“Charles Dickens was perplexed as to how to convince his fellow Londoners to give to the less fortunate during the holiday season. He planned to write a pamphlet on the subject, but it was over the course of one fateful train ride that Dickens came up with a better way to communicate his Christmas message…and save his flagging literary career.” C. DeVito CBS Philly
“Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol within six short weeks following his trip, and he began writing immediately upon his return. He walked the streets of London by night, turning the story and its characters over and over in his head. These walks were a metaphor—Dickens’ figurative journey was a trip into his own past, both pleasant and powerful, and intensely personal.
Here are five of the many real-life inspirations behind the beloved story:
The real Ebenezer Scrooge was Ebenezer Scroggie. Dickens has misread Scroggie’s tombstone in a Scottish cemetery to read ‘mean man,’ and wrote it down in his notebook for later use.
Who Was Tiny Tim? Scrooge’s sister, Fanny, was based on Dickens sister Fanny whom he adored. Many of young Scrooge’s memories are those of Dickens and his sister… Dickens stayed with Fanny, her husband, and their severely hampered young son, Henry Burnett Jr. Dickens placed his nephew of his favorite sibling at the center of his new Christmas tale.
Where Did The Cratchits Live? The Cratchits lived at 18 Bayham Street, in Camden Town. How do we know this exact address? Dickens describes the stroll Bob Cratchit took everyday to work. It is the same route Charles took as a boy into the city. The Cratchits were based on John and Elizabeth Dickens and their family (Charles’ parents). The eight Dickens lived in a four room house, exactly like the Cratchits on John Dickens paltry clerk’s salary.
Why That Weird Scene In The Pawnbroker’s Shop? As the Ghost of Christmas Future and Scrooge standby, a charwoman, a chambermaid, and an undertaker go through Scrooge’s things with a pawnshop owner. What few people realize is that “A Christmas Carol” was an intensely personal story for Dickens. When Dickens father was sent to debtor’s prison, as the oldest boy, Dickens was sent to the pawnbrokers each day to sell the family’s belongings to keep them from starving, until they had nothing, and slept in their clothes on the floor. He had actually watched the pawnbrokers go through their shirts, and sheets, and ice tongs. This was one of the painful memories Dickens relived as he wrote “A Christmas Carol.”
What’s A Turkey Doing In “A Christmas Carol?” Many consider the addition of a turkey a complete anachronistic addition to the ending of “a Christmas Carol.” Why not a goose? Goose was the traditional English holiday meal. Turkey was American. However, Turkeys had been brought to Europe from the new word two centuries previously. The turkey was very much in vogue. In fact, while goose was the traditional English dish served for Christmas, back then, the purchasing of a turkey, which was harder to find, and more expensive, was a showing of wealth and prosperity. Scrooge is trying to treat the Cratchits to a feast unlike any other.”
Lesson Plan: A Christmas Carol By Charles Dickens
Language Skills: reading, writing and speaking. Vocabulary activities are included.
Time: approximately 2 hours.
Objectives: Students will achieve a better understanding of the story A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens by learning literary devices and terms (e.g., imagery, symbolism, protagonist, themes) used for analyzing stories. They will also learn how to analyze the relationship between characters, and events and in the story using these literary devices.
Reading Strategies: Students will make predictions based on the title; draw conclusions and make generalizations about what they have read by utilizing background knowledge, looking for the main ideas, making notes, highlighting or underlining specific information, and by answering discussion questions. They will learn new vocabulary through inference, highlighting unknown words, and using the dictionary.
I. Pre-Reading Activities
Background information: Some points about the life of Charles Dickens to help students make connections to the story.
1- Biographical information about Dickens
Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812 – 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world’s best-known fictional characters and is regarded by many as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. Dickens left school to work in a factory when his father was incarcerated in Marshalsea debtors’ prison in Southwark, London in 1824… To pay for his board and to help his family, Dickens was forced to leave school and work ten-hour days at Warren’s Blacking Warehouse... he earned six shillings a week pasting labels on pots of boot blacking. The harsh working conditions made a lasting impression on Dickens… becoming the foundation of his interest in the reform of socio-economic and labour conditions for he poor. Despite his lack of formal education, he edited a weekly journal for 20 years, wrote 15 novels, five novellas…and campaigned vigorously for children’s rights, education, and other social reforms…His plots were carefully constructed, and he often wove elements from topical events into his narratives. His 1843 novella, A Christmas Carol, remains popular and continues to inspire adaptations in every artistic genre, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations are also frequently adapted, and, like many of his novels, evoke images of early Victorian London.
Source: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Dickens
2- What prompted Charles Dickens to write the story A Christmas Carol?
Early in 1843, as a response to a government report on the abuse of child laborers in mines and factories, Dickens vowed he would strike a “sledge-hammer blow . . . on behalf of the “Poor Man’s Child.” That sledge-hammer was A Christmas Carol.
The Cratchit family is based on Dickens’ childhood home life. He lived in poor circumstances in a “two up two down” four roomed house which he shared with his parents and five siblings. Like Peter Cratchit, young Charles, the eldest boy, was often sent to pawn the family’s goods when money was tight. Like many poor families the Cratchit’s had nothing in which to roast meat. They relied on the ovens of their local baker which were available on Sundays and Christmas when the bakery was closed. At the time Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol Christmas wasn’t commonly celebrated as a festive holiday. In The Pickwick Papers and A Christmas Carol Dickens’ descriptions of feasting, games and family unity combined with his message that Christmas was a time “when want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices” helped revive popular interest in many Christmas traditions that are still practiced today. In 1867 Dickens read A Christmas Carol at a public reading in Chicago. One of the audience members , Mr. Fairbanks, was a scale manufacturer. Mr. Fairbanks was so moved that he decided to “break the custom we have hitherto observed of opening the works on Christmas day.” Not only did he close the factory on Christmas day, but he gave Christmas turkeys to all of his employees.
3- Why did Dickens use Staves instead of Chapters in A Christmas Carol?
Instead of using the word chapters, which divides a piece of writing in a book, Charles Dickens used staves to signify that the novel was a carol in prose form.In music, a stave or staff is the series of horizontal lines and four spaces and is the archaic form of a verse of stanza in a song.
In the book “A Christmas Carol,” each stave or chapter represents a different story. Dickens wrote each chapter in a form of Christian allegory of redemption about Christmas and used the word stave to remind readers that he created the book with carols in mind.
Source: Reference Literature
Stimulating Background Knowledge
Prediction Organizer Charts
Directions: Students may use these reading charts by Pace High School as pre-reading, while-reading and post-reading tools to aid their comprehension of the events and characters in the story.
Pre-reading Discussion Questions
Directions: Place students in groups and let them discuss the following questions.
- Do you celebrate Christmas? Describe how you your family and friends celebrate.
- Have you ever met someone who was very cheap and mean during Christmas? If so, describe this person to your group members.
- Do you know people who are so poor they cannot afford to buy anything for Christmas? Describe the characters of these people
- If you could help some people during the Christmas season would you? Explain how you could help.
II. While Reading
Vocabulary Word Inference
Directions: Place students in groups and have them infer the meanings of the words in bold font taken from the story. The vocabulary lists are taken from each of the five Staves in the story. They can use this Vocabulary Chart by Learnnc.org as a guide.
- Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it. And Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
- Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.
- Oh! but he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster…
- The door of Scrooge’s counting-house was open, that he might keep his eye upon his clerk, who in a dismal little cell beyond, a sort of tank, was copying letters. Scrooge had a very small fire, but the clerk’s fire was so very much smaller that it looked like one coal…
- “A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!” cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge’s nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach. “Bah!” said Scrooge. “Humbug!”
- Scrooge took his melancholy dinner in his usual melancholy tavern; and having read all the newspapers, and beguiled the rest of the evening with his banker’s book, went home to bed. He lived in chambers which had once belonged to his deceased partner.
- …Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, saw in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change—not a knocker, but Marley’s face…Marley’s face. It was not in impenetrable shadow, as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.
- “Who were you, then?” said Scrooge, raising his voice. “You’re particular, for a shade.” He was going to say “to a shade,” but substituted this, as more appropriate.”In life I was your partner, Jacob Marley.”
- “You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free-will,…” a
- Not so much in obedience as in surprise and fear; for, on the raising of the hand, he became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory.
THE FIRST OF THE THREE SPIRITS
- When Scrooge awoke it was so dark, that, looking out of bed, he could scarcely distinguish the transparent window from the opaque walls of his chamber.
- The idea being an alarming one, he scrambled out of bed, and groped his way to the window.
- Scrooge went to bed again, and thought, and thought, and thought it over and over, and could make nothing of it. The more he thought, the more perplexed he was; and, the more he endeavoured not to think, the more he thought.
- Marley’s Ghost bothered him exceedingly. Every time he resolved within himself, after mature inquiry, that it was all a dream, his mind flew back again, like a strong spring released, to its first position, and presented the same problem to be worked all through, “Was it a dream or not?”
- Scrooge, starting up into a half-recumbent attitude, found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.
- It was a strange figure—like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child’s proportions.
- …so the figure itself fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg, now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body: of which dissolving parts no outline would be visible in the dense gloom…
- The Spirit gazed upon him mildly… He was conscious of a thousand odours floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long forgotten!
- “You may—the memory of what is past half makes me hope you will—have pain in this. A very, very brief time, and you will dismiss the recollection of it gladly, as an unprofitable dream, from which it happened well that you awoke. May you be happy in the life you have chosen!”
- The Spirit dropped beneath it, so that the extinguisher covered its whole form;… He was conscious of being exhausted, and overcome by an irresistible drowsiness; and, further, of being in his own bedroom.
THE SECOND OF THE THREE SPIRITS
- He felt that he was restored to consciousness in the right nick of time, for the especial purpose of holding a conference with the second messenger dispatched to him through Jacob Marley’s intervention.
- The moment Scrooge’s hand was on the lock, a strange voice called him by his name, and bade him enter. He obeyed.
- It was his own room. There was no doubt about that. But it had undergone a surprising transformation. The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which bright gleaming berries glistened.
- Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before this Spirit…”I am the Ghost of Christmas Present,” said the Spirit. “Look upon me!”
- Scrooge reverently did so. It was clothed in one simple deep green robe, or mantle, bordered with white fur.
- And perhaps it was the pleasure the good Spirit had in showing off this power of his, or else it was his own kind, generous, hearty nature, and his sympathy with all poor men, that led him straight to Scrooge’s clerk’s; … and stopped to bless Bob Cratchit’s dwelling with the sprinklings of his torch.
- Then up rose Mrs. Cratchit, Cratchit’s wife, dressed out but poorly in a twice-turned gown, but brave in ribbons, which are cheap, and make a goodly show for sixpence; and she laid the cloth, assisted by Belinda Cratchit, second of her daughters, also brave in ribbons;
- Martha didn’t like to see him disappointed, if it were only in joke; so she came out prematurely from behind the closet door, and ran into his arms, while the two young Cratchits hustled Tiny Tim, and bore him off into the wash-house, that he might hear the pudding singing in the copper.
- It was a long night, if it were only a night; but Scrooge had his doubts of this, because the Christmas holidays appeared to be condensed into the space of time they passed together.
- The bell struck Twelve.Scrooge looked about him for the Ghost, and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of old Jacob Marley, and, lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming like a mist along the ground towards him.
THE LAST OF THE SPIRITS
- The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
- It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible, save one outstretched hand. But for this, it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.
- But Scrooge was all the worse for this. It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror to know that, behind the dusky shroud, there were ghostly eyes intently fixed upon him, while he, though he stretched his own to the utmost, could see nothing but a spectral hand and one great heap of black.
- “If there is any person in the town who feels emotion caused by this man’s death,” said Scrooge, quite agonized, “show that person to me, Spirit! I beseech you.”
- The Ghost conducted him through several streets familiar to his feet; …They entered poor Bob Cratchit’s house,—the dwelling he had visited before,—and found the mother and the children seated round the fire.
- They were very quiet again. At last she said, and in a steady, cheerful voice, that only faltered once: “I have known him walk with—I have known him walk with Tiny Tim upon his shoulder very fast indeed.”
- recollect how patient and how mild he was, although he was a little, little child, we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves, and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.”
- Mrs. Cratchit kissed him, his daughters kissed him, the two young Cratchits kissed him, and Peter and himself shook hands. Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God!
- The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come conveyed him, as before—though at a different time, he thought: indeed, there seemed no order in these latter visions, save that they were in the Future—into the resorts of business men, but showed him not himself.
- The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.
THE END OF IT
- “I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh, Jacob Marley! Heaven and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob; on my knees!”
- He was so fluttered and so glowing with his good intentions, that his broken voice would scarcely answer to his call. He had been sobbing violently in his conflict with the Spirit, and his face was wet with tears.
- “They are not torn down,” cried Scrooge, folding one of his bed-curtains in his arms, “they are not torn down, rings and all. They are here—I am here—the shadows of the things that would have been may be dispelled. They will be. I know they will!”
- His hands were busy with his garments all this time; turning them inside out, putting them on upside down, tearing them, mislaying them, making them parties to every kind of extravagance.
- Really, for a man who had been out of practice for so many years, it was a splendid laugh, a most illustrious laugh. The father of a long, long line of brilliant laughs!
- What’s to-day?” cried Scrooge, calling downward to a boy in Sunday clothes, who perhaps had loitered in to look about him.
- “No, no,” said Scrooge, “I am in earnest. Go and buy it, and tell ’em to bring it here, that I may give them the directions where to take it.
- The chuckle with which he said this, and the chuckle with which he paid for the Turkey, and the chuckle with which he paid for the cab, and the chuckle with which he recompensed the boy, were only to be exceeded by the chuckle with which he sat down breathless in his chair again, and chuckled till he cried.
- It’s I. Your uncle Scrooge. I have come to dinner. Will you let me in, Fred?”Let him in! It is a mercy he didn’t shake his arm off. He was at home in five minutes. Nothing could be heartier… Wonderful party, wonderful games, wonderful unanimity, won-der-ful happiness!
- “A merry Christmas, Bob!” said Scrooge with an earnestnessthat could not be mistaken, as he clapped him on the back. “A merrier Christmas, Bob, my good fellow, than I have given you for many a year!
Questions for Character Analysis
- From whose point of view is the story being told?
- Who is the protagonist in this story?
- What are the professions of Ebeneezer Scrooge and Bob Crachit?
- In today’s society in what context is Scrooge’s last name used? What about the phrase “Bah! Humbug!”?
- Identify the main characters in the story. Provide short descriptions of each.
Questions for Literary Analysis
- What are some of the themes in the story?
- Provide examples of how Dickens uses imagery.
- Does Dickens provide symbolism the story? How?
Questions For Reflection
- How did Dickens’ personal life affect his writing A Christmas Carol?
- In what ways did the publication (the original) of A Christmas Carol help bring success to Dickens? Hint: Was it only financial success?
Ideas for Writing Assignment
- Students could choose one of the themes and write an essay, giving their point of view.
- Have students write a short paragraph on their favorite or least favorite character in the story.
- Have students write a different ending for the story.