Study Guide

A Christmas Carol Guilt and Blame

By Charles Dickens

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Guilt and Blame

Stave 1

The same face: the very same. Marley in his pigtail, usual waistcoat, tights and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling, like his pigtail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long, and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. (1.98)

This is one of the only visions of actual punishment in the novella. Why does Scrooge escape from any sort of negative comeuppance after a lifetime of misdeeds? We guess we're to assume that Marley never learned his lesson and apologized.

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley's Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a doorstep. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever. (1.172)

Dickens's specialized vision of hell is being able to see but not being able to help suffering family and friends. Also, check out that inspired image of members of bad governments being linked together in eternal torment.

Stave 3

There was nothing of high mark in this. They were not a handsome family; they were not well dressed; their shoes were far from being water-proof; their clothes were scanty; and Peter might have known, and very likely did, the inside of a pawnbroker's. But, they were happy, grateful, pleased with one another, and contented with the time; and when they faded, and looked happier yet in the bright sprinklings of the Spirit's torch at parting, Scrooge had his eye upon them, and especially on Tiny Tim, until the last. (3.85)

So, we're thinking there's a lot of implicit guilt and blame for the reader here, right? We've all seen a family like the Cratchits.

Ebenezer Scrooge

"No, no," said Scrooge. "Oh, no, kind Spirit! say he will be spared."

"If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my race," returned the Ghost, "will find him here. What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."

Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief. (3.72-74)

Nice. The Ghost of Christmas Present really makes short work of Scrooge by quoting him back to himself. And in general, the idea of combating the urge to wave away anonymous crowds of the needy (like Scrooge does) by putting an individual face on the problem (like Tiny Tim) is a pretty old one—and it's still being used today. Just check out those regular joes who get invited to the State of the Union address every year—each of them functions as a face to put with an abstract concept each President is trying to promote.

Stave 4

"If he wanted to keep 'em after he was dead, a wicked old screw," pursued the woman, "why wasn't he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself."

"It's the truest word that ever was spoke," said Mrs. Dilber. "It's a judgment on him."

"I wish it was a little heavier judgment," replied the woman; "and it should have been, you may depend upon it, if I could have laid my hands on anything else. Open that bundle, old Joe, and let me know the value of it. Speak out plain. I'm not afraid to be the first, nor afraid for them to see it. We knew pretty well that we were helping ourselves, before we met here, I believe. It's no sin. Open the bundle, Joe." (4.54-56)

Wow, that's a pretty stellar circular argument to prove that it's actually Scrooge's own fault that these guys stole all his stuff after he died! This might be the only place in the work where blame is shifted around rather than being accepted by the rightful guilty person. These folks that steal Scrooge's stuff believe they're not at fault because Scrooge was such a jerk in his life. But that's not the soundest of arguments, now is it?

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