary. For a moment, Bob thought that Scrooge had gone crazy. Scrooge wished Bob a Merry Christmas!
Scrooge became a great friend, master, and man. Some people doubted his sincerity and laughed at him, but Scrooge didn’t care. He now knew how to observe Christmas as well as any living being.