Theme of Death (30 mins)


The extract is from the end of stave 4 and explores Scrooge’s final realisation of his fate as the Ghost of Xmas Future points to his grave. Overall, death is a prevalent theme in the novella, one which haunts Scrooge at every turn, enough to finally transform him for the better.

At the beginning of the novel, Scrooge’s encounter with the terrifying spectre of death, his old business partner Jacob Marley sows the early seeds of receptiveness to a new way of life. At first, Scrooge refuses to believe that anything dead could return, joking ‘there’s more gravy than the grave about you!’ However, the chilling horror of Marley’s appearance ‘I wear the chains I forged in life’ –which are constructed of financial elements: purses, and sales ledgers, suggest an unhealthy obsession with money and the way one’s profession will manifest itself and weigh you down after death. Also, the clear warning to Scrooge ‘Mankind was my business’ and the image he shows outside Scrooge’s window of dead people desperately trying in vain to change their ways and reconcile themselves with their families, is a message that once one is dead, there is no opportunity for redemption and change. In this section, Dickens draws on his knowledge of the gothic genre –churches, door knockers that turn into the face of Marley, and Marley’s stories from beyond the grave that to chill the Victorian reader to the core. Of course, they would also be only too aware of the potential of hell, something that Dickens was sceptical of, but a huge proportion of his readership would have believed in.

Another aspect of death that strikes a chord with Scrooge early in the novella is when the Ghost of Xmas Past reveals the scene when his sister, Fan came to take him home from the boarding school for Christmas. This is clearly a treasured memory for Scrooge and the reader learns of what a strong bond the two had. ‘Fan, Fan, dear Fan’ and she reminds him ‘Father has changed’. The Ghost reminds Scrooge of the fact she has died and has only one surviving relative, her son, Fred. Scrooge instantly feels guilty about how he treated Fred at the beginning when he received his usual invite to Xmas dinner. Dickens conveys here how a memory of a death has a significant impact on Scrooge’s gradual transformation into a more caring person.

In the extract, the reader is presented with the final scene from the Ghost of Xmas Future and Scrooge’s terror reaches a dramatic peak. The setting is described as ‘A worthy place’ with this adjective from Dickens’ narrator serving to identify the bleak spot as one which Scrooge heartily deserves. Pathetic fallacy is used to convey the place with lines like ‘overrun by grass and weeds –the growth of vegetation’s death’ indicating how the unwanted weeds, a clear metaphor for death, have destroyed any flowers, and made the location one that resembles the fate that potentially awaited Scrooge: one where no-one would tend his grave. It is even ‘walled in by houses’ and at the start the reader learns ‘the furniture was not the same’ in his office. This suggests that in death, everything continues on as normal –someone will take Scrooge’s place as a loan shark, and no-one will notice or visit his grave as it is hidden from view.

The mood of this piece builds in dramatic tension as Scrooge desperately implores the Ghost to speak and to reassure him that ‘If the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus!’ but the short sentence ‘The spirit was as immovable as ever’ conveys how Dickens allies death with silence and that perhaps it is not God or anyone else who will change our life’s path, only by reaching within one’s self that a genuine transformation can occur. 

Further evidence of Scrooge’s doom laden panic as he faces up to the reality of his own death is found in the verb ‘trembling’ as he approaches his own grave, the question ‘Am I the man who lay upon the bed?’ and the repeated exclamations ‘No, Spirit! Oh, no!’ 

Overall, it is an extract that encapsulates the horror of facing up to one’s death, and the added fear for Scrooge that no-one will remember him. It is the final catalyst in making him change his ways.