Use of structure in A Christmas Carol

The novella is set out in five Staves. This is an unusual structure that mimics the way a musical piece is put together. The Staves follow the action of the story with the first stave setting the scene, the middle stave showing the turning point for Scrooge and the final stave concluding the story by presenting him as a changed man.

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When writing about structure, think about:
  • How is the text put together?
  • What is significant about this?
  • How does it reflect the themes of the text?
  • What is the overall effect of the structure?

Evidence and explanation of the structure used

Carols and the five staves

Carols are songs that are popular at Christmas time and usually deal with stories of Christ's birth or with themes associated with the festive season. Some carols focus on joy and the spirit of giving to others.

The structure of Dickens's novella uses a similar structure to a song to present a moral tale of transformation.

Three ghosts

The structure of the three ghosts showing the past, present and future appeals to readers on many levels. The number three is significant in fairy stories, religious tales and in traditional myths and legends. Characters are often faced with three choices, granted three wishes, or given three opportunities to change. Scrooge is shown his past, the present and a possible future and then finally finds the willingness to transform.

How to analyse structure

How important is the overall structure of this novella?

  • the structure links to the theme of Christmas by reflecting the shape of a typical carol
  • it has a clear beginning, middle and end through which we see a character's transformation
  • the structure of three ghosts, showing the past, present and future, appeals to readers
  • Scrooge's redemption in the final stave leaves the reader with a sense of both completion and possibility