Posted in A Christmas Carol

What Do The Three Ghosts Symbolise In A Christmas Carol?

As you probably already know, A Christmas Carol is full of symbols, those images and objects that have a deeper meaning. Some of the most important symbols in A Christmas Carol include the ghosts themselves, with each one representing a central idea or message in the story.

Let’s take a look in more detail.

What does the Ghost of Christmas Past symbolise?

The first ghost to visit Scrooge is the Ghost of Christmas Past and, as his name suggests, it is his job to take Scrooge back in time. This purpose gives us a glimpse into the ghost’s symbolic significance: by showing Scrooge his past, the ghost shows us, the reader, how Scrooge came to be the man he is today. As such, the ghost represents learning from the past and understanding how the past affects the person we become.

You’ll also notice something really special about this ghost. He has a light shining from his head, as this quote from Stave Two shows:

“But the strangest thing about it was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all this was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using, in its duller moments, a great extinguisher for a cap, which it now held under its arm.”

As Scrooge relives his past, you’ll also notice that the light glows more strongly. It’s as though the light is responding to Scrooge’s acknowledgement of his memories.

At the very end of Stave Two, Scrooge tries to extinguish the light on the ghost’s head and fails to do so. This is really important because it shows that it’s impossible to erase our past. Whether the memories are good or bad, we cannot undo what has been done.

What does the Ghost of Christmas Present symbolise?

When the Ghost of Christmas Past comes to visit Scrooge, you’ll notice that he brings with him a feast fit for a king. He fills the room with “delicious pears,” for example, “great joints of meat” and “barrels of oysters.” The ghost is also very welcoming towards Scrooge:

“Come in!” exclaimed the Ghost. “Come in, and know me better, man.”

This entrance gives us a clue to the ghost’s symbolic meaning. Being so kind and generous, he represents the spirit of Christmas. That is, the welcoming, friendly, compassionate and generous feelings which are shared between people at Christmastime.

Later in this stave (Stave Three), Scrooge sees two children hiding under the ghost’s robe. They are Ignorance and Want – the personification of child poverty in Victorian England. To reinforce this idea, take a look at their description in the text:

“Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing.”

Symbolically, then, Ignorance and Want represent the problem of child poverty and help Dickens to reinforce the idea that society’s children are everyone’s responsibility. We must not stand by and let them deteriorate.

What does the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come symbolise?

In Stave Four, Scrooge meets with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Take a look at his description in the text:

“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.”

Looking at this description, the ghost might remind you of the Grim Reaper and this gives us a clue to his symbolic role in the story. He represents death and, in Scrooge’s case, a fear of dying. For further evidence of this, take a look at the glimpses of the future that he shows to Scrooge, culminating in the scene where Scrooge comes face to face with his own grave. It is the ghost’s role, therefore, to show Scrooge what will happen if he does not change. He will not only die alone but people will be pleased that he has died.

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