The opening Stave of A Christmas Carol sets the mood, describes the setting, and introduces many of the principal characters. It also establishes the novel's allegorical structure. (Allegory, a type of narrative in which characters and events represent particular ideas or themes, relies heavily on symbolism. In this case, Scrooge represents greed, apathy, and all that stands inopposition 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 (note the description of Hamlet a passage that foreshadows the entrance of theghosts) 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, themiddle 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. Dickens takes aim at the Poor Laws then governing the underclass of VictorianEngland. 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 implic it 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.
In the allegory of A Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past represents memory. The aged appearance of the childlike figure touches on the role of memory as a force that connects the different stages of a person's life. His glowing head suggests theilluminating power of the mind. The ghost initiates Scrooge's conversion from anti-Christmas grinch to a poster boy for the holiday season. Each episode in the montage of scenes shows a younger Scrooge who still possesses the ability to love, a person who is still in touch with his fellow human beings. As the visions pass before him, Scrooge watches himself become ever more cold and greedy until the ultimatescenes. His all-consuming lust for money destro ys his love for Belle and completes his reversion to a niggardly venomous recluse. The tour through his memories forces Scrooge to recall the emotional episodes of his past. This dreamlike series of hallucinatory home movies brings the otherwise hardened man to tears. This breakdown and the reconnection with his feeling self initiates the process ofmelting away Scrooge's cold bah-humbug exterior.
An important aspect of A Christmas Carol (which is probably today's most popular Christmas tale, save for the seminal holiday story of Christ's birth) is its modern view of Christmas as a joyous holiday rather than as a solemn holy day. Eschewing the religious ideals of asceticism and austerity, the story promotes the more earthly values ofuniversal brotherhood, communal good spirit, and prosperous celebration. It is not immoral to possess riches or to throw lavish Christmas party or to enjoy a great feast, precisely because these things have the potential to spread joy and happiness--the purpose of the holiday season. One violates the Christmas spirit of goodwill when his desire for material pleasure--money, luxuries, sex--prevents...