Three ghosts appear to Scrooge to show him how he is living sinfully and what the consequences will be if he doesn’t choose to live a better life. The three-part ghost story shows the reader a clear path – sins in Scrooge’s past leading to his present misery and the continuation of that sin leading in the future to death, symbolized by the hooded figure. Each ghost shows Scrooge a vision of life gone wrong, set in a chronological path to destruction. At the same time, the ghosts’ appearance threaten ultimately the absence of time, what will happen after Scrooge’s death if he continues down this path: the purgatory of endlessly wandering the earth that Marley’s ghost warned him was his fate.
Time in the story is distinguished by several motifs. First, bells tolling and chiming fit into the story’s song-like structure and also recur at key moments, reminding Scrooge of the time and of time passing. Second the chains that Marley shakes at Scrooge to scare him are a visual reminder of the endless prison sentence of purgatory awaiting Scrooge in the afterlife.
Time in the story is also threatening because of the changes its passing will enact in traditional society. Tradition is important for all of these characters – be it Scrooge with his obsessive money counting and nightly rituals or Cratchit with his love of Christmas – and the changing of the city during these industrial times threatens to break down all of these traditions through its transformation of economic conditions and the grinding poverty it inflicts.
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time ThemeTracker
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Quotes in A Christmas Carol
Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.
'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!'
It was a strange figure-like a child: yet not so like a child as like an old man, viewed through some supernatural medium, which gave him the appearance of having receded from the view, and being diminished to a child's proportions.
'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.
'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.'
In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.
The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery.
'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.'
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.
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.
'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!'