Thursday, December 26, 2019

Dickens's A Christmas Carol

The structure of Dickens's Christmas ghost story, A Christmas Carol, is somewhat richer than it is usually seen to be. Scrooge, of course, famously responds to "A merry Christmas, uncle! God save you!" with "Bah! Humbug!" "Humbug" is not really something you say to indicate general approval; it is an implicit accusation of dishonesty or hypocrisy. Afer some discussion, Scrooge's nephew replies:

“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round—apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that—as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”

This response actually gives the real theme of the work, the fact that there are things from which we might derive good (Christmas among the rest) by which we have not profited. Scrooge in treating Christmas as a lie has demanded to be left alone from it instead of taking the opportunity to become a better person. He is then, of course, visited by four ghosts, each of whom introduces a part of the response to this attitude:

(1) Scrooge himself has done wrong (Ghost of Marley);
(2) in a world of people trying in small ways to make the world better, he has made himself selfish and worse (Ghost of Christmas Past);
(3) this selfishness is even now leading him to miss opportunities to do good (Ghost of Christmas Present);
(4) and, like everyone else, he is running out of time (Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come).

Scrooge's problem is that he has chosen to take a position from which he can look down on the little goods done by others as nothing but humbug, hypocrisy, fakery, and treat that very position as a reason why he himself need not do any such good at all. He has cultivated a wall of selfishness with the justification that he is seeing through all the nonsense of other people. When he learns his lesson, he responds by seizing his opportunities to do good to others while he still can.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.