A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, viewed via Word Cloud Plus

Ray Poynter
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Ray Poynter

2 mins

I downloaded a text copy of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol from Project Gutenberg. The story contains just over 29,000 words.

I started with the default word cloud (50 items, Combination Counting, max phrase length 4 words, standard English stop words). This produced the map below.

Word cloud from A Christmas Carol

To be honest, I feel I could probably have stopped at this point. The word cloud tells us that this is a story about Scrooge, that it is set at Christmas, and that the key players were the Ghosts, Scrooge’s nephew and family.

By clicking on ‘cried scrooge’ I can read the occurrences of that phrase in the book, as shown below.

  • remember it! cried scrooge with fervour i could walk it blindfold
  • there's the parrot! cried scrooge
  • cried scrooge
  • no more! cried scrooge
  • to-night! cried scrooge
  • have they no refuge or resource? cried scrooge
  • cried scrooge
  • i don't know what to do! cried scrooge
  • there's the saucepan that the gruel was in! cried scrooge
  • what's to-day? cried scrooge
  • i shall love it as long as i live! cried scrooge

We can see that Scrooge starts confident, moves into anguish, and emerges reconciled.

However, to make this post a little more interesting, I will highlight a few tweaks that I will apply to the text.

In the word cloud, we see references to ghost and also to spirit. When I look at the references for spirit, I see that they are primarily substitutes (in this particular book) for the word ghost. For example,

  • spirit must have heard him thinking
  • finding that the spirit made towards
  • said the spirit
  • the spirit gazed upon him mildly
  • you recollect the way? inquired the spirit

I used the Replace function to change all the instances of “spirit” with “ghost”.

To help highlight the themes, I used colour coding for topics such as Scrooge, the other people, ghosts, and Christmas and moved the words to show these groupings.

Word Cloud for A Christmas Carol after processing

So what?
The word cloud does not tell the story of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol. If I were in a hurry to understand the key elements of the book, I would now have a good starting point for skim-reading the book to find out what the real story was. Or, if I knew the story, this word cloud might help me articulate the components that Charles Dickens used in telling his story of redemption.