Read a full summary of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens right here! This page is full of spoilers, so beware. If you are wondering what happened in A Christmas Carol, then you are in the right place!
Special thanks to Sarina Byron, a BSR contributor who wrote this great recap! Sarina is a British Author and Contributing Writer living in California. Sarina enjoys bringing forth a different perspective and encouraging a different way of thinking through her writing. Visit her blog to read her reviews, and check the end of the review for a link to her Instagram.
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in A Christmas Carol?
The story opens with Scrooge working away in his miserable office on Christmas eve. He had kept his deceased partner Marley’s name on the board and their shared mean spirit in his heart. His office was freezing cold on account of his miserly habits which prohibited anyone from freely using coal to build a warmer fire. In fact, he was so famous for his penny-pinching that no beggar asked him for alms, no one stopped him to exchange pleasantries, and even service dogs pulled their charges out of his way. His clerk, Bob Cratchit, had to suffer through this lack of warmth as well and kept from freezing with the help of a comforter.
Just as the cold evening was progressing as usual, Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, came in to wish him a merry Christmas. Scrooge told him that he thought Christmas was all humbug. When his nephew tried to bring some Christmas cheer into the conversation, Scrooge told him to keep to his way of Christmas and let him keep his own. When Scrooge made a comment about deriving good from Christmas, his nephew commented that it is not just Christmas that he has yet to gain anything from but that he does think of it as a kind, pleasant, and charitable time of the year and for that he is grateful.
Warm words never had any effect on Scrooge, but Cratchit began to applaud, to which Scrooge warned him against his job and asked his nephew to join Parliament in order to do justice to his oratory skills. His nephew then invited him over for Christmas dinner. Scrooge refused as usual, and his nephew left. His nephew made sure to wish Cratchit a merry Christmas, and the man returned the greeting with the same amount of warmth. Scrooge sneered at both of them for their Christmas cheer.
As his nephew left, two men walked into Scrooge’s counting house and asked for a donation for the poor. Scrooge responded that he made regular donations to the workhouses and the prisons and that should be sufficient. The men responded that people would rather die than go to the workhouses, and Scrooge recommended they had best get along with dying so the surplus population can be reduced. The men sensed they did not stand to gain any donations from Scrooge and quietly left. Thus, the gloomy atmosphere of the counting house stayed the same until it was time to close for the day.
As they were about to close, Cratchit came in to ask for Christmas day off. Scrooge gave him the day off but not without letting him know that he did not appreciate it and that Cratchit must be early to work the day after. Scrooge finished the day by eating a cheerless meal at his regular tavern, reading all his usual newspapers and heading home.
As he was about to walk into his house, the most peculiar thing happened. He thought he saw his dead business partner Marley’s face in the knocker. Even as he walked into the house, he half expected to see Marley’s pigtail sticking out from the back of the door. Of course, it was not so, and Scrooge proceeded upstairs to his cold bedroom. Scrooge lived in a big house, but he did not light it up on account of his miserly habits. He walked through the dark corridors to bed every single night, and tonight was no exception. However, he had been spooked by Marley’s specter, so he made sure to check his room thoroughly before he went to bed.
Scrooge was staring at the fireplace, which was surrounded by tiles of biblical characters, to get himself to sleep when all the figures on the tiles turned into Marley. He muttered humbug again and sat down in a chair when the bell in his room slowly began to swing and ring, followed by every other bell in his house. He muttered it was all still humbug and tried to walk around when the ghost of Marley entered his room, shackled in big chains. Scrooge observed Marley’s chains were made of all the money related objects he had valued above relationships and life itself.
Scrooge asked Marley what he wanted, and Marley responded that he wanted much from him. He tried to convince the apparition it wasn’t real, and the apparition responded by letting out a loud hopeless cry. Scrooge asked the spirit why it was bothering him and what it wanted. The spirit responded that it is the spirit of his dead business partner, and he is doomed to roam the Earth among his fellowmen after his death as he had not done so whilst he was alive.
He said he wears the chain he forged in life and that Scrooge is building himself binding shackles just like these. Marley regretted everything he had not done in his lifetime and told Scrooge that to prevent him from following in his footsteps, he must be visited by three spirits. These spirits would give him the conviction he needed to shun the path he was on. He said each of the apparitions would arrive at one o’clock each of the nights leading up to Christmas.
As much as Scrooge didn’t want to meet any ghosts, he resolved to take it as it came. He went back to bed, and it appeared to him he had slept through the whole day and night. As he was trying to come to terms with what time it was, he met the first ghost, who looked young, fresh and strong. He identified himself as the ghost of Christmas past and told Scrooge that he will help him redeem himself.
The first place he took Scrooge to was his childhood home. Scrooge was happy to be there at first but then witnessed himself in his boarding school, neglected and sad. He then took Scrooge to witness himself in his run-down home where he sat reading by himself over many a Christmas. The characters from his copy of Arabian Nights came alive, and as he observed himself as a boy, deriving so much comfort from his book, he thought back to the caroling boy outside his window that evening and remarked he ought to have given him something.
He then saw his little sister running in to meet him with the happy news that their father would let Scrooge come home for Christmas. He and the spirit then recalled how his sister was extremely frail and died in her youth, leaving his nephew behind, the very nephew who had called on Scrooge in his counting house and attempted to invite him over to dinner.
They moved on to a warehouse door where Scrooge used to apprentice, and Scrooge saw himself and Dick Wilkins, the other apprentice, and Mr. Fezziwig, who they apprenticed for. They had a fantastic party, and as they stood watching, the young Scrooge and Dick spoke excitedly about Mr. Fezziwig, which made Scrooge think about his own clerk. The ghost then took him to see the moment when the girl he was engaged to, Belle, was breaking off her engagement because he had become too obsessed with money.
Scrooge was incredibly distressed with the shadows of his past at this point and wanted to go away from it. The spirit, however, had one more place to show him. He took him to see Belle with her family, surrounded by numerous happy and boisterous children. The excitement stepped up a notch when Belle’s husband and the children’s father comes in. As Scrooge looked on at this scene, the husband remarks to Belle that he saw Scrooge in the counting house. He said he looked quite alone as his business partner lay dying. By now, Scrooge was immensely exhausted and begged the spirit to take him back. He pulled on the spirit’s cap, the bright light from it flooded to the floor, and Scrooge was transported back to his bed.
Like clockwork, he was awake at 1 AM the next night, but no spirit appeared. He even pulled his bed curtains back, and when no spirit yet appeared, he went out of his room to check on matters. He found himself in a room that was identical to his but was cheerful in its décor. It had everything that his room did not. It was full of Christmas decorations of holly, mistletoe, and other glistening leaves. The room had a stack of food on one side, and at the end of that table sat the ghost of Christmas present, who commanded Scrooge to look at him as he approached. He asked Scrooge to hold on to his robe so he could take him where he meant to.
The spirit took him around the city to see how people celebrate Christmas, and Scrooge noticed the Spirit was spraying something on the food being carried away from the baker’s shop. It was a peculiar looking torch, and it even had a cheering effect on people who were close to having a fight. The Spirit explained he sprayed with the torch on everyone’s food, but most of all he glazed the food of the poor because they needed the cheer and blessings the most.
Scrooge mulled this over, and accused the spirit and his family of people losing business every seventh day of the week on account of the Sabbath. The spirit told Scrooge people follow religion in a way that suits them and not necessarily in a manner that it was meant to be observed. He told Scrooge the issue could be resolved simply by people taking more responsibility for their own actions. Scrooge resolved to do so, and they moved to their next destination.
They went to Bob Cratchit’s house, where he and his family were making merry. Scrooge was sad to see they barely had good clothes to wear on Christmas and yet were more cheerful than those who had everything. Bob Cratchit had a little boy named Tiny Tim who looked extremely weak but was cheerful nonetheless. His father told the family with a trembling voice that Tiny Tim hopes people saw him in the church as that would remind them of the one that made cripples walk.
Wiping their tears, they all sat down to a Christmas dinner and marveled at the delicious goose they were sharing. Mrs. Cratchit was extremely nervous that the goose and the pudding would not be enough for all those at the table, but the family made it work. Scrooge felt all their love and fears for the little boy and asked the Spirit to assure him that Tiny Tim would live. The Spirit said that he sees a vacant chair and crutches without an owner and said to Scrooge that if things continue as they are, these events will come to pass. He reminded Scrooge of his comment about the benefits of reducing a surplus population.
Just as the ghost was shaming scrooge for his indifferent attitude towards his fellow men, they heard the Cratchit family toast to Mr. Scrooge’s health. The family drank to his health for their father, but none of them cared much for Mr. Scrooge. They moved on to making happy plans for the future and Tiny Tim sang, and this was the cue for Scrooge and the ghost to leave.
The ghost took him to see how the miners and men at the lighthouse kept the Christmas spirit alive despite being far away from their families. Scrooge was introduced to the spirit’s work as they went from place to place, and he realized what Christmas cheer meant to people.
They proceeded to Scrooge’s nephew’s house, where he observed his nephew and his wife hosting a party. Scrooge hears the party goers talk about him and how he hurts himself with his attitude. He has a chance to be involved in the merry making and watch Fred’s wife play the harp without making his presence known. He even joined in their games without their knowledge!
As the Christmas spirit is about to depart, Scrooge notices two children clinging to the spirit, hidden amongst his generous robes. He asks the Spirit if they are his children, and the spirit responds that they are man’s Ignorance and Want. They represent the fate of the poor and hungry. He tells Scrooge that if he doesn’t change his miserly ways, he enables these children to grow up into criminals.
The last of the spirits, the ghost of Christmas future shows up, covered in black garments with his face and person completely covered. Unlike the previous two spirits, this one fills Scrooge with dread. He trembles in its presence. The first place he took Scrooge was to witness a conversation between a few businessmen who were talking about a funeral. Most of them said they would go, but none of them were regretful of the death of the person who had passed. The only ones who were going seemed to be attracted by the possibility of lunch.
Following this disturbing revelation, they went to a spot where people were picking through the belongings of the deceased. Scrooge recognized this part of town as one being of bad repute and somewhere he would never venture. The people splitting the loot from the man’s house were talking about how he died alone and that he had not suffered enough judgment. As if splitting his belongings like vultures wasn’t enough, they were discussing if the man died of something contagious and if they ought to avoid his belongings.
Although no names were uttered, Scrooge understood that it may well be him and begged to be taken away. The spirit then took him to another home where the family was rejoicing in Scrooge’s death as they were expecting the person who inherited their debt to be softer. From that disheartening scene, they went to the Cratchit’s house where they discovered Tiny Tim had died and Bob Cratchit was speaking of the immense kindness of Fred.
Scrooge was overwhelmed by now and asked the spirit to reveal to him who the dead person was. The spirit took him to his room and pulled back his bedclothes to reveal it was him. Scrooge was incredibly distressed to learn his fate and made a promise to the spirit that he would mend his ways. He held on tight to the spirit, but it melted away.
Scrooge woke up to realize the spirits had completed their task of showing him various perspectives. He woke in a state of extreme excitement and went running to make sure he was alive. Scrooge opened his window and excitedly asked a passing boy what day it was. He confirmed it was Christmas Day. Scrooge gave the boy some money to go to the Poulterer’s and asked him to buy the largest turkey hanging in the shop. He paid the boy to run the errand and sent the turkey to Bob Cratchit’s place.
Scrooge then goes down the street wishing everyone a merry Christmas. He comes upon the man who had visited his office to request a donation. He gave the man a donation and asked him to visit his office for some more. Scrooge then headed to Fred’s house with some trepidation but was welcomed with much warmth and spent a glorious Christmas with them, despite all of them being extremely confused about his appearance.
The next day, he pretended to upbraid Cratchit for being a little late and then surprised him with a day off. He also told him he was raising his salary and he should buy a coal scuttle. He went on to become a second father to Tiny Tim. Although people laughed at the change in him, they all admitted that he knew how to keep the Christmas spirit better than most.
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