A Christmas Carol.
  • He frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead!‘ is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 4).
  • A Christmas Carol is a novella, or short story, written by Charles Dickens and first published in the Christmas of 1843. The allegorical tale tells the story of the transformation of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge through the visits of the spirit of his former business partner and three ghosts over the course of a Christmas Eve night. It remains a much-loved traditional Christmas tale.


Quotation said by a charwoman.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come has transported Ebenezer Scrooge to a London slum. There, he witnesses a vision of personal effects stolen from a dead man being sold. Unknown to Scrooge at the time, they are his effects, stolen from his dead body.

Illustration from Stave 4 of the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge tormented by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Symbolism in A Christmas Carol: Scrooge’s Death.

In Stave 4 of A Christmas Carol the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come reveals to Ebenezer Scrooge a vision of the body of a man plundered and bereft, unmatched, unwept, uncared for. His possessions are robbed because no one is there to care for his dead body. Even the bed curtains, sheets and clothes are taken from around his lying body. In an impoverished part of the city, people are profiting from his death, selling items they have stolen. Who’s the worse for the loss of a few things like these? Not a dead man, I suppose says a laundress who is selling items that belonged to Scrooge whilst a charwoman comments that he frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead! It is not just criminals that do not mourn his passing. We may sleep tonight with light hearts says a husband to his wife, both owing money to Scrooge but unhappy with his collection methods. A group of fellow businessmen have no sympathy for his passing. Old Scratch has got his own at last comments one. It’s likely to be a very cheap funeral, another jokes, for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it, although one, in his own meanness, might be persuaded to attend for free food, saying I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided. Even after death, Scrooge’s legacy is one of remaining alone and uncared for, his grave unattended to in a neglected churchyard. Later in the Stave, Scrooge realises this vision of death is that of his own after he reads upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name. He is frightened into asking for help, falling down in front of the Ghost, begging it to assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life! In this climax of the novella, the visions of his own death are a final wakening call that prompts Scrooge to seek redemption, telling the Ghost that I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.

Themes in A Christmas Carol: Social Injustice.

Charles Dickens used A Christmas Carol to attack social injustices of the time, particularly the indifference of wealthy people towards the poor. In an age before the welfare state, poor people relied on local parishes to provide help or on the benevolence of individuals and charities. However, the introduction of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act took away local parish help for the poor and institutionalised the process of help for paupers with more centralised Union workhouses. In return for food and shelter, the poor had to live semi-incarcerated lives in institutions where families were often split apart and made to do menial tasks to earn their keep.

The businessman Ebenezer Scrooge has more than enough to share some of his money, particularly at a traditionally charitable time such as Christmas as reflected by two visiting charity collectors who explain it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. Not wanting to part with his money, the miserly Scrooge hides behind a Malthusian excuse that if they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Scrooge views the poor and economically inactive (which he terms idle) as a burden to society, better off in a workhouse or even dead. He wants the Poor Law, workhouses, or prisons to deal with the destitute, questioning the collectors whether The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then? before commenting that I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. Later on, in a vision presented by the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge will see the impact of poverty in the household of Bob Crachit, his underpaid clerk, and their disabled son Tim. The Ghost warns Scrooge that Tim will die unless his life alters, repeating Scrooge’s callous remarks back to him If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.

Dickens’s attack on social injustice is most graphically shown by the two figures of an emaciated boy and girl. The Ghost of Christmas Present tells Scrooge This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Their names represent contemporary problems in society, in part caused by the attitude of the wealthy toward the poor. When Scrooge is touched by their plight, the Ghost again uses his words against him, saying to Scrooge Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses? Dickens’s use of children to represent societal ills of Ignorance and Want suggests that there is time to change.

Later in the story, in a vision shown by the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, we witness some of the very poorest people in society living in a squalid slum area, resorting to dividing up Scrooge’s stolen belongings to make a living, one of them commenting every person has a right to take care of themselves. He always did.


Taken from the following passage in Stave 4 (The Last Of The Three Spirits) of A Christmas Carol:

Mrs. Dilber was next. Sheets and towels, a little wearing apparel, two old-fashioned silver teaspoons, a pair of sugar-tongs, and a few boots. Her account was stated on the wall in the same manner.

“I always give too much to ladies. It’s a weakness of mine, and that’s the way I ruin myself,” said old Joe. “That’s your account. If you asked me for another penny, and made it an open question, I’d repent of being so liberal and knock off half-a-crown.”

“And now undo my bundle, Joe,” said the first woman.

Joe went down on his knees for the greater convenience of opening it, and having unfastened a great many knots, dragged out a large and heavy roll of some dark stuff.

“What do you call this?” said Joe. “Bed-curtains!”

“Ah!” returned the woman, laughing and leaning forward on her crossed arms. “Bed-curtains!”

“You don’t mean to say you took ’em down, rings and all, with him lying there?” said Joe.

“Yes I do,” replied the woman. “Why not?”

“You were born to make your fortune,” said Joe, “and you’ll certainly do it.”

“I certainly shan’t hold my hand, when I can get anything in it by reaching it out, for the sake of such a man as He was, I promise you, Joe,” returned the woman coolly. “Don’t drop that oil upon the blankets, now.”

“His blankets?” asked Joe.

“Whose else’s do you think?” replied the woman. “He isn’t likely to take cold without ’em, I dare say.”

“I hope he didn’t die of anything catching? Eh?” said old Joe, stopping in his work, and looking up.

“Don’t you be afraid of that,” returned the woman. “I an’t so fond of his company that I’d loiter about him for such things, if he did. Ah! you may look through that shirt till your eyes ache; but you won’t find a hole in it, nor a threadbare place. It’s the best he had, and a fine one too. They’d have wasted it, if it hadn’t been for me.”

“What do you call wasting of it?” asked old Joe.

“Putting it on him to be buried in, to be sure,” replied the woman with a laugh. “Somebody was fool enough to do it, but I took it off again. If calico an’t good enough for such a purpose, it isn’t good enough for anything. It’s quite as becoming to the body. He can’t look uglier than he did in that one.”

Scrooge listened to this dialogue in horror. As they sat grouped about their spoil, in the scanty light afforded by the old man’s lamp, he viewed them with a detestation and disgust, which could hardly have been greater, though they had been obscene demons, marketing the corpse itself.

“Ha, ha!” laughed the same woman, when old Joe, producing a flannel bag with money in it, told out their several gains upon the ground. “This is the end of it, you see! He frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead! Ha, ha, ha!”

“Spirit!” said Scrooge, shuddering from head to foot. “I see, I see. The case of this unhappy man might be my own. My life tends that way, now. Merciful Heaven, what is this!”

He recoiled in terror, for the scene had changed, and now he almost touched a bed: a bare, uncurtained bed: on which, beneath a ragged sheet, there lay a something covered up, which, though it was dumb, announced itself in awful language.

The room was very dark, too dark to be observed with any accuracy, though Scrooge glanced round it in obedience to a secret impulse, anxious to know what kind of room it was. A pale light, rising in the outer air, fell straight upon the bed; and on it, plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man.


Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (often referred to as The Ghost Of Christmas Future) is a darker phantom than the other two ghosts and the spirit that Scrooge finds the most fearsome. It appears to him as a figure entirely muffled in a black hooded cloak, except for a single hand with which it points. Although the character never speaks in the story, Scrooge understands it, usually through assumptions from his previous experiences and rhetorical questions. It looks the way it does because it represents what the future holds for Scrooge if he does not change his ways. The Ghost shows Scrooge visions including one of the Cratchit household without Tiny Tim inside, and of Scrooge’s death, his body picked upon by thieves who show joy at his passing. The visions prove so horrific to Scrooge that he begs the ghost for them to stop.

Ebenezer Scrooge.

Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous characters created by Charles Dickens and arguably one of the most famous in English literature. The protagonist of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is a cold-hearted and mean-spirited accountant. His business partner, the equally mean Jacob Marley, died seven years previous and he lives alone, having never married. Through a visit one Christmas Eve by the ghost of Marley and three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meanness and the impact it has on others.

  • The term Scrooge has entered the English Language to represent a mean person, known as a literary neologism. Neologisms are relatively recent terms, words, or phrases in the process of entering common use. Other examples of Dickens’s neologisms include butterfingers (to mean a clumsy person) and doormat (a metaphor for taking advantage of a person).
  • In screen adaptations of A Christmas Carol, the character of Ebenezer Scrooge has been played by actors that include Alastair Sim (1951 film), Albert Finney (1970 musical film), Michael Hordern (1977 TV Movie), George C. Scott (1984 TV Movie), Michael Caine (1992 musical fantasy film), Patrick Stewart (1999 TV Movie) and Guy Pearce (2019 TV Mini-Series). Michael Hordern had previously appeared alongside Alastair Sim in the 1951 film (titled Scrooge), this time playing the character of Jacob Marley.

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He frightened every one away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead!