As I mentioned in my last post one of my Christmas traditions is to go to a fabulous local production of A Christmas Carol at Hale Center Theater Orem. In the small ‘theater in the round’, the audience-member becomes engulfed in the world of Victorian London and the classic Dickensian tale of redemption (btw, you know your an influential author if you have your own adjective- right!)
Everyone knows the story of the “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner” known as Ebeneezer Scrooge. What you may not know is some of the history behind the story. In his novels, Dickens had two purposes for writing: 1. to show a journey of redemption by the lead character (or characters) and 2. to profile the horrific state of the lower classes. As can be seen in Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, and other novels the poor characters must fight his or her way through work houses, orphanages, debtors prisons and Poor Laws- all institutions which made it nearly impossible to progress towards financial stability. This is the reason why Scrooge (clearly the rare non-aristocratic member of the upper class) views the work houses as the only suitable charity he can support. Scrooge was also not alone in the idea of “decreasing the surplus population.” The poor were often perceived as lazy and undeserving by the upper class- even worthy of punishment for their apparent idleness.
However, Dickens is not as one-sided against the wealthy as he might at first seem. For instance, we can see in Nephew Fred the type of rich person Dickens believes in- a man who uses his fortune to cheer others (even his crotchety uncle). In the Christmas Future vision it is Fred that notices Bob Cratchit’s sorrow and offers comfort for him and his family. The Fezziwig’s and the men seeking charity are other examples. They hope to collect “some slight provision for the Poor and Destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts.” Clearly for Dickens it is not the possession of money that creates evil but the love of it- the avarice and greed. In addition, the laws of the day supported the greedy and made service the exception to the rule. Let’s not forget Dickens lived in the beginning of industrialization which brought with it child labor, insufficient pay and deplorable work conditions. There is also an element of fear attached to Scrooge. It is out of a ‘fear of the world’ that causes him to hoard money, and the more he fears, the more he hates.
By using the happy time of Christmas as the setting Dickens creates a foil for the worldly Scrooge and in many ways a symbolic dichotomy- Scrooge or Satan on one side, Christ and Christmas on the other. This is why Tiny Tim is the ultimate contrast to Scrooge- Tiny Tim who hopes “the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk, and blind men see.” I’ve always thought Scrooge’s initial response to Tiny Tim is interesting:
“Spirit,” said Scrooge, with an interest he had never felt before,”tell me if Tiny Tim will live.”
Why did Scrooge have an immediate reaction to Tim? I think it is Dickens’ way of showing the power the light of Christ has on a sinner- it makes an impression on even the most hardened of hearts!
Could it be there is hope for such a wicked man as Scrooge? What about the other cold and uncaring of his class? According to Christmas Carol, the answer is yes! In fact, this is the reason Jacob Marley gives Scrooge “a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring.” Scrooge was lucky to have such a friend in Jacob and perhaps many of us are brought to Christ through the love of our friends?
Through Marley’s gift Scrooge realizes he has wasted his life on a fear of poverty and shut out the light that the Cratchit’s have found in spite of their meager possessions. He learns whether rich or poor, happiness comes from a changed life, “an altered life”, a life focused on God’s commandments and on satisfying the needs of others with Christian charity.
At Christmas time, I hope you get a chance to read this wonderful story. For some it has become trite and rehearsed but give it another shot. I challenge you to actually read it this year with an eye for the lessons it teaches- not just about making Christmas a merry time but of the peace Jesus Christ gives through His Atonement. The power of His love can change a ‘covetous old sinner’ into “as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world”. In truth we are all sinners and in need of redemption- Christmas Carol tells us that conversion is possible for anyone.
In addition to loving the novel, I have yet to see a film version of I do not like (even the recent animated movie with Jim Carey was good!) . Whether it be live on stage, preformed by Mickey, or by the Muppets, the Christmas Carol is a classic for a reason. It reminds us to use the great gift of Jesus Christ’s redemption in our lives and to give the gift to others through service and a merry heart- especially at His season of Christmas.
You can read Christmas Carol online for free.