Study Guide

A Christmas Carol Transformation

By Charles Dickens

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Stave 1

The brightness of the shops where holly sprigs and berries crackled in the lamp heat of the windows, made pale faces ruddy as they passed. Poulterers' and grocers' trades became a splendid joke: a glorious pageant, with which it was next to impossible to believe that such dull principles as bargain and sale had anything to do. (1.67)

See, Dickens, capitalism ain't all that bad. As long as everyone's in a good mood, at least. Here, the cruel coldness of economics gives way to the jolly good fun of everyone's favorite pastime: shopping. But not for Scrooge—his business doesn't produce anything jolly good, so he can never rise above the cold hard facts of buying and selling.

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster. The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shrivelled his cheek, stiffened his gait; made his eyes red, his thin lips blue; and spoke out shrewdly in his grating voice. A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him; he iced his office in the dog-days; and didn't thaw it one degree at Christmas.

External heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. (1.7-8)

Well, when you put it that way, even Scrooge himself has some supernatural qualities, no? Why is this description so overblown—why not describe Scrooge as a nasty old man, instead of the very personification of coldness? And pardon Shmoop, while we go crawl back under our snuggie.

Stave 2

For again Scrooge saw himself. He was older now; a man in the prime of life. His face had not the harsh and rigid lines of later years; but it had begun to wear the signs of care and avarice. There was an eager, greedy, restless motion in the eye, which showed the passion that had taken root, and where the shadow of the growing tree would fall. (2.110)

Dickens's characters never stick to the old adage that books can't be judged by their covers. In his world, you can always tell the general goodness or badness of anyone just by looking at them. Here, as soon as Scrooge starts to be a little too into the money stuff, his face immediately reflects the new preoccupation. He practically turns green.

It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions. (2.20)

You know what? We'd argue that surreal and hallucinogenic images like this one make this work actually unfilmable—or at least unfilmable in a way that stays true to the original. So stop trying, Hallmark Channel!

Stave 3
Ebenezer Scrooge

"Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask," said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, "but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?"


They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread. (3.137,142)

So clearly we are supposed to be far more interested in the allegorical nature of what is happening here—that these kids are symbols of Want and Ignorance, and that humans should work to prevent them from happening or whatever, but we can't help but think that the wildly disturbing imagery of a rapidly aging male ghost giving birth to twins while standing up… well, it really overshadows the allegory a bit, no?

After a while [Fred and his guests] played at forfeits; for it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself. Stop! There was first a game at blind-man's buff. […] He always knew where the plump sister was. He wouldn't catch anybody else. If you had fallen up against him (as some of them did), on purpose, he would have made a feint of endeavouring to seize you, which would have been an affront to your understanding, and would instantly have sidled off in the direction of the plump sister. She often cried out that it wasn't fair; and it really was not. But when at last, he caught her; when, in spite of all her silken rustlings, and her rapid flutterings past him, he got her into a corner whence there was no escape; then his conduct was the most execrable. […] No doubt she told him her opinion of it, when, another blind-man being in office, they were so very confidential together, behind the curtains. (3.117)

Yet another kind of transformation—a children's game that takes on a totally different meaning when played in an adult context.

It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney, as that dull petrification of a hearth had never known in Scrooge's time, or Marley's, or for many and many a winter season gone. Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam. In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see; who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door. (3.5)

Have you ever watched HGTV or any of the home makeover shows on other channels? Doesn't this sound eerily like the final "reveal" of the way the designer has transformed a useless space into an inviting one? It's like a magical party planner just dropped by Scrooge's place to spruce it up a bit.

Stave 4
Ebenezer Scrooge

"Spirit!" he cried, tight clutching at its robe, "hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!" (4.160)

Finally. Scrooge acknowledges the internal transformation that has taken place. And we can all go grab some cider.

He looked about in that very place for his own image; but another man stood in his accustomed corner, and though the clock pointed to his usual time of day for being there, he saw no likeness of himself among the multitudes that poured in through the Porch. It gave him little surprise, however; for he had been revolving in his mind a change of life, and thought and hoped he saw his new-born resolutions carried out in this. (4.39)

Remember how when the Ghost of Christmas Past starts showing him stuff, Scrooge is really, really quick on the uptake? Here, though, the fact that this future happens after his death just will not sink in. Denial ain't just a river in Egypt, Shmoopers.

Stave 5

He dressed himself "all in his best," and at last got out into the streets. The people were by this time pouring forth, as he had seen them with the Ghost of Christmas Present; and walking with his hands behind him, Scrooge regarded every one with a delighted smile. He looked so irresistibly pleasant, in a word, that three or four good-humoured fellows said, "Good morning, sir! A merry Christmas to you!" And Scrooge said often afterwards, that of all the blithe sounds he had ever heard, those were the blithest in his ears. (5.36)

This squares pretty well with the earlier transformation of his face into one that immediately broadcasts greed. Here, as soon as he's decided to be a nice and generous guy, he right away looks the part and his appearance always transforms to match his interior. The outsides match the insides, in true Dickens fashion.

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