Exploring Dickens: The Ghost of Christmas Past

The Beginning of the Long Dirt Road - Ghost of Christmas Past

Sometimes cast as one of the more uneventful spirits, The Ghost of Christmas Past might be arguably one of the most unsung heroes of this famous Dickens novella. Dickens describes the spirit as “... 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. It’s hair ... was white as if with age; and yet the face had not a wrinkle in it, and the tenderest bloom was on the skin. The arms were very long and muscular; the hands the same, as if its hold were of uncommon strength. Its legs and feet, most delicately formed, were, like those upper members, bare. It wore a tunic of the purest white, and round its waist was bound a lustrous belt, the sheen of which was beautiful. It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction of that wintry emblem, had its dress trimmed with summer flowers.” (Dickens, Carol) Perhaps the most detailed description of the spirits, one has to wonder why Dickens would spend to much time with this spirit and his visit to Scrooge? For many reasons; the simplest being that he is the spirit that will begin to launch our journey to Scrooge’s change as a person.

When the spirit appears to Scrooge, he is still pessimistic and resistant to anything the spirits have to offer him; it’s not until the spirit reveals pleasant memories from Scrooge’s past that he even begins to listen or engage in conversation. This shows true when Scrooge is more receptive to The Ghost of Christmas Present, and by the time he meets Christmas Yet to Come he is willing, and even eager, to hear what the spirits have to teach him. The Ghost of Christmas Past has a huge job to do, not only does he have to prove his power to Scrooge; but he also has to prove that the lessons they wish to show him are worth something. In order to do this, the memories are pleasant and inspire comforting feelings in Scrooge which leads to Scrooge’s reflection. As he begins to find joy in his memories, he begins to enjoy and relate those moments to moments we have just read from previously; Scrooge mentions wishing he could have given money to children or helped his clerk, albeit begrudgingly. The spirit then guides him to his apprenticeship and brings him to reflect on his first love, and experience when he was an apprentice.

The Ghost of Christmas Past is not nearly as direct or confrontational as the other spirits either, when he speaks to Scrooge during their time at Fezziwig; he simply asks “Why! Is it not! He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?" (Dickens) It isn’t hostile, per se, but simply poses a question to Scrooge, unlike The Ghost of Christmas Present’s use of Scrooge’s words to confront him. Perhaps the most clear reason for this is the spirit’s parting words of "I told you these were shadows of the things that have been, that they are what they are, do not blame me!" The Ghost of Christmas Past does nothing but reflect and help Scrooge remember the choices he made, and reflect on them. It’s the point of the book that, arguably, causes Scrooge the most discomfort, these are not experiences of others or moments he still has a chance to change...these are choices he has already made, and has to be reminded of. They are unalterable, and unavoidable.

In The Ghost’s final moments of visit, he begins to shine with a bright light that Scrooge resists. “In the struggle...Scrooge observed that its light was burning high and bright; and dimly connecting that with its influence over him, he seized the extinguisher-cap, and by a sudden action pressed it down upon its head.” (Dickens) The light representing the memories and reminders of Scrooge’s past that he wishes to escape or make go away, with all of his might and effort. But like the light he struggles to extinguish and forget, his memories are always present and their influence can never be forgotten. These moments, the realization of the consequences his actions have has in his life, are the foundation that starts Scrooge on his path to redemption. If it wasn’t for the realization of his own actions, the experience of realizing his own actions have led to so much unhappiness, then the influence of the next two spirits would have been lost on old Ebenezer Scrooge.


There you go! My take on all three of the Spirits of Christmas in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I hope these have given you some new insights into the story, new feelings about reading the story; and most importantly, have encouraged you to come see A Christmas Carol with Virginia Stage Company. Happy Holidays!


Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. S.P.C.K.: London, 1872. Print.