December 6, 2017 | Posted in General
There are a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” that roll out this time of the year, for me the 1951 movie with Alastair Sim as Ebenezer Scrooge tops the list.
I have a vivid memory of a winter long ago, snow cascading down outside the window, the tree is lit warmly and I am firmly attached to a chair in our living room watching Sim’s incredible performance in an episode of “Family Classics with Frazier Thomas” on WGN television in Chicago.
We all know the story, and over the years the meanings have become more prominent for me. The Charles Dickens classic has gone from a once a year “gotta see it again” to a clearer understanding of what was written in 1843- 174 years ago this Christmas.
Dickens wrote “A Christmas Carol” at a time when the British were examining and exploring Christmas traditions from the past, such as carols, as well as new customs such as Christmas trees. He was influenced by experiences from his own past, and from the Christmas stories of other authors, including Washington Irving and Douglas Jerrold. Dickens had written three Christmas stories prior to the novella, and was inspired to write the story following a visit to the Field Lane Ragged school, one of several establishments for London’s half-starved, illiterate street children. The treatment of the poor and the ability of a self-interested man redeeming himself by transforming into a more sympathetic character are the key themes of the story.
Published on December 19th,1843 the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve; by the end of 1844 thirteen editions had been released. Since that time “A Christmas Carol” has never been out of print.
Clearly Dickens had struck a nerve and the roots of his outrage at how the poor and less fortunate were being treated went all the way back to the age of 12, when his father was put into a debtors prison and the character of Ebenezer Scrooge who is described in the book as a “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner” is possibly a combination of his father, and two local “misers” along with elements of Dickens himself-that being the “higher part” of the self.
The central theme of course is transformation. That even though someone might be full of hate, spite, greed, fear, anger, malice and missing the part of their heart marked “humanity” they too can be redeemed (if the right combination of ghosts come along to basically scare the shit outta of them.)
Past, present and future all make their presence known to Scrooge, having him “walk” through his life from beginning to end, something that most of us only do if forced to by circumstances, preferring to fill our lives with diversions rather than decisions.
It is the visit from “The Present” that we are introduced to the two ragged children huddled under the ghost’s flowing robes, staying close to him for protection assumes Scrooge.
As Dickens wrote it…
“Scrooge started back, appalled. Having them shown to him
in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but
the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie
of such enormous magnitude.
‘Spirit. are they yours.’ Scrooge could say no more.
‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon
them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware 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. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out
its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye.
Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse… And abide the end.’ “
“Ignorance” is a lack of knowledge. The word ignorant is an adjective describing a person in the state of being unaware, and can be used to describe individuals who deliberately ignore or disregard important information or facts or individuals who are not aware of that important information or facts. Ignorance can come in three different types: factual ignorance (absence of knowledge of some fact), objectionable ignorance (unacquainted with some actual object), and technical ignorance (absence of knowledge of how to do something that could actually be done).
Dickens felt that if people were informed about the conditions of the day that they had turned a blind eye to, that change…or transformation…would take place, so he used fictional characters to convey very real messages about the human condition and how to improve it.
So here I sit, at a device Dickens might have appreciated but perhaps could never envision, a machine that types my thoughts and allows me instant access to the entire world. The information and knowledge base we have at our fingertips in greater than any other group of humans in the history of the world. There is more technology in my cell phone than in the first lunar module.
And yet…even with all of that…ignorance remains our constant companion.
Back when Dickens walked the streets of London, people routinely stepped over bodies of sick and dying children, pretending not to see what was going on, preferring their own ideology over the worsening conditions. It was only until one of their own became sick that they took notice and began to see what they had become blind to.
I’ve said many times over the years that after attending a hundred funerals and spending considerable time in cemeteries, never once have I seen Democrat, Republican or Independent on a headstone.
And yet we run so much of our lives and “who we are” through a political strainer, ignorant of the bigger picture, stepping over bodies in our attempt to keep ideology intact only to find out that in the end…what we thought mattered most…mattered the least.
When the ghost of Marley (bound and chained by his own greed and selfishness) visits Scrooge to warn him of his impending doom, Ebenezer responds with “but you were always a good man of business…”
Marley thunders and shakes the room at the words and says…
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.”