This page discusses the plot elements and characters of the Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol
|A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens |
A Christmas Carol is a short novel, or novella, written by Charles Dickens in 1843. Its full title is actually "A Christmas Carol in Prose. A Ghost Story of Christmas". A Christmas Carol was part of a larger series called the Christmas Books, a collection of books by Dickens which includes The Chimes (1845), The Haunted Man (1848), The Cricket on the Hearth (1845) and The Battle for Life.
Most people are familiar with the basic plot of the Christmas Carol even if they have never read the book: the miserly and misanthropic Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future and forced to see the errors of his ways. In the end Scrooge is redeemed and finds the spirit of Christmas within himself. Not only has the Christmas Carol been adapted many times for the stage and movies, but the plot device of a man or woman being visited by ghosts whose task is to show the person the errors of their ways has become a cliche on movies and television. Almost every television series has featured a variation or retelling of the Christmas Carol, and a number of movies have been made which, while they alter the theme or purpose of the ghosts' appearances, still retain the basic plot conventions. A recent example is the movie called "Ghosts of Christmas Past" in which the protagonist is shown the error of his womanizing ways by the intervention of ghosts, and is then redeemed when he reclaims his true love.
While "A Christmas Carol" has become somewhat of a cliche it is important to note that when it was originally published, the work was in fact a fresh and innovative Christmas story. The title itself offers two clues to the Carol's then unique qualities: it is said to be a Carol, but in prose, and it is a Christmas ghost story. Ghosts and Christmas were not usually associated with each other before Dickens. Dickens success lies in part in creating a new tradition for Christmas.
What is a Carol?
A carol is a festive song, which is often religious in character but not always so. Most people associate carols with Christmas carols, which are a specific form of the larger genre. A Christmas Carol is a joyful song celebrating the birth of Christ.
The word "carol" comes from the word "carole", which was an Old French term for a circle dance. During the Middle Ages carols were often sung at country dances or religious festivals. Christmas Carols were traditional, communal songs which later came to be sung in churches as a celebration of Christmas.
"Prose" refers to straight forward written language, such as this paragraph, and is the opposite of a carol or musical piece. When Dickens says that the Christmas Carol is a carol in prose he is expressing a contradiction in terms. The novel is not a song and is not set to music, yet he calls it a carol. In fact the chapters of referred to as "staves". A stave or musical staff is a musical notation; in this way Dickens continues and deepens the analogy between the work and a musical piece. Why?
Dickens may be alluding to ancient Christmas traditions, and he may be suggesting his work is meant to serve the same purpose as a Christmas carol, by celebrating Christmas. He may also be saying that the book is meant to be joyful despite the morbid theme of ghosts.
The Impact of A Christmas Carol
Despite being a relatively short novel, A Christmas Carol has a had a lasting impact on popular culture and shaped how people in western countries celebrate Christmas. In fact, many of the traditions, including saying "Merry Christmas" were either invented or re-popularized by Dickens. Read More: How the Christmas Carol Reinvented Christmas
The Ghosts of A Christmas Carol
The ghosts that visit Ebenezer Scrooge are an essential plot element of the story; it is the ghosts that lead Scrooge from alienation and poverty of spirit to a new life as a charitable and loving man.
This section discusses the significance and nature of each of the ghosts and the impact that they have on Scrooge.
Illustrated Edition of the Christmas Carol
Chances are that you have never read the Christmas Carol in its original form, but have seen versions of it on television or in the movies. You may think that you already know the story, but Dickens's version is still the best, with greater depths of meaning than any of the retellings and reinterpretations.
Here you can read an illustrated version of A Christmas Carol online. The illustrations are by John Leech.