A Christmas Carol

First Act: Scrooge’s Lie is reinforced throughout the First Act in a series of encounters, first with his nephew and his employee Bob Cratchit, then with the men collecting for the poor, the carolers, and, finally and most dramatically, with the ghost of Jacob Marley. We see the tiniest glimmer of a possibility for change in the real warmth of friendship that momentarily springs up in Scrooge in response to Marley. As for Marley, he doesn’t just hint at what Scrooge needs to do to change; he spells it out in gory detail. Marley’s warning is the inciting event, which Scrooge scoffs at, even in the light of such convincing proof as a real live ghost. Still, he is shaken, and a small part of his brain begins to wonder if Marley’s promise of damnation might be true. He decides to stay awake until after the prophesied hour of the first ghost—just to prove to himself how crazy the whole thing is.

First Plot Point: The First Plot Point howls, uninvited, into Scrooge’s life when the first of the three ghosts arrives. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows up in Scrooge’s bedroom, forever changing Scrooge’s perception of the world. Even if the ghost should disappear, Scrooge’s Normal World has been shaken. But the ghost doesn’t disappear. Rather, it drags Scrooge through the gate at the end of the First Act. It forces Scrooge to begin the Second Act with the new plot goal of learning all he can about his own life and the Spirit of Christmas—even though he doesn’t fully realize it yet. In the beginning, all he wants to do is survive the night, but he’s already passed his point of no return: he can never go back his Normal World. The world itself hasn’t changed, but he has.

First Half of the Second Act: The three spirits are all about providing Scrooge with tools to overcome his Lie. The Ghost of Christmas Past walks him through his history, reminding him of wonderful memories of his young manhood working at Old Fezziwig’s. The ghost gets Scrooge to admit that Fezziwig’s kindness made Fezziwig a bigger man than any amount of money could have. The ghost then shows Scrooge a glimpse of what his life might have been had he rejected the Lie from the outset and married Belle. Scrooge resists the revelations and wrestles with the ghost, only to have it dump him back in his house—and the lap of another spirit.

Midpoint: After an eventful First Half of the Second Act, spent exploring his past, Scrooge is passed into the hands of the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present. Scrooge is already comparatively subdued by this point, not even daring to meet the ghost’s eyes. The First Act has shaken his belief in his Lie of money’s absolute worth, and the sights he has seen have convinced him that maybe he does have something to learn about being a better man. He humbly submits to the ghost’s powers and admits he has “learned a lesson which is working on me now.” He’s not quite ready to completely surrender his Lie, but the Truth has him in its grip. His moment of grace manifests when he not only doesn’t resist this ghost, as he did the first one, but even entreats him, “Tonight, if you have aught to teach me, let me profit by it.”

Second Half of the Second Act: Scrooge’s mindset has notably evolved by the Second Half of the Second Act. He begins to show concern (although the logic is still misguided by his Lie) for the people who are unable to purchase bread on the Sabbath. His heart goes out to Tiny Tim, and he grows “light of heart” while observing his nephew’s dinner party. He would even join in their toast if he could—but, of course, he can’t, because he is still physically bound by his Lie. A Christmas Carol is rife with “before and after” moments, sown masterfully in the First Act, and brought to fruition throughout the Second Act, as Scrooge joyfully reencounters the people he knows and whom he treated poorly in the beginning. The story is also rife with blatant demonstrations of the thematic principle, since the tale is essentially a fable from start to finish.

Third Plot Point: On the stroke of midnight, just as Jacob Marley predicted, Scrooge is visited by the most terrifying specter yet—the Ghost of Christmas Future. The stink of death is miasmic in this section. Tiny Tim’s death is revealed. But, even more important, Scrooge’s death and its callous treatment by acquaintances and strangers alike, fills the Third Plot Point and most of the Third Act. Scrooge clearly sees the cost of his Lie and finally decides he will surrender his wealth and live the rest of his life honoring Christmas “in his heart” all the year ‘round.

Third Act: Most of Scrooge’s Third Act is a progression of the Third Plot Point scene, in which the terrifyingly silent third spirit shows him the bleak future that awaits him. Although Scrooge is currently in no physical danger, he is shown a future in which he will not only be friendless, but in which he will die. (Mickey’s Christmas Carol ups the stakes in this section by seemingly subjecting the already miserable present-day Scrooge to the physical fires of hell when he falls into his own grave.) Scrooge has come far since the beginning of the story, but he isn’t yet convinced money isn’t the ultimate deciding point in a man’s worth. The Third Act is all about proving his own worthlessness to the rest of the world, despite his money—as evidenced by his neighbors’ heartless response to his death. Scrooge’s heartache over Tiny Tim’s death and the Cratchits’ grief proves his evolution.

Climax: Scrooge’s transformation is basically complete before he exits Christmas Future and enters the Climax. He swears to the Ghost of Christmas Future that he will be a changed man if only he is given the chance to live again. Once back in his bedchamber, in the present day, he immediately sets about proving his change, by doing good for everyone he snubbed in the First Act. The Climactic Moment arrives when he decisively demonstrates his devotion to his new Truth of charity and goodwill by donating gifts and food to the Cratchits and giving Mr. Cratchit an extravagant raise.

Resolution: In a lengthy Resolution scene, a very altered Scrooge rejoices to find himself back in the unchanged Normal World of his bedroom. Upon discovering it’s still Christmas morning, he sets about proving his new mindset over and over: by tipping the errand boy, donating extravagantly to the poor, making up with his nephew, and lavishing gifts and a raise upon the Cratchits. Dickens ends with a few paragraphs of narrative, spelling out, in no uncertain terms, how Scrooge was changed from that day forward: “…it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”

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