A Christmas Carol

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Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Analysis

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.
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon

Scrooge is a caricature of a miser, greedy and mean in every way. He spends all day in his counting house looking after his money but is so cheap that he keeps his house in darkness, his fire small and allows no extravagance even on Christmas day. But we soon learn that he is the most impoverished character – he is lacking love, warmth and the spirit of Christmas, all of which make lives like Bob Cratchit’s so worth living despite their hardships.

The story’s structure and Scrooge’s character development are engineered so that as Scrooge becomes aware of his own poverty and learns to forgive and listen to his buried conscience, he is able to see virtue and goodness in the other characters and rediscovers his own generosity – he even becomes a symbol of Christmas in the final stave.

Scrooge is remedied in the novella by the Christmas-conscious characters that surround him, including his own nephew and Bob Cratchit and his family, who show Scrooge in the Ghost of Christmas Present’s tour the true meaning of goodness. All of the generous characters in the story are financially downtrodden but succeed in being good and happy despite their lot, whereas Scrooge needs to go through a traumatic awakening in order to find happiness. But the virtue that really ensures Scrooge’s transformation is forgiveness – it is this key of Christian morality that saves him when the characters that he has always put down—Fred, Bob Cratchit—welcome him into their homes when he undergoes his transformation, giving Dickens’ tale the shape of a true religious redemption.

Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness ThemeTracker

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Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Quotes in A Christmas Carol

Below you will find the important quotes in A Christmas Carol related to the theme of Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness.
Stave 1 Quotes

Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, Scrooge! a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

In establishing the setting and characters of the novella, the narrator makes sure to impart upon the reader that Scrooge is not just a grumpy, jaded old man--he is mean to the core, and makes sure no one mistakes him as otherwise. This quote illustrates the narrator's emphatic attempt to use every adjective to describe Scrooge's meanness, and epitomizes Dickens' characteristically descriptive (and here amusing and rather lighthearted) prose. 

This quote illustrates a number of images that help the reader to understand just how cruel Scrooge is: he is not just tight-fisted in terms of his finances, but rather "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping," to the point that he pinches every penny and will not let one coin fall out of his grasp for a poorer soul to snatch. And yet, despite his hoarded wealth, he is still a "covetous old sinner," who wants more and more yet refuses to spend one bit of it (covetousness, or greedy envy, is one of the seven deadly sins). He is "hard and sharp as flint," suggesting he is caustic and mean to anyone who comes close enough to be pricked by his words, and "no steel had ever struck out generous fire," meaning no human being has ever coaxed him into exuding any kind of warmth or philanthropy. Like an oyster that keeps its pearl inside, and only relinquishes its inner jewel when pried open and ultimately dead, Scrooge thoroughly intends to keep his wealth to himself until the day he dies--and, ideally, to his own earthly grave.

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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

'Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor and content to be so, until, in good season, we could improve our worldly fortune by our patient industry. You are changed. When it was made, you were another man.'

Related Characters: Belle (speaker), Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost brings Scrooge to a scene that occurred when he was a young man. In this scene, Scrooge's girlfriend at the time, Belle, tells him that it is time they part ways--though they have made many plans together, and are even engaged, his ambitions and thirst for money have changed him such that she no longer loves him. 

In this quote, Belle notes that they were once content to be poor in money yet rich in love, but now Scrooge's greediness has changed him into a new person entirely, one whom she neither knows nor loves. Like the Christmas that Scrooge spent at school as a child, this is evidence of why Scrooge has become a hard, mean old man, in particular about the topic of Christmas. Each Christmas becomes the anniversary when he lost his beloved, and marks the day that he descended into a truly miserly, lonely existence. His money and business sense became the only thing he had in life, so he has clung onto his wealth and success while refusing the company of those who may end up hurting him, like Belle did. This scene brings Scrooge immense pain, further evidence that it is a wound he has carried with him for many years. 

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 4 Quotes

'Ghost of the Future!' he exclaimed, 'I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good, and as I hope to live to be another man from what I was, I am prepared to bear you company, and do it with a thankful heart. Will you not speak to me?'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come
Page Number: 96
Explanation and Analysis:

By the time the Ghost of Christmas Future comes to visit Scrooge, he has already learned his lesson: no good will ever come of his miserly ways, for himself or for the people around him. Yet, the Ghost refuses to address him, even though Scrooge entreats him to do so in this quote. 

Unlike the Ghosts of Christmas Past and Present, who help guide Scrooge to understand aspects of his past and present in order to learn his lesson about charity and empathy, the Ghost of Christmas Future does not speak to Scrooge. Rather, he brings him to the circumstances surrounding the death of an old man who was despised in life, and disparaged in death. Scrooge must realize for himself that this fate is to be his if he does not revise his attitude and moral sentiments. By refusing to speak to Scrooge, the Ghost ensures that this realization is entirely the old man's own, rendering the lesson much more powerful. 

'If he wanted to keep them after he was dead, a wicked old screw,' pursued the woman, 'why wasn't he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he'd have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge
Related Symbols: Images of Age and Youth
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost of Christmas Future brings Scrooge to the room where people are picking apart the possessions of a man who recently died. In this quote, an enterprising woman who is taking the deceased man's things argues that if the old man wanted to keep his things or give them to a person of his choosing, he should have been kinder (more "natural") in life. Due to his meanness, the reader learns that this man died entirely alone, "gasping out his last...alone by himself."

As Scrooge soon learns, the man in question is him--and this solitary death is to be his fate if he does not change his ways. As a wealthy but stingy man, the townspeople who hear of his death revel in taking from Scrooge the things that they could never have for want of resources. Had Scrooge been more generous with his time, kindness, and wealth, he may have had friends and family surrounding him as he gasped out his last breath. But due to his miserly ways, he had no one, and died completely alone. As a result, there was no one to protect his estate after his passing, rendering his possessions completely up for grabs. To those whom Scrooge spurned in his living days, stealing the dead man's possessions is a kind of revenge on his stinginess in life--if he wouldn't be generous and donate his time or money, then they would take what they needed in his death, if only out of spite. When Scrooge realizes that the man they so despise is himself, he suddenly sees that this is not how anyone should aspire to end their days. Scrooge soon learns that empathy and kindness is worth far more than its weight in gold, and the company and love of others during and after one's life will always be more important than how much is in one's bank account. 

He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, and now he almost touched a bed: a bare, uncurtained bed: on which, beneath a ragged sheet, there lay a something covered up, which, though it was dumb, announced itself in awful language.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 102
Explanation and Analysis:

The Ghost brings Scrooge to a terrifying scene in this quote: a dead body, alone and covered by a "ragged sheet" on a bare bed.

This body is the dead man that the people spoke of as they stole his things. Entirely stripped of his possessions, the body is left alone on a bare bed with only a torn sheet to cover it. This image symbolizes what the man has once his money and items are gone: no one, and nothing. Without any friends or loved ones to mourn him, the body left behind is nothing more than an empty vessel devoid even of the mean spirit that used to occupy it. This stark and scary scene jolts Scrooge. Though the body does not announce itself because it is "dumb," it does so in "awful language," that of silence. Scrooge realizes that this "awful language" of silence, in which the Ghost itself also converses with him, is all that he looks forward to for the rest of his days and beyond if he does not learn how to form, cultivate, and care for human connection. 

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:

After the Ghost finishes taking Scrooge to multiple scenes of people rejoicing over the death of a disliked man, the Phantom brings Scrooge to one final location: a grave yard. Though Scrooge has been demanding to know who this man is, he finally realizes the man's name when he sees his own upon a "neglected grave": Ebenezer Scrooge.

The ominous demeanor of the Ghost, reminiscent of the Grim Reaper of Death, is because the only Christmas that Scrooge has in his current future is that of death. Without people who love and care for him, Scrooge is destined to die alone. His death, as he has been shown, is currently fated to be rejoiced by all the people whom he wronged and was deliberately unkind to during life. Before being introduced to the inner lives and worlds of those whom he disparaged, Scrooge was not mindful of the struggles of others. However, thanks to the scenes the Ghosts have shown him, he understands how and why certain people act the way they do and live by more meager means: to others, it is more important to cultivate love and relationships than it is to conduct ruthless business in the pursuit of money. By seeing the love and happiness that people poorer than he enjoy, Scrooge learns to re-prioritize his life and embody the generous Christmas spirit 365 days a year in order to avoid this grim fate. 

Stave 5 Quotes

'I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!' Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. 'The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh, Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), Jacob Marley
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

After the final grim visit to the grave yard, Scrooge awakens the next day with a firm resolve to change his ways. In this quote, he thanks the Ghost of his one and only friend, Jacob Marley, for showing him the importance of rejecting their mutual miserly ways to avoid a purgatorial fate like his. 

Scrooge resolves to embody all three spirits: the youthful reminiscence of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the joy, understanding, and generosity of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the somber foresight of the Ghost of Christmas Future. He knows now that it is important to understand one's own context and perspective, as well as those of others, to properly conduct oneself with kindness and charity. Scrooge has some good reasons for acting particularly bitter around Christmas--there are unhappy memories from his past that make the holiday a sore subject--but he also has very happy memories that he has now learned to try and evoke, such as old Fizziwig's ball. As he has awoken on Christmas Day itself, he now has the chance to evoke the spirit of Christmas Present, and immediately spread joy and generosity on the people who deserve and need it. 

He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk – that anything – could give him so much happiness.

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 115
Explanation and Analysis:

Scrooge dashes out of his house, eager for the first time in years to interact with and enjoy the presence of his neighbors. For the first time, he derives pleasure from seeing people come and go, and delights at the very feeling of such happiness. 

In this quote, Scrooge embodies for the first time the true spirit of Christmas as it has been imparted on him in the night. Though he has valued only business and money for decades, he suddenly realizes that it did not actually provide him with any happiness to make and hoard his wealth. His journeys with the Ghosts have shown him the importance of prioritizing the presence of people in his life, and the great gift of having the means to be generous and charitable. When he is dead and gone, he will not be able to enjoy his wealth and bitterness in the afterlife--the only thing he will be able to carry with him are the memories of his interactions with his fellow man. Marley, for his part, is bound to bear the weight of his meanness and miserly ways in the form of heavy chains. (He seemingly wasn't given the same supernatural aid as Scrooge.) Scrooge, now that he has understood the true meaning of empathy, charity, and of Christmas (as a kind of charitable ideal, not the literal Christian meaning), is free--in his present, and presumably after his death as well. 

'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.