A Christmas Carol, a character study


Americans in particular have a great tradition of watching the Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol.” In our tradition Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge is a rather shallow character, a miser, who cheats his own employees out of fair wages, and pinches his customers for every penny he can get out of them. We fail to see how this short story is a character study we have much to learn from.

LectionaryScrooge tell his nephew, “”Merry Christmas!  What right have you to be merry?  What reason have you to be merry?  You’re poor enough… What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you…? “Much good may it do you!  Much good it has ever done you!”’ These words are from a man who has known poverty.

There are two ways of dealing with poverty, after we have climbed out of it. The first is to fear its return. This is the approach of Scrooge. The approach guarantees poverty continues, for someone. God gives refresher courses. If we do nothing to end poverty, poverty may find us again. The second is to fight to make sure none suffer in the future. This is what the angels teach Scrooge. A Christmas Carol is about.

Read the lines closely. “A time for paying bills without money.” “A time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer.”  “A time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you…?”  This is a man who understands the futility of doing without. This is a man who understands  the quiet desperation of working all year and having nothing to show for it but bills. This is from Scrooge, before his conversion, not Bob Cratchid.

There is no room in A Christmas Carol for the conflict theory of Karl Marx, though both Charles Dickens and Karl Marx wrote at the same time. Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, owns a home with two floors and employees at least one servant, in the original novelette. Dickens places Fred into his story to show how economics is not the issue here. Good will to all men is.  “Scrooge,” comes from our word, scrounge, and means one who scrounges, or scavenges for everything.

Scrooge pays Bob Cratchit 15 shillings a week. This equals £ 360.69, or $547.24. Assuming a 40-hour workweek, workweeks were longer then, this is $13.68 per hour. This is the salary even Scrooge views as being incredibly stingy. What would Scrooge think of refusing to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour? Are we as stingy as Scrooge, arguing anyone should be paid as little as this? Alfred Adler wrote of early recollections in relating how a patient expresses his current self through his recollections, and A Christmas Carol is a story about recollections.

“Scrooge recognizing every gate, and post, and tree…;Shaggy ponies now were seen trotting towards them with boys upon their backs, who called to other boys in country gigs and carts, driven by farmers. All these boys were in great spirits, and shouted to each other, until the broad fields were so full of merry music, that the crisp air laughed to hear it…”The school is not quite deserted,” said the Ghost. “A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.” Scrooge said he knew it, and he sobbed.”

We condemn Scrooge, but we make him. We make him when we see the solitary child among us and do not make a special effort to make that child a member of our community. That is true, whether that child be 5, 10, or 100.

John the BaptistWhen “A Christmas Carol speaks of Scrooge’s friends, Scrooge says, “”Why, it’s Ali Baba!” Scrooge exclaimed in ecstasy. “It’s dear old honest Ali Baba. Yes, yes, I know. One Christmas time, when yonder solitary child was left here all alone, he did come, for the first time, just like that. Poor boy. And Valentine,” said Scrooge, “and his wild brother, Orson; there they go. What’s his name, who was put down in his drawers, asleep, at the Gate of Damascus; don’t you see him…? ” The man thought he was dreaming, but he wasn’t. It was the Parrot, you know…!”

Scrooge’s friends are characters in novels. Scrooge is an obsessive compulsive who cannot find friends in the real world. He finds friends, first in novels, then in money. The novel continues with Scrooge’s sister, Fran, “Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven!” Scrooge’s only recollection of his father was as not so kind. In this regard, he is like Charles Dickens. Home is where father is kind. Scrooge has never known heaven, or home.

One ugly kid 2Of his real friends we only read, “”Dick Wilkins, to be sure,” said Scrooge to the Ghost. “Bless me, yes. There he is. He was very much attached to me, was Dick. Poor Dick. Dear, dear.” Implied, something happened to Dick Wilkins, and it hurt Scrooge deeply.

The real essence of this novel? Scrooge tells his sweetheart, “”This is the even-handed dealing of the world!” he said.” There is nothing on which it is as hard as poverty; and there is nothing it professes to condemn with such severity as the pursuit of wealth!” “You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”

Scrooge fears poverty, and he fears human contact. His sweetheart notices this. Scrooge decides to be above the turmoil of daily life, apart from it. He chooses the cold of no human contact over the pain that comes with it.

Scrooge fears the poor as well. The U.S. represents 4.5% of global population but nearly 30% of its total Gross Domestic Product, its wealth. Of this, the richest 20% of the population controls 80% of the wealth. We build fences on our southern border to keep out the poor from the poorer nations to our south and we speak of making sure no non-Protestants enter our border. As Catholics we know of this. We remember the signs of, “No Irish need apply,” and “No Italians need apply.” We know this was in reference to the Irish and Italians being Catholic, non-Protestant. We know of the same for African Americans. If you are of the wrong ethnic group, you are not welcome in America. Now it is Hispanics and Semites. Arabs are Semitic stock. This is all based upon a fear Dickens condemns in the strongest terms.

We live in gated communities and we engage in white flight from our cities to hide ourselves from poverty, just like Scrooge. Still, poverty remains close, in the lives of Bob Cratchid, our employees. We fear contact with our employees, so do not seek them out when planning out our, and their, future.

Like Scrooge, we count our money and we fear those not like us, those who have not. We watch A Christmas Carol every year, but we do not see Scrooge in ourselves. We speak of being God’s stone for transforming the world. Ebenezer comes from the same root of Lazarus, the helper of El, Allah, God. The Hebrew word for “stone,” is “Eben.” Ebenezer means God’s stone. We would be God’s stone. Would we also be Ebenezer?

PhanuelIn the original Greek, Mark 4:24 has a great line, a mixed metaphor, usually translated out. “See what you hear.” If we look for the cold heartedness of others in the world, we will find it.We have interesting puns reflecting this in English. Mean people are mean because they are average. Vulgar people are vulgar for the same reason we have a Vulgate Bible. We of the bourgeois fear the average stock.

Scrooge finds his classmates cold and heard. They are, leaving him in the classroom by himself. They choose not to see the suffering of a little boy under a harsh father. There is no mention of a mother. Kinder and gentler people would see the child in the classroom and find him a mentor child to bring him into community. Do we look for the outcasts of our society and try to bring them into community before they become Scrooges, or criminals of all kinds?

The story juxtaposes Scrooge with Christ. Jesus goes out into the world in all the ugliness the Scrooges of this world sees and it costs him his life. Scrooge hides from it, and in the end, he dies the living death of isolation. Look for the good in people, because it is there, then promote the general welfare.

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