The Opening Stave of a Christmas Carol

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The opening Stave of A Christmas Carol sets the mood, describes the setting, and introduces many of the principal characters. Scrooge represents greed, apathy, and all that stands in opposition to the Christmas spirit. Bob personifies those who suffer under the “Scrooges” of the world–the English poor. Fred serves to remind readers of the joy and good cheer of the Christmas holiday. The opening section also highlights the novel’s narrative style–a peculiar and highly Dickensian blend of wild comedy and atmospheric horror (the throng of spirits eerily drifting through the fog just outside Scrooge’s window).

The allegorical nature of A Christmas Carol leads to relatively simplistic symbolism and a linear plot. The latter is divided into five Staves, each containing a distinct episode in Scrooge’s spiritual re-education. The first Stave centers on the visitation from Marley’s ghost, the middle three present the tales of the three Christmas spirits, and the last concludes the story, showing how Scrooge has changed from an inflexible curmudgeon to a warm and joyful benefactor. Underlying the narrative and paralleling the more ostensible theme of moral redemption, lies an incisive political diatribe.

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Dickens takes aim at the Poor Laws then governing the underclass of Victorian England. He exposes the flaws of the unfair system of government that essentially restricts the underclass to life in prison or in a workhouse. (Dickens’ own father served time in debtor’s prison. ) Dickens’ sympathetic portrayal of Bob Cratchit and his family puts a human face on the lower classes. Through Scrooge’s inherent defense of the Poor Laws (his argument that prisons are the only “charity” he cares to support), Dickens dismisses the excuses of the indifferent upper class as an irresponsible, selfish, and cruel defense.

ANALYSIS: A Christmas Carol is a fairly straightforward allegory built on an episodic narrative structure in which each of the main passages has a fixed, obvious symbolic meaning. The book is divided into five sections (Dickens labels them Staves in reference to the musical notation staff–a Christmas carol, after all, is a song), with each of the middle three Staves revolving around a visitation by one of the three famous spirits. The three spirit-guides, long with each of their tales, carry out a thematic function–the Ghost of Christmas Past, with his glowing head, represents memory; the Ghost of Christmas Present represents charity, empathy, and the Christmas spirit; and the reaper-like Ghost of Christmas Yet to come represents the fear of death. Scrooge, with his Bah! Humbug! Attitude embodies all that dampens Christmas spirit–greed, selfishness, indifference, and a lack of consideration for one’s fellow man.

With A Christmas Carol, Dickens hopes to illustrate how self-serving, insensitive people can be converted into charitable, caring, and socially conscious members of society through the intercession of moralizing quasi-religious lessons. Warmth, generosity, and overall goodwill, overcome Scrooge’s bitter apathy as he encounters and learns from his memory, the ability to empathize, and his fear of death. Memory serves to remind Scrooge of a time when he still felt emotionally connected to other people, before he closed himself off in an austere state of alienation.

Empathy enables Scrooge to sympathize with and understand those less fortunate than himself, people like Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit. The fear of death hints at imminent moral reckoning–the promise of punishment and reward. With each Ghost’s tale functioning as a parable, A Christmas Carol advances the Christian moral ideals associated with Christmas–generosity, kindness, and universal love for your community–and of Victorian England in general.

The book also offers a distinctly modern view of Christmas, less concerned with solemn religious ceremony and defined by more joyous traditions–the sharing of gifts, festive celebrations, displays of prosperity. The book also contains a political edge, most evident in Dickens’ development of the bustling, struggling Cratchit family, who are a compelling, if one-dimensional, and representation of the plight of the poor.

Dickens, with every intention of tugging on your heartstrings, paints the Cratchit’s as a destitute family that finds a way to express profound gratitude for its emotional riches. Dickens carries this sentiment even further with the tragic figure of the pure-hearted, crippled Cratchit son, Tiny Tim. Scrooge’s emotive connection to Tiny Tim dramatically underscores his revelatory acceptance of the Christmas ideal. Scrooge begins to break through his emotional barricade in Stave Three as he expresses pity for Tiny

Tim. The reader, upon hearing the usually uncaring miser inquire into Tim’s fate, begins to believe Scrooge has a chance at salvation. Scrooge’s path to redemption culminates with his figurative “adoption” of Tiny Tim, acting as “a second father” to the little boy. Dickens shows in A Christmas Carol that personal greed will lead to peril, while kindness and generosity lead to personal happiness. One of Dickens social concerns was the lack of sympathy or feelings that people have toward other people.

In the story, Scrooge had no feelings toward his family or friends and held a strictly professional relationship with them, creating a hostile bond between them. For example, Bob Cratchit’s wife does not like the idea have toasting to Scrooge because of the way he treats his long time employee. Also, Scrooge is looked down upon by the charity collectors because he simply states that they should die to accommodate the others who need it. A Christmas Carol makes readers aware of their personal attitudes and presents a way to change for the better.

In the book ‘A Christmas Carol’, Dickens describes the poor, how they were treated unfairly and how they were thought as animals rather than human beings. Dickens portrays the rich as ignorant and selfish people that think they are bigger than the world itself. The opening paragraphs of a Christmas carol give us an insight into Scrooges personality. The character of Scrooge is initially presented as being quite isolated. The use of the word “sole” when discussing the relationship between Scrooge and Marley informs the reader that Scrooge is lonely in all aspects of his life.

Dickens does this by repeating the word next to different titles given to Scrooge such as “sole administrator”, “Sole allocate” and “Sole friend”. He is also described as being as “solitary as an oyster” which adds to the isolated image of his life. “Oysters” have a pearls inside them perhaps Dickens has included this to tell that Scrooge has a pearl inside him as well, somewhere deep within him there is perhaps a spark of warmth, of hope waiting to be re-lit again.

This is further confirmed when we have an insight into his childhood, he is waiting for his dad by the school gates to come pick him up from his boarding school (again a sign of isolation from his family) when he never turns up shows that the part played by his father is the real reason that Scrooge is the way he is. Imagery and symbolism Though Dickens writes prose narratives he is fond of comparisons of the kind we expect in poetry. There are far too many to mention here, but a few stand out. First, we should look at the passage in Stave 1 where Scrooge is described in a series of weather images.

A memorable poetic image comes where the Ghost of Christmas Present compares people to insects, and the wealthy Scrooge is ridiculed for looking down on other “insects” that have less to live on: The Christmas Carol shows that the life Scrooge wanted could not be gained by money but that friendship played an important role in his life in his well- being and a way forward, away from all his pain and suffering and misery. “Oh God! To hear the insect on the leaf pronouncing on the too much life among his hungry brothers in the dust! ” This is written in the iambic metre, like Shakespearean verse.

An important symbol in A Christmas Carol appears in Stave 1, where Marley is weighed down by a massive chain, and tells Scrooge he has an even longer chain: it was as long as Marley’s seven years ago, and he has “laboured on it since” This chain, made up of cash-boxes, padlocks, purses and business documents, represents Scrooge’s achievement in life – earning money which weighs down his spirit. At the end of Stave 3, Scrooge sees under the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present, two children, whose names show that they are symbols: Ignorance and Want.

Dickens sees that a lack of education and extreme poverty make it impossible for anyone to have a good life. Of the two, the Ghost tells Scrooge to beware the boy “most of all” because ignorance allows poverty to continue. The most important themes of the story are stated more or less clearly by characters in it. The first of these might be Marley’s saying, “Business… Mankind was my business”. Where Scrooge sees business in the familiar sense of trade and finance, Marley now sees that one’s “business ” is what one should do in life, duty or obligation.

Mankind is or was not just Marley’s business of course, but Scrooge’s business, your business and mine, in fact, everyone’s. Scrooge’s unkind remark that poor people should die and “reduce the surplus population “brings us to another theme of the story. When Scrooge asks if Tiny Tim will die he is reminded of these words. Why? Because the “surplus population” is not an abstraction but real individuals. Scrooge is told by the Ghost of Christmas Present to find out “What the surplus is, and where it is” before making such statements.

Another theme is that change is possible however set we are in our ways. Dickens imagines the most miserable and hard-hearted man he can, and shows how he can be reformed if he sees his responsibilities’. Failure to do so, the writer implies through the personification of Ignorance and Want as ghastly children, will result in an unnamed “Doom” for those who, like Scrooge, believe their wealth and status qualifies them to sit in judgement of the poor rather than to assist them. The novel deals extensively with two of Dickens’ recurrent themes, social injustice and poverty

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The Opening Stave of a Christmas Carol. (2017, Jan 16). Retrieved from

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