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Headscratchers / A Christmas Carol

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  • One thing I can never understand, when the Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge Ignorance and Want, he says that Ignorance has "Doom" written on his forehead. What did this mean, and why did Ignorance alone have it?
    • The implication is that Want is more the symptom, and Ignorance is more the disease, the root of the problem, and will destroy mankind if left unchecked.
      • Maybe it's because want can be good sometimes (if you never wanted food, you might starve for instance), while ignorance is always bad.
      • "Want" might mean "Poverty", not "Desire". After all, this was written in England a long time ago.
  • Why does Scrooge, being the greedy miser he is, give Bob Cratchit a paid day off?
    • If not a law, it's a firmly established tradition to give a paid day off at Christmas. Besides, as Bob says in some adaptations, there won't be anyone to do business with anyway. So why pay Bob and pay for the coal, candles, etc. that's required to keep the office open?
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    • If one was so inclined, you could also use it as a shred of basic (grudging) humanity within Scrooge that hasn't been completely extinguished, thus suggesting that there's something within him that's capable of being redeemed.
  • If Jacob Marley doesn't know how he came to Scrooge in a visible form, how did he procure the chance to save him?
    • He arranged for Scrooge's chance at redemption, and knows full well that the Christmas spirits can manifest themselves to the living, but he is a different sort of wandering spirit.
    • Marley is clearly not in control of any of this; he's probably got no idea how anything in the afterlife really works. Presumably the "procuring" Marley did boiled down to approaching whatever mighty higher power that's actually running things and begging him/her/it to give his old business partner a fighting chance at avoiding the same terrible fate as Marley's.
  • Charles Dickens, master of using the right English word in the right English situation, compares the unnatural light around Marley's apparition to a "bad lobster in a dark cellar." Wha? Lobsters don't glow, no matter how bad they are or how dark the cellar. Is this some old-time slang that's long been forgotten?
    • Seafood is notorious for hosting bioluminescent bacteria when it goes off. The bacteria itself actually lives in the seawater, but it feeds on rotten meat so that any lobster bought fresh off the stall (which would be wet from the seawater, unlike the washed and cleaned fish of modern counters) would be coated in the bacteria. As the lobster ages and goes off, the bacteria start to feed and to glow. The glow is fairly faint, so you would need to have somewhere pitchblack to watch it happen; like a cellar. The glowing rotten seafood would be familiar to the Victorian people in the age before refrigerators. There is a very good David Attenborough documentary which covers this called "Life That Glows" and is available on the usual internet places.
  • Why was Scrooge, of all people, given this special chance for redemption? Especially if, as Marley claimed, Scrooge's chains (sins) were heavier than his.
  • Scrooge resents Bob's request for a day off on Christmas, and it's treated as the act of a cold-hearted jerk. Yet both his journey with the Ghost of Christmas Present and his actions immediately after waking up on Christmas morning show that London's markets are all open for business. So why is it cruel to ask an accountant to work on the holiday, but perfectly all right to expect the city's grocers and butchers to be on the job rather than home celebrating?
    • There's a difference between a job that involves money-lending and a job that involves providing food. Also Scrooge would most likely hold long hours where as the grocers and butchers and most of England would be celebrating at night, the evening with parties and a Christmas dinner.
    • In those pre-refrigeration days, fresh meat couldn't be purchased in advance to cook another day — butchers were open Christmas morning so people could buy what they needed for the holiday dinner.
      • For that matter, it's also mentioned that many people had to go to "the baker's" to have their bird cooked for them. Not everyone had an oven, either.
    • Working on holiday mornings was just a part of the profession back then, same as modern EMTs and hospital staff need to be on call for Christmas. Indeed, most people back then worked on Christmas, because farmers still outnumbered all other professions globally, and needed to milk the cows and feed the chickens no matter what day it was.
    • Also, the grocers and butchers own and operate their own shops. They have the ability to choose whether or not they open on Christmas morning if they want to, and they also have the ability to allow any employees they may have to have the day off if so they wish. Bob, on the other hand, is the employee. In the former, someone is making a choice to work on Christmas morning; in the latter, someone is forcing someone else to work on Christmas morning.
  • Why was Scrooge surprised to find out that he would die alone and hated? He seemed aware of how poorly people thought of him.
    • It's one thing to think to yourself, "nobody likes me and I don't care", and actually seeing just how little your death affects anything, and how, if anything, his death more or less makes the world BETTER, since he's not around to ruin people's good cheer anymore.
    • Of course, knowing something and seeing it for yourself are two vastly different things. Things we know have relatively mild impact on us, but things we witness have much greater impact. It's pretty obvious that Scrooge, much like most of us today, never thought that he would see his own dead body buried in his own grave, and probably without so much as a coffin to boot. It was being forced to confront the full reality of the situation that shook him up so bad.
    • I confess I've never read the original story myself, so it is possible I could be thinking of something else, but isn't there a line in the beginning explicitly stating that Scrooge considered himself a pillar of the community? Bit of a kick in the teeth to have one's self image shattered like that, really.
    • No, there's no line like that, Scrooge has no illusions about what people think of him, he just didn't care in life, but that doesn't mean he expected people to joke and laugh about his death and looting his corpse. He might have been less shocked if there was simply grim indifference to his passing. Also, keep in mind that the story's point is that Scrooge wasn't evil or uncaring by nature, he was originally a good man who had been worn down and twisted by a hard life and his own greed. In some dark corner of his soul, Scrooge didn't really want to be remembered like that.
    • If he'd gotten the Ghosts in backwards order, and Yet To Come came first, he probably wouldn't actually have been too upset about dying alone and hated. Dying, maybe - but the alone and hated part, though, not so much. Dickens makes it clear he's an old misanthrope who prefers people just keep their distance. But by the time Scrooge gets this last visit, his reformation is nearly complete. Past and Present have done most of the work. It's even mentioned that he's been resolving to change and expects to see the changed version of himself in the future visions. Not seeing it is part of the final shock that cements all the lessons in place for good. Past and Present stripped away all the armor and stone and left him vulnerable, and that last shock can now have the intended effect.
    • Also, there's intellectually knowing that people probably aren't going to give two single shits when you die, and then there's seeing it in action. Most assholes have the luxury of not seeing how the world rejoices in their death when they die and just how hated they truly are.
  • What was Tiny Tim going to die of? While his family was poor, they didn't seem to be suffering of malnutrition, and there's no mention of Scrooge paying for any life-saving medical treatment. So, his family having more money saved him? How?
    • Back in the second half of the 19th century because there weren't any health insurances available in England, doctors were very expensive, too expensive for a family who had to survive on Bob's slim salary and possibly of what his wife earned as well. With Scrooge's support on the other hand, they were able to afford proper doctors and medicine (and a better diet) to help Tiny Tim.
    • It's also possible that Tim's death in the Bad Future had nothing directly to do with his congenital illness: children in that era could die easily from epidemics, food poisoning, or the sheer squalor of the city even if they were otherwise healthy. It's possible the whole family got exposed to something that made them ill, but Tim's frailty prevented him from recovering like his relatives did. In which case, Bob's increased salary and bonuses from reformed-Scrooge could have let them move out of the slums altogether, away from such threats.
  • The ending implies the Scrooge lives for years after the main plot ends, but in the bad future he was dead a year later. With people pilfering his house already, enough that a joke can be made about the sheets being still warm, was he murdered, just nobody's had time to inspect his body?
    • It's mentioned in the dialogue between the people who'd robbed his death chamber: he got sick all alone in his locked-up house, and didn't have anyone there to care for him. Presumably there were indications that he'd been ill, like dried-up vomit next to his bed, that Dickens didn't think it fitting to describe in the middle of a Christmas story. Once Scrooge reformed, he'd have had plenty of friends to check up on his welfare during the winter, and hired on servants so as to make his dismal old house into a warm, welcoming place.
    • It is never said in the book which year the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is showing him. It is expressly said that the Ghost shows him future Christmases out of order, which implies he sees more than just the very next one. So there‘s no reason to assume Scrooge dies (in the bad future) on the same Christmas as Tiny Tim.
    • Also, remember that due to his tight-fistedness, Scrooge despite his wealth basically lives in a complete dump — the type of place that's drafty, damp, and all in all the perfect place for germs to thrive. It's quite likely that after his Heel–Face Turn, Scrooge looked around at his home, thought to himself something along the lines of "Christ, I really do live in a shithole, don't I?" and moved somewhere nicer where he was less likely to catch a horrible illness and die.
  • If Scrooge was such a wealthy man, holed up all by himself in a dusty old house without servants, and had made himself so deeply hated by the substantial fraction of the city's population that owed him money, why wasn't he robbed and/or murdered, ages ago? He won't even pay for enough coal to keep his accountant's ink from freezing, so it doesn't seem likely he'd hire a security agency to keep an eye on his house, or shell out dues to a neighborhood vigilance committee. Never mind ghosts: you'd think some burglar would bust into his home or counting-house to lighten his future burden of cashbox-chains, or an irate debtor with nothing to lose would kick down his door and pound the old grouch into paste upon receiving their final eviction notice.
    • Scrooge is as stingy about spending money on his own comfort as he is about everything else, so his house doesn't really have much worth stealing — enough for a bit of easy opportunistic post-mortem looting by the servants who found his body, but not worth the greater trouble and risk of breaking in and burglarizing the place. As for his business, it isn't described in enough detail to say whether or not there would be cash or portable valuables on site. His money would be in the bank, which isn't an easy target.
    • Scrooge doesn't live in much of a place. He only has a few rooms in a hidden-away, back-alley building that's let out for other purposes as well. Not likely to attract burglars.
    • Scrooge's lack of comforts suggests that he isn't greedy so much as terrified of not having enough money, so security is probably the one thing he *would* spend money on.
    • Since his rooms are part of a larger building, perhaps one of the other tenants made arrangements to have the place watched.
  • Why does the story switch from Marley telling Scrooge to expect the spirits over the course of three nights to all the spirits arriving in one night?
    • Ultimately, this one's probably just a continuity error. Dickens' novels tend to be full of these little contradictions, as a result of the serialising process; his stories were commonly published over a period of months, even years, by which point in later chapters he'd forgotten details he'd set up in earlier chapters or changed his mind and hoped no one would notice. I don't know if A Christmas Carol was serialised, but I assume he just wrote it in that frame of mind and didn't go back to edit the details. If we need a Watsonian explanation, then considering that the spirits take Scrooge on a journey through different times, there's clearly some kind of supernatural Timey-Wimey Ball stuff going on; could be that he was taken out of time somehow, experienced three nights of events from his subjective viewpoint, and then returned back to where he should have been right at the beginning.
      • Nah, this is no continuity error. Dickens makes it clear that Scrooge (and therefore, Dickens himself) is perfectly aware of the time leap. Scrooge says, "They can do anything they like," and that's all the explanation we need, because really, no one ought to be willing to suspend their disbelief that the Spirits can take Scrooge to all those places and times and yet not that they can deposit him back wherever they want to. Scrooge certainly doesn't.


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