Structure and Language (A Christmas Carol)

This Section looks at the structure and Language of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.


The Novella is split into five staves. A stave is a set of five parallel lines on which a musical note is written. By referring to the chapters as staves Dickens’ suggests that the novella will be a joyous, uplifting and moral tale. Using the term stave also links with the title of the novella as a Carol is a traditional Christmas song (Often about the birth of Christ and the spirit of giving).

The title of the novella as well as the use of staves suggest to the reader that the story is meant to be listened to and enjoyed by groups of people. The narrator has a casual tone and comes across as a talkative and witty story teller again suggesting the story should be read aloud to a group.

Dickens’ gives each stave a clear purpose;

The first stave introduces us to the character of Scrooge and highlights his many flaws. It also sets up the events that bring about his redemption.

The middle three staves recount Scrooge’s past, present and future and lead him to meet the three ghosts who teach him the error of his ways.

The 5th Stave reminds us of events of the first stave such as the charity collectors, giving the novella a circular structure that shows us how the events of the story have changed Scrooge.

The Language used in A Christmas Carol

The role of the narrator

The narrator controls the tone of the novella, using different language styles throughout the tale. At the beginning the narrator is chatty and engaging to draw the reader in. As the story progresses the narrator becomes more melancholy as the tale gets darker. At the end of the novel the narrator is again light hearted for the happy and uplifting ending.

The use of personification

Dickens uses personification to help bring the setting of the novella to life. Onions in the green grocers' shops appear "ruddy, brown-faced, broad-girthed" as they sit "winking from their shelves". This playful example of personification makes the city seem exciting and alive, and reflect the energy surrounding Christmas.

The mood helps emphasis Dickens’ Message

For much of the novella the mood is festive and jolly, however Dickens darkens the mood when he wants to emphasis the social responsibility he is trying to put across.

The use of figurative language

Dickens uses similes to create a comic mood. Even a sinister even frightening image of Marley in chains is softened by a humorous simile “wound about him like a tail”.

Symbolism and Imagery

Dickens’ uses symbols throughout the novella to communicate his ideas

Marley’s chain is made out of cash boxes, keys, padlocks and ledgers, this symbolises Marley’s obsession with money and how it has lead him to ignore his fellowman.

The children, ignorance and want personify the problems caused when society neglect the poor.

Fire and Brightness are used to symbolise emotional warmth throughout the novella. The lack of warmth in Scrooge’s life is depicted by “a very small fire” in his offices and “a very low fire” at his home.

Music is used to show joy and happiness in Fezziwig’s party and at Fred’s house. Fred’s musical family is shown in contrast to lonely, miserable Scrooge.

Weather reflects Scrooge’s character and emotions and he is described as carrying "cold within him", and his presence "iced his office". Scrooge's cold and bitter personality is shown as being more formidable than the weather and the narrator makes this clear with "No warmth could warm, nor wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he".


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