A Christmas Carol - Understanding the Text

This GCSE English Literature quiz challenges you on understanding the text of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Before you can analyse or write about a text, you need to understand it. Although this seems obvious, it is not always easy. After all, if authors merely had a simple message to convey, it would not take them thousands of words to do so! Reading a text from long ago, or from another country, or even one written in a strong dialect can make the task more difficult. It often takes a little time to get used to how a particular author writes.

Authors use many methods in order to convey meaning.

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They do not often state what they mean directly. Instead they communicate through character, setting, plot, theme and dialogue. Consider each of these elements closely in order to help your understanding of the text. Re-reading can often be a big help, especially if you realise that you might not have understood everything. If you find yourself having to re-read sections, or even the entire book, don’t worry! This happens to everyone and just shows that you have been paying attention!

When reading a text, your comprehension works on several levels simultaneously. You should consider how context and setting relate to events and think about the relationship between different events. Create a timeline or a plot summary: these are very useful methods for understanding a text. Since A Christmas Carol involves a form of time-travel, at least in visions, you will probably not need reminding that events in texts are not always revealed in the order in which they occur chronologically. Chapter summaries can help with your revision, since they enable you to visualise the structure of the text, especially when that differs from the chronological timeline.

Analysing beginnings and endings is a fantastic way to revise. Why do you think the text begins as it does? How do you find out about a character’s past? Of course, this probably seems obvious in A Christmas Carol, but you might need to look a little deeper. Is anything understated, or left for you to work out for yourself, rather than being told directly? Are future events foreshadowed? How? Analyse individual chapters in the same way, considering the significance of their beginnings and endings. Undertaking careful and detailed analysis of this sort will really improve your knowledge and understanding of the text!

Read the questions below on A Christmas Carol and test your knowledge and understanding of the text.

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  1. The Ghost of Christmas Present hides two children beneath his robes. These are allegorical figures for which of the following?
    Scrooge is horrified at the sight of these terrible offspring of humankind's neglect and is mortified by the Spirit repeating his own cruel words back to him: "Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?"
  2. How does the Ghost of Christmas Present appear to Scrooge?
    The Spirit of Christmas Present is surrounded by plenteous foods: meat, fruits, cakes and punch. He is dressed luxuriously in a furred robe and is characterised by an open hand and a magical torch with which to season the celebrations of poor people
  3. What is the first clue that A Christmas Carol is a ghost story?
    The full title of the novella is A Christmas Carol [in Prose] Being a Ghost Story of Christmas
  4. Why is the novella divided into five staves rather than five chapters?
    A stave is a verse, so this Christmas Carol has five verses. Can you imagine the final stave as the last verse of a carol being sung loudly and joyfully?
  5. Where is the first place which the Ghost of Christmas Past takes Scrooge?
    Scrooge feels pity at the sight of his younger self abandoned by all the other boys returning home for Christmas
  6. Where does Scrooge spend Christmas Day once the visits of the various spirits have passed?
    Scrooge anonymously sends a turkey to the Cratchits and unexpectedly accepts Fred's annual invitation to Christmas dinner
  7. Why does Scrooge object to giving Bob Cratchit Christmas Day off?
    Scrooge feels himself to be pickpocketed by the requirement that he pay Bob money to take Christmas Day off
  8. What is Scrooge's reason for refusing to give charitably to the two "portly" gentlemen?
    Scrooge believes that the poor are idle and also that their welfare is none of his business. The poor should take themselves to prison or to the workhouse, in his view
  9. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge his past self taking comfort in books, his sister Fan, his beloved former boss Fezziwig, and Belle and her family. What do these scenes have in common?
    Scrooge has lost love and simple joys as his worship of gold has grown
  10. The visit of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is concerned with which of the following?
    Scrooge sees that no one mourns his own death and sees as well the contrast with the way that Tiny Tim is remembered after his death

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