Jacob Marley has been dead for seven years. Ebenezer Scrooge was his business partner among many things. Scrooge had not let Marley’s death interfere with him making a business deal.
Scrooge is a miser. His nature has shaped itself into his physical features so that people knew what he was without knowing him personally. He felt no physical discomfort from the weather. People avoided him in the streets, which he preferred.
Scrooge is in his counting house. His clerk is warming himself by a candle. Scrooge threatens to fire him if he goes into his office to get a piece of coal. Scrooge’s nephew barges in, wishing him a Merry Christmas. Scrooge calls Christmas a humbug, and tells his nephew he has no reason to be merry when he is so poor. His nephew counters that he has no reason to be miserable when he is so rich. Scrooge complains that Christmas is merely a time for having no money to pay bills and finding yourself older but no richer. He condemns anyone who finds the holiday merry to being boiled in their own pudding and having a stake of holly driven through their heart.
His nephew defends Christmas, saying that though it has not made him richer, he does benefit from it because it is the one time of year that people open up their hearts. Scrooge’s clerk applauds his speech, which causes Scrooge to reprimand him that he’ll lose his job if he hears another peep out of him. He tells his nephew he should consider a career in Parliament.
Scrooge’s nephew invites him to dinner tomorrow. Scrooge asks why he got married, and then scoffs when the nephew says he fell in love. He bids him good day. The nephew tells him that his marriage is not what keeps Scrooge from visiting him, since he didn’t visit him before his marriage. He desires to be friends and wants nothing more. The nephew finally leaves, stopping to talk with Scrooge’s clerk. Scrooge considers his clerk another idiot who enjoys Christmas despite having to support a family on fifteen shillings a week.
Two gentlemen enter the counting house, telling Scrooge they are here to raise money for the poor. Scrooge asks if the prisons and workhouses are still in operation, and whether The Treadmill and Poor Law are in effect. One gentleman claims they are, but as these fall short in helping, they try to provide additional comforts. Scrooge refuses to give a contribution, as he already supports the other establishments. One gentleman claims many would rather die. Scrooge says if they want to die, they should do it and decrease the over-population. The gentlemen leave.
A boy tries to sing Christmas carols at Scrooge’s door, but Scrooge comes after him with a ruler. At closing time, Scrooge asks his clerk if he wants the next day off. The clerk says yes. Scrooge complains that it is unfair that he has to pay a day’s wages for no work. The clerk points out it is only once a year, but Scrooge doesn’t feel this is a good excuse to rob him.
Scrooge hasn’t thought about Marley in years, but he has odd experiences when he returns home. The door knocker looks like Marley’s face, he sees a hearse on the wide stairs, the bell in his room rings on its own, and he hears someone carrying a chain up the stairs towards his room. Scrooge had dismissed these things individually, though they did frighten him enough to make him look into every corner and double lock himself into his room.
Marley’s ghost comes through the heavy door. He looks the same as Scrooge remembers him, except for the chain he carries and the handkerchief that binds his head. Marley tells Scrooge he wants much from him. He observes that Scrooge doesn’t believe in him, and Scrooge tells him that he doubts his senses because indigestion can cause hallucinations. However, Scrooge says he believes in Marley when he starts shrieking. Scrooge asks why the spirit is here and about his chain.
The ghost tells him that every person is required to walk among humanity in life, and if they don’t they are condemned to in death. He made the chain he wears in life and wore it of his free will. He tells Scrooge that his chain is even longer and heavier than his. The ghost tells Scrooge he constantly wanders and has no peace, and he is remorseful for all the wasted opportunities.
Scrooge tells Marley he was a good businessman, but Marley tells him his only business should have been the common welfare of humanity. Marley tells Scrooge he is giving him a chance to escape his fate. Scrooge thanks him and tells him he was always a good friend. However, when Marley tells him he will be visited by three ghosts, Scrooge decides he would rather not. Marley tells him he can’t escape his fate without their help. He tells Scrooge when to expect each ghost.
Marley then opens the window and goes out howling. Scrooge hears other voices and looks out to see many ghosts, all bound in chains. Some are even linked to one another. Scrooge recognizes people he knew. The spirits are trying to help the needy, but they no longer have the power to do so in death.
After a few moments, they fade and all is quiet. Scrooge tries to dismiss it in his usual manner but cannot. He goes to bed and falls instantly asleep.