A Christmas Carol Plot Summary

‘A Christmas Carol’ by Charles Dickens is a well-loved Victorian novel abut the importance of the Christmas spirit.

The book follows Ebenezer Scrooge, a miserly businessman, and it contains themes like Christmas and the effect of the class divide and poverty. It also contains gothic undertones.

A Christmas Carol Summary


Spoiler-free Summary

A Christmas Carol centers around a businessman named Ebenezer Scrooge, who is renowned for miserly behavior. When the novel opens, it is approaching Christmas, and Scrooge receives an unexpected visitor who foretells three more very important visitors who could potentially change the course of Scrooge’s future.

A Christmas Carol Summary

Warning: this will contain explicit spoilers


Stave 1

The novel opens by speaking about Scrooge’s relationship with Jacob Marley before introducing the reader to Bob Cratchit, one of Scrooge’s employees. Scrooge refuses to let Bob add coal to the fire despite it being incredibly cold and the fire is quite small.

Later Fred, Scrooge’s nephew, enters the office to try and convince Scrooge to join him for Christmas dinner. It isn’t revealed yet, but Scrooge’s sister, Fred’s mother, passed away. Scrooge is rude to Fred and rejects his kind offer. Fred’s mood is not affected by this rebuke, however.

Scrooge’s office is then visited by a pair of portly gentlemen who attempt to get Scrooge to donate to a charity to help the poor. Scrooge’s shocking response is to ask, “are there no workhouses?” and “are there no prisons?” statements that show exactly how Scrooge feels about the lives of the poor. Scrooge then complains to Bob Cratchit about having to pay him for Christmas day when he isn’t even working.
Scrooge gets to his residence and is shocked to discover that his door knocker appears to be the face of his previously deceased partner, Jacob Marley.

Scrooge does a double-take, and the image of Jacob Marley vanishes. He tries to discount the occurrence but then sees the apparition of a hearse and once again sees images of his deceased partner carved into his mantelpiece. Scrooge locks his door in a panic, but the ghost of his partner draped in chains drifts through the locked door.

Marley explains that he has wandered the earth for seven years as penance for his sins. Scrooge notices that his chains are formed from cash boxes. Marley pleads with Scrooge not to fall into the same trap that he did and warns him he will be visited by three more ghosts.

Stave 2

Scrooge wakes at midnight, something he struggles to comprehend because he went to bed after 2 AM. Jacob Marley’s ghost had suggested that his first encounter would be at 1 AM, and this left Scrooge terrified, trying to reconcile what had happened to him.

The second ghost arrives and grants Scrooge the ability to fly. The ghost takes Scrooge’s hand and leads him through the window.

The ghost takes Scrooge to his boarding school, where he had been left alone at Christmas when he was a child. Time fast forwards, and Scrooge sees his late sister speaking to his younger self. She tells him that he can return home because his father is less angry now. Seeing this unfold makes Scrooge emotional.

The ghost then takes Scrooge to see a party hosted by his former boss Fezziwig. Scrooge is blown away by his kindness and how much of a difference it makes to those less fortunate than himself. He also spots Belle. Belle was Scrooge’s first love, but he hears her talking about how Scrooge’s love of money has ruined their relationship. She decides to call off their engagement. The ghost then shows Scrooge, an older Belle, who is talking with her husband about how lonely Scrooge has become.

This becomes almost too much for Scrooge to bear as he pleads with the ghost to stop showing him images from his past. The ghost complies and takes him back home. The ghost then disappears, and Scrooge falls instantly back to sleep.

Stave 3

Scrooge wakes up at 1 AM, flustered. He expects to see the “ghost of Christmas present,” but the apparition does not appear immediately. Scrooge sees a glowing light in the next room and goes to investigate, and finally meets the second spirit.

This spirit is distinct from the first. He sits atop a mountain of food and wears bright green robes. One could draw parallels between the image of this spirit and Santa Claus. The ghost explains that he is one of the thousands of siblings, but he only has a day to live. Scrooge touches the spirit’s robe, and they are transported to the bustling town center, where people are going about their business in good spirits. There are lots of allusions to how Christmas affects people positively in this section of the stave.


The spirit takes Scrooge to visit the Cratchit family. It is clear that they don’t have a lot of money or food to go around, but they are all in fine spirits and really grateful for what they do have. Scrooge watches on and starts to become concerned for Tiny Tim, the Cratchit’s ill son. He asks if he will survive. The ghost suggests that if things don’t change that he might not. This seems to have a powerful effect on Scrooge.

The ghost then takes Scrooge to a couple more parties, including one at his nephew’s house. Scrooge tries to join in with the frivolity as the guests all have a wildly entertaining time. Of course, they cannot see Scrooge.

Finally, the ghost’s time is all but up. Before he fades away, he reveals two haggard-looking children beneath his robe and informs Scrooge they are “want” and “ignorance.” Scrooge pities them and asks if there is nothing that can be done for them. The ghost rebukes Scrooge using his own words against him, asking, “are there no prisons?”

The clock strikes midnight – because apparently time is all over the place – and Scrooge spots a hooded figure approaching him. It’s soon revealed that this is the “ghost of Christmas yet to come.”

Stave 4

This ghost wears a dark black robe and appears similar to the mythical Grim Reaper. Scrooge immediately pleads with the spirit asking to learn the lesson he has as he wants to avoid becoming like Jacob Marley. The spirit says nothing.

First, he leads Scrooge to the stock exchange, where he listens in on the conversation of three wealthy men discussing a deceased person. Scrooge seems to have no idea about who they are discussing. They then visit a ragged pawn shop and see a group of people arguing over who gets to keep what from a collection of the deceased person’s items.

Then they visit a poor family who is begrudgingly celebrating the death of the man because they owed him money, and the way he handled the debt was causing them distress. They hoped that the debt would be wiped out but reasoned that even if somebody else took it on, they could not be any worse than the deceased.

The ghost then leads Scrooge to the Cratchitt household once more, where they are all struggling to come to terms with the passing of Tiny Tim. Following this, Scrooge can’t escape his curiosity and demands to know who the deceased man that everybody has been discussing is.

The spirit then takes Scrooge to a graveyard and says nothing but merely points to a gravestone. Upon looking at it, Scrooge realizes that it is his own. Scrooge is beside himself with this revelation and begs and pleads with the spirit to undo it all. The spirit says nothing and simply fades away. Scrooge awakes once more in his own bed.

Stave 5

This is a much shorter Stave. Scrooge realizes he has been given a second chance and is overjoyed. He frequently yells, “Merry Christmas.” He offers a passer-by a large sum of money to run to the butchers and have them deliver the largest turkey they have to the Cratchit household. Furthermore, he then runs into one of the charity collectors and apologizes for his previous demeanor, and pledges to donate large sums of money in the future. This highlights the changes he promised he would make.

He later attends Fred’s house, and his transformed character surprises all of the guests in attendance.

The next morning he arrives at the office early, and Bob Cratchit is late. Scrooge pretends to be mad at Bob for not arriving on time and then surprises him by letting him know that he is getting a pay rise.

The narrator then explains that as time went by, Scrooge did not revert to his previous form and was true to his word to the spirits. He took a particular interest in Tiny Tim, who did not die as he did in Scrooge’s grizzly premonition. The novel ends by commenting on how Scrooge maintained his behavior, bringing a bit of Christmas spirit to every day, and ends on the now-famous line, “God bless us. Every One.”

FAQs

What is the main message of A Christmas Carol?

The main message is that redemption is possible and that kindness and compassion for others is the most important part of life.

What lesson do we learn from A Christmas Carol?

There are numerous lessons to learn in A Christmas Carol. These include the impact of poverty and the worth of a single life. This is seen through the characters of Tiny Tim and his family.

What lesson about life does the Ghost of Christmas Present teach Scrooge?

The ghost of Christmas Present teaches Scrooge about the reality of his world and how a family like the Cratchit’s suffers.

About Lee-James Bovey
Lee-James, a.k.a. LJ, has been a Book Analysis team member since it was first created. During the day, he's an English Teacher. During the night, he provides in-depth analysis and summary of books.
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