A Christmas Carol: Novel Summary: Stave 3
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Stave Three: "The Second of the Three Spirits" Understandably, given his experiences with the first Spirit, Scrooge is now ready, when the clock strikes one, for anything: "nothing between a baby and a rhinoceros would have astonished him very much." When nothing happens, then, Scrooge is agitated. For fifteen minutes he stays in his bed before investigating the "ghostly light" that shines from the room next to his. Scrooge's reluctance to get out of bed perhaps signifies his internal reluctance to join his fellow human beings in celebrating Christmas, and in celebrating life-for Scrooge's second visitor is, of course, the Ghost of Christmas Present. Christmas-which readers may take as a microcosm of all that Dickens sees as worthy of celebrating in life-is happening all around Scrooge, but Scrooge refuses to join it.
No sooner has Scrooge touched the door to the adjoining room than the Ghost tells him to enter, calling him by name. Scrooge enters the room and sees that it has been transformed into a beautiful display of abundance, in sharp contrast to the way in which Scrooge (and, before him, Marley) had kept it. The gigantic Ghost sits on top of a mountain of food, surrounded by holiday greens, holding a torch "in shape not unlike Plenty's horn" (that is, a cornucopia, traditional symbol of abundance), and all in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace. "Come in," calls the Ghost, "and know me better, man!"- another external representation of Scrooge's internal resistance to engage Christmas and life itself.
The generosity of the Ghost's surroundings is reflected in the Ghost's physical appearance. Readers realize that the Ghost is not only large in size; it is also large in heart, as suggested by its bare, "capacious breast . . . as if disdaining to be warded or concealed . . . ." The Ghost's open robe symbolizes its open heart-the kind of heart Scrooge will receive before his spiritual visitations end. Dickens continues to use words that evoke the Ghost's generous spirit: its hair is described as "long and free, free as its genial face"; its hand is "open"; its manner is "unconstrained." Dickens here presents the Ghost as a warm, welcoming, inviting figure-yet Scrooge, having been the exact opposite for so long, finds the Ghost imposing: he enters the room timidly and hanging his head, as if in shame. He knows how different he is from this Spirit, and, we may assume, he is regretful.
Hearn suggests that the Ghost is Father Christmas, "the ancient patriarch of the English holiday," who is depicted just as Dickens depicts the Ghost (p. 83).
The Ghost understands Scrooge's situation. It tells Scrooge he has never known any of its brethren, of whom it says there are more than eighteen hundred-a reference, of course, to the years that have passed since the birth of Jesus. Scrooge's only response is a pragmatic, utilitarian concern: "A tremendous family to provide for." Still, he submits to the Ghost's guidance. Touching the Ghost's robe, he finds himself in the city streets, on Christmas morning itself. The descriptive, vividly-drawn scene is best summed up in these lines: "There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet there was an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavored to diffuse in vain." We learn that the cheer is due to the presence of the Ghost-that is, to the season of Christmas. The Ghost sprinkles passersby and their dinners with his torch, which has the effect of ending quarrels. The Ghost's torch thus reminds readers of another piece of its equipment, described while the Ghost was still in Scrooge's room: an old, rusted scabbard, lacking a sword. Both the empty scabbard and the peacemaking torch serve as fitting symbols of a season celebrating the birth of the "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) at whose coming whom choirs of angels sang, "on earth peace, good will toward men" (Luke 2:14, KJV).
The Spirit takes Scrooge to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Hearn suggests that the name "Cratchit" derives from "cratch," "an ancient English word for cr�che, the manger in which the infant Jesus was laid" (p. 94). Perhaps readers are to be alert for signs of the Christ Child's presence in the home and life of this family; perhaps they are to seek them especially in the smallest child of the family, Tiny Tim. Whatever the derivation and significance of the name, readers will recall that Cratchit was unnamed in Stave One; now, however, thanks to the presence of the Ghost, Scrooge, and we, will see this anonymous clerk as a human being, with family, concerns, and joys of his own. We are, through Scrooge's eyes, undergoing the same transformation he must undergo (see again Scrooge's nephew's defense of Christmas in Stave One).
Dickens' description of the Cratchit family dinner is one of his most familiar and most excerpted passages. Despite their poverty, the Cratchit family is quite merry this Christmas day. Two of the younger children gleefully anticipate feasting on a meager goose, for instance, and Mrs. Cratchit and her daughter Martha even play a practical joke on Bob as he arrives home, pretending that Martha will not be joining them for the meal.
Bob has been attending a Christmas Day worship service with their son, Tim. "Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a little crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!" Bob tells his wife that Tim was "as good as gold" during the service, and mentioned that he hoped people saw him in worship and thought of the man "who made beggars walk and blind men see." Here again-as with Marley's comments about the Wise Men's Star in Stave One-readers see that, despite the lack of explicitly theological commentary, Dickens' Christmas is more than Victorian sentiment: it is a celebration whose essential meanings are rooted in Dickens' Unitarian, morally-minded Christian faith.
Dickens describes the Cratchit's modest meal in lavish detail, again accentuating the feeling of abundance that Christmas can produce even in the midst of want. He also no doubt hopes to prick the conscience of his original readers (recall the comment of the charity worker in Stave One, that Christmas is a season in which want is keenly felt while abundance rejoices). After the dinner, Bob proposes a toast to Scrooge, "the Founder of the Feast." His wife and family react to this toast with dismay and anger, yet Bob seems to offer it in all sincerity: "My dear," he tells her, "Christmas Day." His generosity of spirit is a sharp contrast to the miserly spirit of his employer.
Yet we see more evidence that Scrooge is changing when he asks the Ghost-notably, "with an interest he had never felt before"-if Tiny Tim will survive. The Ghost responds with an ominous reference to an empty chair and an ownerless crutch. When Scrooge expresses alarm at this possibility, the Ghost throws Scrooge's earlier words about the "surplus population" back at him, and Scrooge once more hangs his head, in "penitence and grief." The Ghost then questions Scrooge's humanity-"Man, if man you be in heart . . . ."-echoing what readers learned from the example of Fan, Scrooge's sister, in Stave Two: full humanity requires a full-to-overflowing heart.
The Ghost now transports Scrooge to a variety of far-flung locales: from the streets of London, where even the solitary lamplighter is cheered by the Ghost's presence; to a deserted moor (waste land) where only miners live in mud and stone huts, yet sing joyful Christmas songs; to a lighthouse on the coast, where the light's keepers sing and wish each other "Merry Christmas"; to a ship on the ocean, every member of its crew humming carols, reminiscing about Christmases past, or sharing kind words with his shipmates.
Finally, the Ghost and Scrooge arrive at the home of Scrooge's nephew, where a glad holiday party is in progress. Scrooge's nephew (whom we now learn is named Fred) and his friends are laughing-at Scrooge! His earlier denunciation of Christmas as a "humbug" has them roaring with laughter. While Fred's family and friends speak ill of Scrooge, Fred himself maintains a generous spirit toward his uncle. Fred declares his intention to keep inviting Scrooge to Christmas dinner every year, whether or not Scrooge ever accepts. Fred hopes that the repeated offers may at least move his uncle to pay Bob Cratchit more money.
The party continues with music-a song, in fact, that Scrooge heard in his childhood. Scrooge remembers all that the first Ghost showed him. The tune becomes for Scrooge a symbol of the happiness he might have known, had he but listened. The partygoers then turn to games, including a round of "blindman's bluff" in which Topper, one of the guests, enjoys a rendezvous with Fred's "plump" sister behind drawn window curtains. During other games, such as guessing games, Scrooge joins in with great glee, even though no one in the room can see him or is in any way aware of his presence. The last game in which Scrooge participates is a game of "yes and no" questions, in which other players must discover what Fred is thinking about. Fred's plump sister guesses the correct answer: "It's your uncle Scro-o-o-o-oge!" Fred then drinks his uncle's health (mirroring the toast seen earlier in the Cratchit home), to which the merrymakers give their glad assent. Like Fred, and like the Ghost of Christmas Present, their spirits are generous; to echo Fred's language in Stave One, the partygoers' hearts, perhaps usually "shut-up," are freely open to all people, even such a one as Scrooge.
This expression of affection moves Scrooge so that he wants to return the good wishes, but the Ghost continues to take him from place to place. At every stop on his supernatural journey-whether "almshouse, hospital, [or] jail, in misery's every refuge"-Scrooge witnesses the joy-giving effect of the Ghost's presence. During their travels, however, Scrooge notices the Ghost aging in appearance. He comments on this change as they leave "a children's Twelfth Night party"-indicating that he has spent the entire season of Christmastide (the traditional "twelve days of Christmas") in the Ghost's company.
Before the Ghost's life ends (since the Christmas season is over), Scrooge notes something strange, like "a foot or a claw," protruding from beneath its robes. The Ghost opens its robes to reveal "two children, wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable." The children, a boy and a girl, cling to the Ghost's robes-for a chance, however small, at survival? Scrooge, repulsed at the children's appearance, asks if they belong to the Ghost. The Ghost informs Scrooge that they are Man's children: "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want." The Ghost warns Scrooge to beware them both, but the boy most of all, for he is doomed. When Scrooge protests that the children must have some help, the Ghost retorts with Scrooge's own words: "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?" The Ghost departs as the clock strikes twelve, leaving Scrooge-and the readers-to ponder the consequences of treating one's fellow human beings with anything but the utmost generosity and love.
As the last stroke of the ringing clock fades, the final Ghost-an ominously shrouded phantom-approaches Scrooge.