Dickens presents each of the four ghosts in very different ways as they contrast one another throughout the novel. He uses the views and reactions of the character Scrooge and the physical descriptions of the ghosts to portray their moral significance.
The novel is split into five staves (or chapters) with the three ghosts of the past, present and future visiting Scrooge in the middle three chapters and the readers first meet Scrooge when he is introduced by Marley’s ghost in the first chapter who was Scrooge’s former business partner, however in Stave 5 we see how Scrooge has changed, contrasting to the first chapter when he is a mean, stingy old man. Dickens called the chapters ‘staves’ which are references to verses of a song, which he has cleverly linked in with the title of the novel ‘A Christmas Carol’, so each chapter is like a verse in a carol and this structure of the novel is effective because it emphasizes the story and gets across the spirit of Christmas in a subtle and different way.
The first ghost to appear in front of Scrooge is the ghost of Jacob Marley – Scrooge’s former business partner. “The chain he drew was clasped around his middle.” Dickens presents Marley with a long chain wrapped around him made of “cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds and heavy purses” to show that he is trapped by his regrets made in life and he isn’t free of his sins. The cash boxes on Marley’s chain represent his character showing that when he was alive he relied on money and it was the only thing Marley thought about. Dickens presents businessmen as selfish and heartless people saying there are “keys” and “padlocks” on Marley’s chain which may suggest that they keep everything locked inside them, including feelings and their money. Dickens stereotypes this society as self-contained, ignorant people who turn a blind eye to the poor and the lower-class households in the Victorian times. Dickens also describes the chain “as a tail” wound around Marley and by using a simile he helps the reader to visualise the imagery given describing Marley’s ghost, as though Marley cannot escape his regrets. Dickens uses the word tail, which could be suggesting that the chain becomes part of Marley’s anatomy and so he has to live with it his whole life.
There is a theme of regret throughout the novel and I think that Dickens could be personifying Marley’s regrets as they are the things that are forcing him to stay on Earth as a spirit. Marley visits Scrooge to warn him about the regrets and mistakes he made in his own life and is, therefore, telling Scrooge to change his ways before it is too late. Marley tells Scrooge that being a spirit is “incessant torture of remorse” which shows the reader that Marley wishes he could have lived a more fulfilling life as he finds his time as a spirit tormenting and unhappy. Because of Marley’s never-ending torture, it could also suggest that because of his actions Marley has gone to hell to repay his sins. Charles Dickens is giving a moral message to the readers and also to society, telling them to think about their regrets made in life and how their actions have affected others and to possibly change their way of life like Scrooge. Marley tells Scrooge that his chain was as long as his seven years ago and Scrooge has “laboured on it since.” Marley then tells Scrooge that he has “hope of escaping my fate,” when three Spirits will visit him over the next three nights and with that Marley is gone. Dickens is trying to portray the message that you should think about the actions in your life and treat everyone with respect because otherwise your regrets made in life could catch up with you like Marley.
Another theme in the novel is the theme of redemption, as Scrooge is told by the ghosts he can still change the person he might become. When Dickens wrote the novel there was a large divide between the rich and poor societies and he wanted to change that, by selling A Christmas Carol for 5 shillings each which meant that everyone could read the book no matter how much money they earned. Also, Dickens was trying to get the message across to the ignorant rich of Victorian times about how the poor lived in poverty like Tiny Tim and his family in the novel. Because of this moral message Dickens portrayed, he hoped that it would encourage more people to give money to the poor, possibly to redeem their sins made in life. Furthermore, the character of Scrooge could have related to many upper-class, selfish businessmen who felt regret about their mistakes and wanted to become better people much like Scrooge, as at the beginning of the story Scrooge is shown as a cold, bitter man but by the end of the novel he is a changed man. This moral message about redemption is still a very important issue today and I think that is why the book is still as popular as it was 100 years ago.
The first of the three spirits to appear in front of Scrooge is the ghost of Christmas Past, whom Dickens describes as “strange” and “like a child” making the ghost seem as if it were young and childlike however Dickens then contradicts himself saying that the spirit’s hair was “white, as if with age” giving the readers the impression that even though the spirit might be old, the childhood memories are still with him and because of this you feel as a reader that even though you are more mature, your past stays with you as you grow old, helping to shape the person you become. The ghost is showing Scrooge that for him to be able to change his ways, he must look into his past and learn from the mistakes he has made but also from the happy experiences he has experienced with Marley. Because of this, the spirit can be seen as a personification of memory as everyone must look into their past and learn from it to become a better person. Also the spirit could be seen as an angel as Dickens describes the spirit with “a bright clear jet of light” coming from his head which could be perceived as a halo-like an angel and because it is shining very brightly out of the spirit’s crown it could represent its mind and the strength of his thoughts and memories.
The second ghost that visits Scrooge is the ghost of Christmas present. Dickens presents this ghost as a happy, kind spirit which is very much the opposite of Scrooge who is a miserable and selfish man. The spirit is seen as a kind-hearted and welcoming person saying “come in!” to Scrooge and he wears “a green robe” which could symbolise Christmas as this a typical festive colour but also it could represent nature and the pureness of it. To begin with, Scrooge is very wary of the spirit, as “he lay upon his bed,” but eventually he goes to visit the Spirit. This could be because Scrooge is scared about what is to come but also it could imply that he is finding it hard to change his ways. He finds that the room has had a “surprising transformation,” with holly, mistletoe and ivy scattered around, “poultry, brawn, great joints of meat,” and “bright gleaming berries.” These are all typical Christmas objects, which could be portraying the happiness of Christmas spirit and the warmth and kindness that comes with Christmas.
At this point in the novel, the two most important symbols of the story are introduced to Scrooge to make him want to change his ways. He asks “is it a foot or a claw,” as he is wondering what the sprit is hiding under his robes. The spirit shows Scrooge two “ragged, scowling, wolfish,” children which symbolise Ignorance and Want. Ignorance shows Scrooge’s ignorance towards the poor and to others around him and the ghost warns him that if he doesn’t change, he will end up like Marley. It also shows how the rich ignore the suffering of the poor like Scrooge at the beginning of the novel. The child of Want shows Scrooge’s greed of money throughout the novel however it could also represent the want of the poor society, as they require a better life, food, and education and they want to live. Want and Ignorance have been personified into children to make the reader think
about what society is becoming and also that it could be society’s fault that they are here.
This part of the book is showing how Charles Dickens wanted to change the lives of many and to help the less fortunate, as in Victorian Society the life of the poor was very difficult. The streets were dirty and filled with disease and death and children as young as five were sent to the workhouses, where they often worked long hours in dangerous jobs for a very little wage. Houses were overcrowded with large numbers of families living in one house and there were many deaths caused by starvation and disease. Dickens created these characters of Ignorance and Want to show the readers what Victorian Society was like and what they shouldn’t ignore it but help to improve the lives of others.
When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come “silently approached” Scrooge, he is “draped and hooded,” a phantom-like figure who could represent the fear of death. The ghost never talks to Scrooge, he just leads Scrooge, pointing forward so Scrooge can think about what he has done and what will come if he doesn’t change. The silence of the spirit could be frightening to Scrooge, as this spirit is traditionally shown as the scariest ghost. The spirit wears a “deep, black garment” and could remind readers of the Grim Reaper, which is often portrayed as an old man or a skeleton. Scrooge is reminded of Marley’s fate by this spirit and what is going to happen to him unless he changes his ways, which he promises to do after he is haunted by the image of his death. When the characters are in the graveyard, Dickens uses pathetic fallacy to portray the feeling of death around the spirit, describing the graveyard “overrun by grass and weeds” and “choked up with too much burying,” giving the reader an image of the scene but also a feeling of the atmosphere around them. The spirit could also be showing Scrooge the difference of heaven and hell, as Tiny Tim would go to heaven as he is a kind, generous boy whereas Scrooge would go to hell for being a greedy, cold-hearted man.
In conclusion, Dickens presents the four ghosts in very different ways; each one is showed by its character, appearance and feel. The spirits each have their moral significance, giving not just a message to Scrooge, but a moral to the readers too. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in the 19th century of Victorian Britain and he wanted to show the rich and ignorant that they should help the suffering and the poor, not just ignore them, like Scrooge’s character throughout the novel. The spirits helped him to see that he should change, by simply showing him memories, present times and what would happen to him in the future if it didn’t change his ways. This novel is still very popular today, because of the ghosts’ moral messages which are still so relevant today and in modern society.