Study Guide

A Christmas Carol Choices

By Charles Dickens

Advertisement - Guide continues below


Stave 1
Ebenezer Scrooge

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob," faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

"Business!" cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. "Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!"

Again, Marley's poor choices in life are haunting him in death. Look at the sarcastic repetition of the word "business" in combination with all the unbusinesslike things that Marley should be been involved with. That kind of word repetition is a delicious Dickensian specialty.

"You are fettered," said Scrooge, trembling. "Tell me why?"

"I wear the chain I forged in life," replied the Ghost. "I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?" (1.131-132)

Notice how important it is that the chain isn't something that is imposed on bad people in the afterlife, but is instead created with "free will." In other words, be nice, dear Shmoopers, or you'll wear chains forever.

Stave 2
Ebenezer Scrooge

"I wish," Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: "but it's too late now."

"What is the matter?" asked the Spirit.

"Nothing," said Scrooge. "Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas Carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that's all." (2.61-63)

Scrooge begins to rethink his past choices. Sure, this is a pretty small one, but hey, it's a start.

"It isn't that," said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. "It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count 'em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune." (2.102)

Scrooge suddenly gets clocked by an Undercover Boss revelation. Who knew that as the boss of a business, he sets the tone for the employees? Again, check out how much the language stresses the completely free will of each manager to make the workplace "happy or unhappy", "light or burdensome."

Stave 3

"And how did little Tim behave?" asked Mrs. Cratchit, when she had rallied Bob on his credulity, and Bob had hugged his daughter to his heart's content.

"As good as gold," said Bob, "and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful, sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see." (3.55-56)

Is Tiny Tim making a choice about how to deal with his illness here? Is he angelic or just pragmatic? Or can he be a little bit of both?

"This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!" cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. "Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end!"

"Have they no refuge or resource?" cried Scrooge.

"Are there no prisons?" said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. "Are there no workhouses?" (3.144-146)

Zing! The ghost totally throws what Scrooge said earlier back in his face.

Stave 4

Scrooge was at first inclined to be surprised that the Spirit should attach importance to conversations apparently so trivial; but feeling assured that they must have some hidden purpose, he set himself to consider what it was likely to be. They could scarcely be supposed to have any bearing on the death of Jacob, his old partner, for that was Past, and this Ghost's province was the Future. Nor could he think of any one immediately connected with himself, to whom he could apply them. But nothing doubting that to whomsoever they applied they had some latent moral for his own improvement, he resolved to treasure up every word he heard, and everything he saw; and especially to observe the shadow of himself when it appeared. For he had an expectation that the conduct of his future self would give him the clue he missed, and would render the solution of these riddles easy. (4.38)

Scrooge chooses to invest himself in the experience, even though he totally doesn't get why they are listening to this conversation between some business dudes. It's this decision to "treasure up every word" that marks him a changed man already, don't you think? Is his denial here a mark of resistance to the transformation or just straight up cowardice?

"I will honour 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. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!" (4.164)

Does changing his life change the timing or just the manner of his death? We should also point out that if he had just been a Christmas-lover to begin with, he'd never have to travel through time and witness his own death. And really, who wants to do that?

Ebenezer Scrooge

"Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point," said Scrooge, "answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?"

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.

"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!" (4.151-153)

Scrooge freaks out that everything might be determined by fate rather than free will. Seriously, Ghosties, why show him these things if he has no power over them? No fair. And in general the novel's idea is that there is no reason to feel guilty or question decisions unless you have free will. Otherwise the outcome of your choices is meaningless.

Stave 5

"Lord bless me!" cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away. "My dear Mr. Scrooge, are you serious?"

"If you please," said Scrooge. "Not a farthing less. A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you. Will you do me that favour?"

"My dear sir," said the other, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say to such munifi—" (5.41-43)

Scrooge chooses to pay up his fair share of charity money. Why do we never see the recipients? Would that complicate this novella too much—since most likely his money won't really change their existence or wipe out their problems? Maybe.

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...