A Christmas Carol

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Themes and Colors
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Christmas Carol, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Family Theme Icon

The entrance of Scrooge’s nephew Fred at the beginning of the story introduces another side to the miser. Scrooge is not unfortunate in the way of relatives – he has a family awaiting his presence, asking him to dinner, wanting to celebrate the season with him, yet he refuses. This is one of the important moral moments in the story that helps predict Scrooge’s coming downfall. It shows how Scrooge makes choices to prolong his own misery. He chooses to live alone and in darkness while even poor Cratchit is rich in family. Scrooge’s distaste for Fred’s happiness is not just annoyance at the sight of merriness and excess, it is also motivated by bitterness towards marriage based on Scrooge’s own lost love Belle, who left him long ago.

In the story, cold and loneliness are set up in opposition to the warmth of family. Symbols of coldness such as Scrooge’s empty hearth, refusal to provide heat for Cratchit, and keeping his own house dark to save money show Scrooge’s cruelty and lack of connection. But family provides the antidote to this coldness. When Fred enters, the counting house suddenly warms up. Further, Cratchit’s warmth, despite his lack of coal, and the togetherness and energy of his large family, show him to be one of the most fortunate men in the story.

Scrooge does have a kind of family in his partner Marley, who is described at the beginning of the novella as fulfilling many roles for Scrooge before his death. The inseparability of their names above the firm’s entrance shows how close they are—at least in business terms—and though they are bachelors they share their lives, and the suite of rooms is passed down like a family legacy from Marley to Scrooge. Ultimately, from Marley’s warning and the visions provided by the ghosts, Scrooge does learn to appreciate and connect with Fred and the rest of his family, and to even extend that family to include the Cratchits.

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Family ThemeTracker

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Family Quotes in A Christmas Carol

Below you will find the important quotes in A Christmas Carol related to the theme of Family.
Stave 1 Quotes

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Related Characters: Jacob Marley
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

At the very beginning of the story, the narrator establishes that Marley, Scrooge's business partner and sole friend in the world, is dead. This quote epitomizes the amusing emphasis that the narrator puts on the fact that Marley is definitely deceased--which makes it all the more shocking and supernatural when he appears, as a ghost, in Scrooge's room the night before Christmas. (It's also worth noting that Dickens is not the source of this common colloquialism, which is actually quite ancient, but this sentence does foreshadow Marley's ghost appearing in the door knocker.)

Marley's definitive dead-ness also shows that ever since Marley died seven years ago, Scrooge has been totally isolated from other human beings, besides the ones he is required to interact with (like his clerk Bob Cratchit). This is entirely by choice: Scrooge is a miser not just in money, but in affection, too. Though Marley was Scrooge's only companion, the tone of this quote suggests that he thought of his business partner like one might think of a door-nail: necessary and useful, but otherwise insignificant. Thus, when Marley dies, Scrooge ensures that he gives his old friend a cheap funeral and never changes the name on the door to their business; he takes to responding to both names. This quote therefore establishes Marley's death, winks at his future arrival in Scrooge's room, and shows the reader the crassness with which Scrooge treats other people, even those for whom he musters slight fondness. 


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'A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!' cried a cheerful voice. It was the voice of Scrooge's nephew, who came upon him so quickly that this was the first intimation he had of his approach.
'Bah!' said Scrooge, 'Humbug!'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), Fred Scrooge (speaker)
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

One cold Christmas Eve, seven years after Marley's death, Scrooge's nephew Fred comes into the business to invite his uncle to his Christmas day dinner. Scrooge immediately rejects the invitation, lamenting the fact that workers expect the day off with pay on such a holiday, and suggests that he, not his impoverished workers, is the one being taken advantage of. He is scornful of Fred's youthful joy, and tells him he shouldn't be so happy since he is poor. 

In this quote, Scrooge uses his signature phrase "Bah, Humbug!" to refute his nephew's well-wishes. "Bah" is a sound Scrooge uses to express scorn, and "humbug" means a lie or false behavior. Thus, Scrooge here denies both that Christmas is a merry time and that God will save him--or, perhaps, anyone. Scrooge's meanness extends even to himself--he is not fond of anyone or anything, including his own life or future. Scrooge sees so much negativity in the world that he does not find much merriness or salvation anywhere in his life or anyone else's. He is irritated when anyone suggests anything to the contrary, and thus a cheerful greeting such as this is exactly the sort of statement that grinds his gears. 

'Business!' cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. 'Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!'

Related Characters: Jacob Marley (speaker), Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Marley's ghost, wrapped in chains, visits Scrooge in his room that night. He is bound by his sins--represented by the chains--to roam the earth in purgatory. He thus visits Scrooge to warn him to change his ways or face a miserable fate like his after death. Scrooge expresses surprise at Marley's sentence, saying that he was a "good man of business." In this quote, Marley is upset by Scrooge's statement, noting that the business of dealing with goods and finances is but a small aspect of life; paying respect to his fellow mankind should have been his business, as he has only seen too late. 

Marley visits Scrooge to show him what kind of fate--or perhaps worse--awaits him if he continues his miserly ways. Scrooge's only delight in life is the making and hoarding of money, and Marley here urges him to think of the "common welfare," which Scrooge refuses to acknowledge. Scrooge thinks every person's misery is their own fault, and to be poor is to be lazy and to be wealthy is to have high morals. In making and keeping his own wealth, spending very little and giving away absolutely nothing, Scrooge equates his thrift to morality and assumes that this will buy his way into heaven. Marley refutes this thinking and tells him quite the opposite: to ignore one's fellow men in need is to buy one's way down towards Hell. Just because Scrooge chooses to ignore everyone in need, doesn't mean that his inaction cannot be counted against him at St. Peter's Gate: he is equally at fault for what he does not do (give affection or charity to anyone or anything) than what he does do (hoard his money). Marley's apparition serves to warn him of what will happen if he continues to live a solitary and mean life--an afterlife of regrets and woe. 

Stave 2 Quotes

'The school is not quite deserted,' said the Ghost. 'A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.'
Scrooge said he knew it. And he sobbed.

Related Characters: The Ghost of Christmas Past (speaker), Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost of Christmas Past first brings Scrooge to his old boarding school, which he attended as a child. Though it is mostly deserted because the students went home for the holidays, young Scrooge remains behind for unclear reasons. In this quote, Scrooge weeps at the lonely memory. 

Thus far in the story, Scrooge has been a mean and unfeeling character, immune to the woes of others. This sudden onset of tears reveals Scrooge's hidden softer side, and shows his capacity for empathy, inspired by his younger self. The first stop on teaching Scrooge the error of his ways is showing him his own trials and tribulations--Scrooge, like everyone else, has a past full of both struggles and happiness, that has served to shape him into the man he is today. His meanness is not spontaneous or voluntary, just like other people's poverty is not due to laziness or a lack of morals. Opening up Scrooge to the realities of his past is the first step in teaching him the true meaning of generosity, charity, and of the Christmas spirit. 

Stave 3 Quotes

The sight of these poor revellers appeared to interest the Spirit very much, for he stood with Scrooge beside him in a baker's doorway, and taking off the covers as their bearers passed, sprinkled incense on their dinners from his torch.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge, The Ghost of Christmas Present
Page Number: 77
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost takes Scrooge onto the streets of London, where everyone, rich and poor, is celebrating Christmas merrily. When they notice two people getting into an argument over dinner, the Ghost sprinkles incense from his horn of plenty onto their food. Immediately, the quarrel ends, as the arguers suddenly reason that there is no point fighting on the joyous day that is Christmas. 

In this quote, the Ghost shows Scrooge the merits of helping others, even if their misfortunes do not directly apply to him. The Ghost has no personal, vested interest in ensuring that these two people make amends, but it makes him happy to make them happy. Scrooge has more than enough wealth to do some good in the lives of those less fortunate, but refuses to engage in any kind of generosity, as he does not feel any impetus to help in the plight of others. He cites the poorhouse and jails as forms of welfare that already exist, thus, as he believes, rendering those who remain poor to be lazy and foolish for not finding ways to change their present situation. (Dickens was a famous opponent of both institutions, which did nothing to relieve poverty or crime.) In this quote, the Ghost shows Scrooge that just a little bit of generosity goes a long way, and can inspire a good feeling in both giver and receiver. Charity, Scrooge begins to learn, is a worthy cause regardless of whether he has any sort of tangible debt towards those less fortunate. He has more than he needs, and using his means to put a smile on another's face is cause enough to join the charitable spirit of Christmas. 

Oh, a wonderful pudding! Bob Cratchit said, and calmly too, that he regarded it as the greatest success achieved by Mrs Cratchit since their marriage. […]Everybody had something to say about it, but nobody said or thought it
was at all a small pudding for a large family. It would have been flat heresy to do so.

Related Characters: Bob Cratchit
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost of Christmas Present brings Scrooge to the home of Bob Cratchit, Scrooge's clerk. Bob and his wife have many children, including one, Tiny Tim, who is very ill and walks using a crutch. Though the family is very poor, they are rich in love for each other, and greatly enjoy each other's company. In this quote, the narrator notes that everyone in the family praises the pudding Bob's wife has put out for Christmas dinner, even though it is too small for the entire family to take part in for a satisfying meal. The narrator also notes that it would have been "flat heresy" to comment on the meagerness of the dish, since the family knows that Mrs. Cratchit has done her best to provide with what they have. 

Scrooge, who previously scolded Fred for feeling merry despite his poverty, is here introduced to a family that has very little explicitly due to his greediness--they are poor because Scrooge pays Bob next to nothing. Yet, they are loving and grateful for what they do have. The visit to the Cratchit family dinner introduces Scrooge to the concept of being grateful for what one has, instead of being bitter for what one does not possess. The family members are loving and have each other, even if they are lacking in many other things. Yet Scrooge, who has means far beyond theirs, is bitter and mean because he lacks love. This scene helps Scrooge learn how to prioritize people above money and means. 

'God bless us every one!'

Related Characters: Tiny Tim (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

At their Christmas meal, all of the members of the Cratchit family toast. Bob wishes his family a merry Christmas and asks God to bless them. In this quote, Tiny Tim pipes up with one of the most famous lines from the novella, "God bless us every one!" 

Though very young and frail, Tiny Tim maintains a good attitude, fueled by the love and care he is given from his family. He and his family know that his health is precarious such that he may not be at the table the following Christmas. Yet, despite his misfortune, he spreads love and good cheer, and wishes blessings upon every person he meets. This is the kind of sentiment that the Ghost wants Scrooge to learn: that everyone, poor or rich, deserves kindness and generosity. A world full of greed just begets more greed, whereas a world full of charity and goodness will beget more goodness. As the night progresses, Scrooge learns to embody the sentiments of the young, fragile boy, and to wish happiness upon everyone (particularly around Christmastime), regardless of their situation. 

Stave 5 Quotes

'Now, I'll tell you what, my friend,' said Scrooge, 'I am not going to stand this sort of thing any longer. And therefore,' he continued, leaping from his stool, and giving Bob such a dig in the waistcoat that he staggered back into the Tank again; 'and therefore I am about to raise your salary!'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), Bob Cratchit
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:

The day after Christmas, Bob Cratchit arrives late to work. In this quote, Scrooge pretends that he is furious at this indiscretion and is about to fire Bob. Instead, he announces that he is going to give him a raise to his salary.

After having learned the true meaning of empathy and generosity, Scrooge enjoys pranking Bob using his previously cruel attitude. He is completely aware of how cruel he has been up until now, and how much people resent him for his meanness. He knows that Bob needs the money much more than he does, due to the illness of his son Tiny Tim. Thus, for the first time, Scrooge is delighted at the prospect of giving away his money to someone who needs it more than he does--the definition of charity and generosity. Scrooge now derives joy from being kind to his fellow man, and as he soon learns, being kind to others usually means they will be kind to you. Thanks to his warning from Marley and the lessons of the Ghosts, Scrooge lives out his days in happiness and in happy company, embodying Tiny Tim's sentiment of "God bless us, every one"--and thus Dickens' moral fable ends neatly and happily.