Your title: Scrooge confronts his mortality: What is the role of the final ghost in A Christmas Carol?
You will need to read Stave four of A Christmas Carol and have a copy of the text to hand in order to complete this resource.
Take notes on the information paragraphs and then answer the questions.
We will look at four key ideas to cover this part of the novella:
The ghost’s physical appearance and how it affects Scrooge.
What the ghost shows Scrooge in Old Joe's shop and how it affects him.
How the ghost shows Scrooge the reality of dying alone.
How the ghost presents Scrooge with the real side of poverty in East end London.
Key idea one: (please make notes). The ghost’s physical appearance and how it affects Scrooge
Information paragraph: When we meet the ghost for the first time, his physical presence terrifies Scrooge. Some people think that the ghost of Christmas yet to come is like the Grim reaper...
The Grim Reaper is the personification of Death itself, and the history of this imagery dates back centuries. Although the image has changed slightly over the centuries, the Grim Reaper is almost always shown in a large black cloak, a skeletal face and hands, glowing eyes, and a scythe – the long stick with a curved blade on the top.
"The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently, approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. [...] It thrilled [Scrooge] with a vague uncertain horror, to know that behind the mask there were eyes staring at him."
Key idea two (please make notes)
In old Joe's shop, the women unwrap their booty. As the contents are examined, the threesome laugh again and ridicule the dead man from whom all these items have been taken. For instance, one woman claims that the shirt on the corpse is the best that he had and it would have been wasted if she had not taken it. Even the curtains around the deathbed have been stolen as the corpse lies bare. As this scene changes, Scrooge sees a very dark room in which a pale light falls upon the bed. On it, "plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man."
Scrooge is devastated to witness the complete lack of respect shown him by these scavengers, as well as by the fact that there was no one to guard his body. In addition, the theft of his material possessions is symbolic of their insignificance compared to spiritual values of love and friendship.
There are no centrally held figures on funeral - or non-funeral - types in the UK, but the National Association of Funeral Directors estimates that direct cremations and the rarer burials without ceremonies follow less than 3% of the 480,000 or so annual deaths.
Key idea three (please make notes) How the ghost shows Scrooge the real side of poverty in East end London.
In Stave IV of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge witnesses the sordid conditions and actions in a part of London unknown to him.
After seeing many businessmen he knows, Scrooge is led by the Spirit into an obscure area of the city. This is an area unfamiliar to Scrooge, although he has seen it before. This quarter "reeked with crime, with filth, and misery." In one place, for instance, there lay on the floor "unseemly" rags and "sepulchres of bones." Soon, two women come into this rag shop laden with large bundles; then, they lay their booty before the "grey-haired rascal" who sits in the midst of other sordid wares. They all laugh as the man called Old Joe tells them to shut the door.
When Scrooge’s describes Old Joe’s shop, he is trying to maximise the reader’s sense of horror and disgust at what they read. This is because Dickens intended to show to the reader the reality of life in East End slums of London…
Information paragraphs on context (please make notes):
In the 18th and 19th centuries, rural dwellers migrated to London in their droves, in search of employment in the newly industrialised city and a better quality of life. Thanks to the population increase, pressure on affordable accommodation grew – and slum housing skyrocketed, hand-in-hand with grinding poverty – particularly in East London.
To take advantage of the rush, landlords divided their houses up into flats and tenements. Unconcerned with maintaining sanitary living conditions or minimising overcrowding (tens of people could occupy a single room in a large house) landlords were only concerned about collecting the rent. And if someone couldn’t pay up, they’d be out…
Information paragraphs on context (please make notes):
Out to work
Those who did have employment were usually paid a subsistence wage, and if the work was seasonal or unpredictable, it was a case of surviving in any way possible until the next payday. Women and children would often do tedious, low-paying work such as making matchboxes to scrape together enough for a meagre meal and support the family income.
Victorian families were often large, and children were deemed fit for work from age 7. Even less fortunate children were thrown out onto the streets to fend for themselves, their family no longer able to feed them.
It’s unsurprising that many people turned to prostitution and crime to make ends meet.
The danger of doss-houses
Common lodging houses – informally known as doss-houses – cost around 4d a night for the use of a bed. This would often be shared with someone else on a shift pattern, where one man would sleep during the day and another during the night.
There were roughly 1,000 registered common lodging houses at the end of the 19th century – many of which stood on the notoriously poor, dank and dangerous side streets and back alleys of London’s East End.
The East End’s Old Nichol slum
Charles Mowbray, a former soldier, master tailor and later on a working-class orator, spoke out about the soul-destroying slum conditions he was forced to live in after his pay was severely slashed. He noted that, in the East End’s Old Nichol slum, families were crammed into its rotting tenements. In one, a family of eight lived in two tiny rooms – with no beds. Many houses flooded when it rained and, in winter, water jugs would ice over.
Roughly 5,700 people lived on Old Nichol’s streets, where life expectancy was pitifully low in comparison to neighbouring areas. An alarmingly high number of infants died in their sleep when sharing a bed with their family – suffocating when someone rolled onto them in the night. In such cramped conditions, children were often in the same room when their parents and elders had sex, since there was no privacy – and, as such, families regularly saw each other naked.
No more denial: Scrooge “I don’t make merry at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry…”
Many rich or well-off Victorians assumed that poverty was caused by sins such as laziness or greed – and even more preferred to pretend that these black, putrid, disease-ridden labyrinths of streets and tenements didn’t even exist. So, when Scrooge says, ‘I don’t make merry at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry’ Dickens is trying to show to hold a mirror up to society and point out the ignorance of well-off people who lived with poverty right before their noses.
Luckily, around the second half of the century, a more socially conscious attitude emerged among moral reformers, social investigators and journalists, who argued that slums and other squalid living conditions were caused by practical, social factors such as unemployment and homelessness. One such man was Henry Mayhew. Below is his account of how London’s poor lived…
“Bucket after bucket of filth” - In A Visit To The Cholera District Of Bermondsey (1849) journalist Henry Mayhew reported on how London’s destitute lived, noting a street through which a tidal ditch ran:
“We then journeyed on to London-street, down which the tidal ditch continues its course… As we passed along the reeking banks of the sewer, the sun shone upon a narrow slip of the water. In the bright light it appeared the colour of strong, green tea…indeed it was more like watery mud than muddy water; and yet we were assured this was the only water the wretched inhabitants had to drink.