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A Christmas Carol

Term Definition
A Christmas Carol

In Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge begins as a heartless miser who refers to Christmas as "humbug" and cares only about money and egotistical profit. However, he is launched on a surreal adventure over the course of which comes to see the errors of his ways. The literary work has been widely recognized as a brilliant representation of the Christmas spirit that can have a genuinely positive moral effect on most readers.

Story summary of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol is an 1843 novella by English writer and social critic Charles Dickens (1812-1870). Concerning the spiritual reevaluation of an aged, misanthropic miser named Ebenezer Scrooge, the book is divided into five chapters, which are named "staves" (stanzas) in keeping with the word "carol" in the title.

Stave One takes place in the present day, where curmudgeonous Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Marley, the miser's long-deceased business partner and fellow misanthrope. As a consequence of his selfish ways while among the living, the ghost is now condemned to wear heavy chains. Scrooge is informed that he'll be visited by three spirits in as many days, and he'll need to follow their advice or else suffer the same fate as Marley in the afterlife. 

In Stave Two, the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge on a journey back in time to watch moments of the miser's innocent but lonely childhood, as well as the most regretful moment of his young adulthood, when he squandered his only chance at love. With the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge spends Stave Three dropping in on relatives that he spurned for the holiday; here he learns that others are suffering due in part to his neglect. In Stave Four, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come gives Scrooge a preview of the horrors that could ensue if more people adopt similar selfish habits. Stave Five depicts Scrooge back in the present as a changed man, doing his best to mend bridges and help others.

Common themes

While writing this book, Dickens drew upon the humiliating experiences of his early adolescence, when he was swept from a life of comfort and forced to work labor after the imprisonment of his father. Though this period lasted only three months, it had a traumatic impact on the one-day author that would haunt him for the rest of his life. 

Nonetheless, the experience helped him develop a more rounded conscience, for he grew to empathies with the older dead-enders that he encountered while working in a blacking factory. He furthermore came to realize the importance of holiday cheer in alleviating the hardships of those less fortunate. It was these understandings that Dickens wished to impart through the awakening-of-conscience tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. The literary work also drew upon the them of the afterline, much like the Odyssey where Homer depicts a hero going to the underworld to see his fate.

Additional information on A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol was a huge hit upon its release. The book received rapturous reviews throughout all corners of the British literary press, and many commentators would later credit the story with redefining the Christmastime spirit of merriment and giving. Even in the United States, where Dickens had drawn ire over recent works that took a critical view of American life, A Christmas Carol was seen as an uplifting tale of moral redemption: a theme that would prove especially popular in coming years as the nation recovered from the Civil War. Dickens was one of many authors who prospered during this time.

The novella was adopted for theatre almost immediately, with at least eight rival productions running throughout London alone, including an Edward Stirling production that enjoyed a considerable run and drew the endorsement of Dickens himself. Since the arrival of motion pictures, A Christmas Carol has been the subject of numerous big screen adaptations. In modern times, the story has been most famously represented by the 1970 Cinema Center Films feature Scrooge starring Albert Finney as the titular character and Alec Guinness as the apparition Marley.

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