Literary Devices in A Christmas Carol

Literary Devices Examples in A Christmas Carol:

Stave One 1

"Marley's Ghost..."   (Stave One)

A “carol” is a religious hymn that is typically joyous and often associated with Christmas tales advocating charity and kindness. A “stave,” also known as a “staff,” is a group of five horizontal lines on which musical notes are written. A Christmas Carol is an allegorical story (a story with a moral lesson) and Dickens cleverly calls the five chapters “staves” as a means of creating an extended metaphor for his novel.

"No more work to-night. Christmas Eve, Dick. Christmas, Ebenezer!..."   (Stave Two)

With these first words, Fezziwig reveals more about his character to us. Since he tells his employees to stop working on Christmas Eve, this puts him in contrast with Scrooge, who had his clerk work that day instead. This is an example of indirect characterization, in which we can infer character traits from what it said and shown rather than being told directly by the narrator.

"and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice..."   (Stave Two)

One of the first things we learn about Mr. Fezziwig is that he has “a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice.” This is an example of a literary device known as direct characterization, in which Dickens quickly tells readers the qualities that bring Fezziwig’s personality to life.

"as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow..."   (Stave Two)

The narrator addresses the reader directly here, insinuating that the narrator’s spirit stands right beside the reader much like the first ghost stands beside Scrooge. Dickens thus suggests that the reader can learn from Scrooge’s story just as much as Scrooge can, directly setting the tale up to be allegorical.

"The quarter was so long..."   (Stave Two)

The passage of time has become irregular and unpredictable for Scrooge. Dickens manipulates time here to illustrate the intensity of Scrooge’s anxieties and fears about the ghosts. Scrooge anxiously awaits the first spirit’s arrival partially due to fear, but also due to the fact that he now has a limited amount of time to change his fate.

"Scrooge hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit,..."   (Stave Three)

Notice that the Ghost of Christmas Present quotes Scrooge’s statement from the First Stave that if the poor would rather die than go to workhouses, it would only “decrease the surplus population.” Prompting us to evaluate these words in relation to Tiny Tim, Dickens puts a human face on the plight of London’s poor and uses Scrooge’s own words to show his growth.

"“There are some upon this earth of ours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name,..."   (Stave Three)

What Dickens point out here is the hypocrisy of those who preach generosity, kindness, and “Christmas spirit,” but do not actually practice what they preach. Scrooge may be guilty of being greedy, grumpy, and uncharitable, but not every person who preaches “good cheer” is automatically righteous, selfless, and kind.

"Oh cold, cold, rigid, dreadful Death..."   (Stave Four)

Note that the narrator speaks to “Death” in this sentence. This is an example of a literary device called “apostrophe” in which the speaker addresses a person, object, or force of nature that is not present. Since the novel uses a third person limited narrative point of view, Dickens’s use of apostrophe allows deeper insight into Scrooge’s emotional state, without using a direct statement from Scrooge.

"He was at home in five minutes...."   (Stave Five)

Both Scrooge and the reader may be wondering whether or not Fred will welcome Scrooge into his home despite Scrooge’s cold manner over the years. However, Fred and his family welcome Scrooge with open arms and immediately make him feel at home. Their willingness to forgive Scrooge for his actions in the past aligns with the ideals of the Christian faith, and the family becomes a symbol of the real meaning of Christmas spirit.