Ebenezer Scrooge. One of the most remembered characters in literature. Created by Charles Dickens in the 19th century for A Christmas Carol.
A Christmas Carol was published December 19, 1843. 179 years ago this year. And the characters are still relevant today…179 years later.
The most recognizable and remembered of the characters is Scrooge. Also his clerk, Bob Cratchit. In his time Bob was the symbol in Victorian England of the overworked, essentially abused working class person. Long hours, low pay. The irony of course? This also sounds like today, doesn’t it?
In a Christmas Carol the Ghost of Christmas Present debunks Ebenezer Scrooge’s “un Christian” beliefs on religion and the “sabbath” in the context of business. This ghost also talks about how many people who claim a religious justification for their actions, yet in reality live literally not getting or caring about the true meaning of Christianity. Sort of a do as I say, not as I do thing and utter hypocrisy. Now today, we experience that hypocrisy of true Christians every day. You know like Stepford Wives for Totalitarianism and their ilk?
In any event this ghost thinks man should judge morality by the deed, not by how a man doing describes/labels his actions. Under the robe of the Ghost of Christmas Present are two ragged spirit figures. They are supposed to be like starving children.
The identities of the sprit figures are “Ignorance and Want.” I have never been sure that was other than the proverbial metaphorically speaking of it all: this ghost cares for these children because society, or man, should care for ignorance and want always, and not just talk about it. For the good of mankind.
There are some on this earth of yours… who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us….they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.
~ghost of christmas present in a christmas carol
I started thinking about the metaphors in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol again a few years ago, when I read this article in The Guardian, a U.K. paper. I was able to find it again:
The Guardian: Ignorance and Want: why Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol is as relevant today as ever
By Chris Priestley
Wed 23 Dec 2015
…A Christmas Carol is more than just a story. It is a tirade against greed, selfishness and neglect. It uses the story of a rich man – the startlingly nasty Scrooge – to highlight the plight of those affected by the greed and meanness he exemplifies.
The famous child in A Christmas Carol is poor “Tiny” Tim Cratchit but there are two others. When Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present, he is shocked when two wild and ragged children tumble out from the giant’s robes.
He thinks they must belong to the giant, but he tells Scrooge that they are Man’s. He tells him the boy is called Ignorance and the girl Want.
“Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy…”
Every Christmas through the 70s (I was now on a council estate in Newcastle where snow was more familiar), the BBC showed an Oscar-winning animated version of the story by Richard Williams, with Alistair Sim voicing Scrooge. It is beautifully animated in a style that evokes the John Leech illustrations from the original publication, but whereas the children are fairly bland creations in those engravings, here they are snarling beasts. I was – and remain – fascinated by them.
It is a brief moment in the story but surely a key moment – and a big part of why the story is still so relevant. Ignorance and Want remain the prime movers behind so many of the worlds ills….But Dickens was having a go at his complacent readers – he was chastising them about their own ignorance…
A Christmas Carol is actually life lessons wrapped in a Victorian Christmas story. Allow me to liberally quote an article by a professor at Indiana University named Richard Gunderman in a publication called The Conversation:
…The story begins on Christmas Eve. The “grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” Ebenezer Scrooge is toiling in his office, where he turns away two fundraisers seeking to provide for the poor, rudely rebuffs his nephew Fred’s invitation to Christmas dinner and berates his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit, for expecting to get Christmas Day off with pay.
At home that night, Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his partner Jacob Marley, who “died seven years ago, this very night.” Now wandering the earth dragging heavy chains forged by his own avarice, Marley warns Scrooge that he will meet the same fate if he does not listen to the three spirits who will visit him during the night.
The first of the spirits, the Ghost of Christmas Past, takes Scrooge to scenes from his earlier life, where he is reminded that he was once a kinder and gentler person….
he reexperiences what it is like to be lonely at the holidays until he is rescued by his sister. He then visits the holiday party of his employer, Mr Fezziwig, who despite modest means embodies the spirit of celebration.
He then sees his younger self with his fiancée Belle, to whom he intended to devote the rest of his life, until he was gradually overmastered by the love of money. Belle eventually breaks their engagement and marries another man, whose large and happy family Christmas the ghost takes Scrooge to witness.
The Ghost of Christmas Present whisks Scrooge to celebrations of Christmas in different settings throughout the land. They then travel to the home of Fred, who valiantly defends his uncle against criticism, choosing to pity rather than condemn him. Then Scrooge finds himself at the modest holiday feast of the Cratchit family, where he meets Tiny Tim, their ailing youngest child, and learns that unless the course of events changes, this will be the boy’s last Christmas. Finally, the ghost shows Scrooge two starving children, Ignorance and Want…The ghost of Christmas Yet to Come transports Scrooge to the holiday one year later, where he witnesses the reactions of various people to the recent death of a “wretched man.” A businessman states that he will attend the funeral only if a lunch is provided, and various people sell stolen items from the dead man’s estate to a fence. The only people who feel any emotion at his passing are debtors who now have more time to repay their loans. After returning to the Cratchit home, where Scrooge sees the family mourning the passing of Tiny Tim, he is taken to a neglected grave, where to his horror, he sees the name Ebenezer Scrooge.
Dickens was always about teaching us lessons. Read any article about A Christmas Carol especially, and you will see that it is a cautionary tale wrapped in a tale of redemption. Dickens refers to the lessons of the present to see the effects on the present and into the future. He also makes us think about how the past influences it all.
That should give you chills, because this is so very true today. And it’s that old thing about ignoring the past means we are doomed to repeat terrible things. That is why some history, although unpleasant, should not be made to disappear. Look what the dumbing down of America has currently given us. If we don’t persist in being and doing better, where will we all end up?
I have felt this way since before the onset of our COVID-19 world view existence. But COVID and the Trump years and Trump mentality have definitely thrown us into a post Victorian world that once again shows the vast chasms of life between the haves and the have nots.
We live in a world full of exceedingly selfish and mean people a lot of the time. That is not being a Debbie Downer, as anyone in corporate America and they will tell you it’s a harsh and true reality.
Take this time of the year, for example. It’s the time of year when employees receive year end bonuses. Only that is at the discretion, more like whim, of corporate overlords. I have remarked before about the year of the canned Polish Ham or a box of chocolates that then Prudential Securities offered hard working sales assistants, other support staff, and operations personnel in the early to mid 80s while the stock brokers all got fat, monetary bonuses. I know it happened, because I was literally there. Essentially all of the people who slaved to make brokers look good, got the short end of the stick. If you were lucky a broker gave you a monetary bonus, but it was not a requirement.
Total Scrooge moments, indeed back then.
Then there was always working in an office where the proverbial office pets got bonuses, and the rest? Nothing. It didn’t matter how hard you worked, you were just forgotten. You got to watch as others received bonuses, as you were deliberately overlooked. Yet another Scrooge moment, but then you figure Karma is a bitch and everything that goes around will come around eventually. The universe is funny and true that way. Oh wait, another Dickens lesson, correct?
And then there were the generous and kind bosses. I had a few of those over the years. They remembered Christmas and the actual spirit of the season. If not with a monetary bonus, then a nice gift. I wonder, do those bosses still really and truly exist?
But there will always be the bosses who will Bob Cratchit as many as possible, whenever possible. For them, it is always how much money they can make, and everyone else is well, kind of expendable. I do believe those people will indeed have a reckoning. We may never see it, but it will happen. These are a lot of the people who end up terribly alone…wait for it….like Ebenezer Scrooge.
The holidays are supposed to be pleasant, and while business might always be business, it seems like today more than ever you hear these tales of being Scrooged. And here we are supposed to be living in a world and a time where worker bees are supposed to be respected and have rights, but do they?
We will always live in a world where the next guy might have a lot more, or a lot less. But it’s all about how do we deal with this in our world, isn’t it? It’s also about being kind once in a while.
My critics like to tell me I am not kind. That I am mean. But am I really, or is it just about speaking my truth? That’s for them to figure out, incidentally. I know who I am, and my self-worth.
Now I know speaking my truth comes with a cost. My cost is corporate America. I am like a whistleblower after a fashion, so they will shun me until I am of retirement age. So it is a good thing I am content as being self-employed, a variation on a gig worker. I use my talents for various gigs of varying durations. I am not and will never be wealthy, but it has become enough. That probably makes some uncomfortable because I should want more. But what will more get me precisely?
When more becomes too much, and more of too much becomes the focus you get the Scrooges. Self focused, bullying, miserly, cold. No spirit of generosity. Lacking in actual joy about anything.
So sure, would it be nice to have more? Yes, because having a little more makes paying the bills easier. But our society has become one where we live seemingly only to work, and there is no balance. And those who crave balance, are often punished for that. If you think about it, we seemingly live in a world at times which punishes us for being happy or even wanting to be happy.
We all deserve to be happy, don’t we? So maybe we have to hit the pause button and reflect? We all struggle at times, right? So why can’t we reflect and be human and move forward?
Life is short. Re-read A Christmas Carol and learn from it. Hopefully it is not on a banned or book burning list somewhere. Life and Dickens, still true today.
Thanks for stopping by.