Study Guide

A Christmas Carol Time

By Charles Dickens

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On the one hand, in A Christmas Carol time is, quite frankly, nutso. Scrooge's experiences last one night, but feel to him like several days, and encompass many years worth of emotional crises and reversals. Whew. On the other hand, the story is structured as a race against time with the two ticking time bombs of Tiny Tim's illness and Scrooge's own eventual death as the zero hours that have to be somehow prevented or at least put off indefinitely. So time is both totally stretchable and totally scarce, which only adds to the surreal, chaotic feeling of the story.

Questions About Time

  1. Why does the novella feel like a race against time when we don't actually know how many years into the future the visions of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come are? What would be different if we knew that Scrooge had several years to decide to change himself?
  2. Why do the ghosts come at one in the morning? Why does time keep resetting itself? Why not just come at successive times in the same night—or at the same time on different nights? Is there a point to the destabilization of time in this way?
  3. Why does the revelation of the past show us many different time periods while the future only shows us one Christmas? What would be different if we saw several of the years yet to come and watched Scrooge's life slowly unravel further and further? Was he already at his lowest point, so there was nowhere else to go but death?
  4. Has Dickens created a whole new category of supernatural creatures—time ghosts? Can you think of any other work that features magical beings specially tied to time? What qualities do they share with regular ghosts (like Marley for example)? What is different about them?

Chew on This

The fact that Scrooge goes to bed at two in the morning but then wakes up at midnight of the same night (i.e. two hours before he fell asleep) means that this whole experience is a dream, plain and simple.

Scrooge is much more a hoarder of time than of money. We see him bullying Cratchit over a few minutes of lateness and a day of vacation, but we never see him occupy himself with any actual bills or coins. So the upshot of the novella is to get Scrooge to reexamine the way he spends his time even more than his income.

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