Get your students into the holiday spirit by teaching Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, a novella that is part ghost story, part folktale, and part satire. You might suspect the most frightening component of this story to be the ghosts, but the true horror comes not from the dead, but from the living. A Christmas Carol serves as a scathing criticism of Victorian attitudes toward the less fortunate. Be sure to provide students with background information on how 19th-century England was not a welfare state and essentially did nothing to aid those who were poor, sick, or living with a disability. You might also explain that in satirizing this failure, Dickens established one of the most common Christmas tropes—that the holidays equate to being extra kind to others.

Aside from its historical worth, Dickens's novella is full of literary gold for you to mine. The story is allegorical and provides an introduction or review of basic elements like simile, metaphor, imagery, and personification. Dickens also employs frame narration, allowing students to examine how the layers of Scrooge's life (past, present, and future) influence each other.

Although the true magic of a classic work lies in its original form, A Christmas Carol has inspired countless adaptations and retellings. Comparing the original novella to modern interpretations could help engage reluctant or struggling readers. Some fun adaptations to consider: The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983). Encourage discussion on why Dickens's work has withstood the test of time and why its message continues to resonate.

"Scroll on to learn more," said the Ghost of a Lesson Yet to Come.

Summary of A Christmas Carol

Key Facts

  • Length: 88 pages
  • Lexile® Measure: 300
  • Publication Date: 1843
  • Recommended Age Band:A Christmas Carol is not a difficult text and appeals to a broad range of readers.

A Christmas Carol opens with Ebenezer Scrooge turning away carolers, his only living relative, and charity collectors with the same unpleasant stinginess, all the while ranting that the holiday season as a scam. His claim of "humbug" becomes less self-assured, however, as he is confronted by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, now chained and cursed to wander the earth. Marley warns him of his need to reform and of impending visits by three other spirits. These Christmas spirits take Scrooge to his past, around the world in its present Christmas season, and to an ominous future. Facing lost loved ones, failed role models, regrets, simple joys, and his own overwhelming hypocrisy, Scrooge must discover whether an old miser like himself can change.

What Your Students Will Love About A Christmas Carol

  • Scrooge's character development
  • The novella's supernatural and festive elements
  • Frame narration and time travel

Potential Student Struggles With A Christmas Carol

  • Victorian conventions satirized by Dickens
  • Some archaic language

Learning Objectives for A Christmas Carol

  • Learn details of Victorian education and welfare standards relevant to the narrative.
  • Explain the relationship of the supernatural to internal and external transformation.
  • Distinguish among memory, fear, and compassion in influencing present actions.
  • Offer examples of the sprits' or narrator's use of verbal irony and its effect on tone.
  • Clarify the role of isolation in perpetuating Scrooge's earlier behavior.
  • Compare and contrast the different spirits who visit Scrooge throughout the evening.
  • Analyze the role of the Cratchit family in Scrooge's changed outlook.
  • Identify characteristics of an allegory within the story.

Literary Elements in A Christmas Carol

  • Allegory
  • Character Development
  • Frame Narrative
  • Imagery
  • Irony
  • Metaphor
  • Point of View
  • Tone
  • Simile
  • Structure
  • Symbolism

Major Themes in A Christmas Carol

Fate vs. Free Will: In a story abundant with supernatural phenomena and premonitions of the future, the protagonist questions whether he can change his fate or if the sins of his past are inescapable.

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Responsibility and Guilt: The protagonist begins as a wealthy yet stingy business owner who refuses to engage in charitable actions. Over the course of the story, he realizes his responsibility toward the less fortunate.

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Isolation vs. Community: The protagonist begins the story "solitary as an oyster," isolating himself from his employees and only living relative. Throughout the story, he encounters families past and present, and, as he embraces his newfound generosity, he reintegrates into the larger community.

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Other Resources for A Christmas Carol

  • There are multiple adaptations ofA Christmas Carol in various forms of media, beginning with the silent six-minute film Scrooge, or Marley's Ghost (1901). Another early adaptation of note is the 1910 short film produced by Thomas Edison's company. The most recent adaptation, Disney'sA Christmas Carol (2009), starring Jim Carrey, received a nomination for Best Animated Feature at the 36th Saturn Awards. For more straightforward acclaim, you might consider Scrooge (1970), a musical version that was nominated for a BAFTA, one Golden Laurel, five Golden Globes, and four Oscars.
  • Full-length 1910 film
  • Full-length 1970 film
  • 2009 film trailer
  • Interview with Dickens scholar Dr. Philip Allingham
  • Mickey's Christmas Carol (1983)
  • Animated Video: Interesting facts aboutA Christmas Carol
  • Background information from BBC about 19th-century social welfare in Britain