Few stories have been retold or achieved such great cultural familiarity as has Charles Dickens' 1843 novel A Christmas Carol. Perhaps the reason for its success and permanence is its thematic universality. In its central character, readers are given a figure with a dramatically stunted way of relating to other human begins and yet one who is destined for redemption. This is the narrative thrust that drives A Christmas Carol, with the evolution of Ebenezer Scrooge from wealthy, miserly hermit to enlightened giver centering entirely on the way that he perceived other people and the way that other people perceived him. More than any other matter, the Dickens novel seems to center on the relationships that persist between human beings and how our approach to these relationships can bring great fullness or emptiness. As Scrooge's experience shows, this outcome will be dependent upon what one dedicates to these relationships.
Certainly, there is little positive that we can say of Scrooge's attitude toward his fellow man at the outset of the story. Dickens presents a man who is not only bitter toward the world and all the experiences it has to offer but who also can't seem to comprehend why anybody else wouldn't be equally as bitter. This is perfectly captured in the opening exchange with his nephew, whom he regards with hostility for what he perceives as an inexplicably cheerful demeanor. Scrooge should be described as nothing less than hateful toward those around him, remarking that the poor people in his family and his employ should have no reason for joy in light of their struggles. Ironically, his nephew points out, Scrooge seems completely bereft of joy in spite of the fact that he is quite wealthy.
To his perspective though, this joy in the face of so much suffering is deserving of ridicule and even punishment. Scrooge laments, "What else can I be,' returned the uncle, 'when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! 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? If I could work my will,' said Scrooge indignantly, 'every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!'" (Dickens, p. 1)
Here, it is notable that Scrooge does not simply speak with hostility toward others but even suggests that it may be the fault of others that he is so decidedly miserable. In this way, we can see that Scrooge does define himself according to his relationships with others, but in a decidedly negative way. His conception of the world and its inhabitants as foolish and deserving of ridicule serves to isolate the man in a way that he can't totally perceive but that he does experience. In fact, Scrooge is ultimately experiencing a self-fulfilling prophecy. He views himself as separate and different from all those around him, and in turn, he is defined by this difference. That the difference manifests as a deeply unpleasant, sneering and even villainous character tells the reader a great deal about how Dickens perceives this selective disengagement from the world.
As the critique by Moncrieff (2007) notes, this disengagement is not just a story about a single man's disengagement. To the contrary, Dickens channeled much of his personal experience and the economic struggles endured by his family into a highly allegorical narrative. Scrooge's wealth is equally as important and defining as is his misery. This connection is not accidental and neither is the distance that Scrooge feels from other people. According to Moncrieff, Dickens wrote with the intent to bring the element of human relationships into a discussion on the vast distance between rich and poor. What is a selective isolation for Scrooge is in fact a huge canyon separating two social classes in Victorian England.
As Moncrieff explains of the Scrooge character, he perceives that his wealth makes him superior to others, respected among them and envied by him. One of the more effective visions shown to him by his ghostly visitors would be of his present, an experience that would shatter many of his own long-held illusions. Moncrieff explains that "While the ghost of Christmas past shows him what he has lost, Christmas present shows him what he is losing; what other people have, and how others perceive him. Pity is the kindest emotion: 'I am sorry for him.' This comes from Fred, Scrooge's nephew and the only person who never loses faith in him." (Moncrieff, p. 3)
This observation is as important for what it says about Dickens and his view on Victorian society as it does about the character of Scrooge himself. Particularly, it is notable that Dickens chooses to increasingly humanize rather than further demonize his subject. If the story is ultimately a broad critique of the inequality of British society, it is telling the Dickens approached such a divisive character with such fairness. Moncrieff does give some insight into why this might be the case, indicating the Dickens financed the book himself after a falling out with his publishers. In doing so, the author also chose to price the text at an extremely affordable rate and packaged in an eye-catching binding. (Moncrieff, p. 1) This decision would result in an extremely successful sales performance with many different populations.
Moncrieff suggests, in fact, that the text had some effect of bridging the gap in perception between rich and poor. By making Scrooge simultaneously hateful and sympathetic, the author leaves room for redemption. This redemption is not just for Scrooge buy for a Victorian society on the whole. This is why it is so important that the opportunity to be redeemed in his personal relationships remains a possibility throughout the text. By managing to yield increasingly more notable glimpses of humanity in Scrooge, Dickens keeps open the possibility that he might be saved through his personal relationships and, more generally, how he related to others throughout life. Keeping this possibility intact also allows Dickens to keep the possibility intact for Victorian society. The text is, in other words, a decidedly optimistic look at the path from harsh inequality to sociological progress. Personal relationships are the key if we are to take the eventual redemption of Scrooge as a representative example.
That his struggle to achieve this redemption centers so much on how this character comes to understand the needs, emotions and joys of others is it most important philosophical contribution. More to this point, one useful literary analysis (2010) notes the significance of Christmas as a time for this redemption. (Novel Guide, p. 1) The analysis connects Dickens' tale to the teachings of the New Testament, and suggests that Scrooge's wealth and isolation are warned about by Jesus. Accordingly, the analysis states that "Scrooge has pursued the wealth of 'the whole world' for his whole life-but, as his ghostly encounters prove, Scrooge's real life is in grave danger. And while details surrounding Marley's Ghost (e.g., the hot breeze stirring his hair) suggest that Scrooge's eternal life is jeopardized, the whole of A Christmas Carol emphasizes the importance and urgency of a life-giving, life-changing engagement with our fellow human beings." (Novel Guide, p. 1)
Without a doubt, this is the lesson that Scrooge has been instructed to learn by his numerous visitors on Christmas Eve. As he is forced to recollect why he had become the man he had, how he was perceived by others, how he impacted them, and ultimately,…