Thursday, December 20, 2012

An Unrealistic Outcome: The Sad Truth About Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol"

Welcome to my Christmas essay of 2012! I originally thought of this idea and began writing it in January of 2012, but since it was after Christmas I didn't want to post it, so I decided to work on it for this Christmas instead. It's funny because I have other ideas to write about when it comes to A Christmas Carol, such as the different film versions and how they each tell the story differently. I may still do that, but I also want to point out this observation I have recently made.

Alastair Sim as "Ebenezer Scrooge" in the 1951 film version
We all know the story of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, right? An old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge is pretty much the world's biggest jerk. It isn't until he is visited by four ghosts, his old business partner Jacob Marley included, that he changes his ways and is a good man all around come Christmas morning.

It's such a heartwarming book, film, and Christmas classic, guaranteed to make your spirits bright and give you hope for the world. But what if I told you that A Christmas Carol isn't necessarily as heartwarming as we think it is?

This change in Scrooge's character isn't realistic and we shouldn't necessarily be proud of him. A Christmas Carol has such a happy ending just because it's a Christmas story ending on Christmas Day. Christmas is supposed to ignite happiness, so it would be blasphemous if a Christmas story, especially one that ends on Christmas Day, has a negative outcome.

This sudden 180 in Scrooge's personality is not natural even how it is done. How many of us want to make changes in our lives but find it difficult to do so? We can't expect flaws to leave altogether and never return. That would make us perfect, and we all know that perfection doesn't exist. It's a process and it takes time. We also all know that famous phrase: "Things don't change overnight." And yet, this is what Dickens leads us to believe, or at least tries to. Scrooge changes very quickly and we're supposed to assume that he never commits a bad act again and from here on in he is a good guy. All of a sudden he has a heart of gold and we're not supposed to question it.

Also, Scrooge is reluctant to change throughout the story until the point in his dream and ghostly visitations where he sees Tiny Tim and begins to sympathize with him. If a person is indeed going to change, the want to change also has to be there throughout the process as well. Here Scrooge changes without even having the desire to do so at first and throughout the story. It also seems like he gets off too easy. He doesn't want to at first, but yet it happens for him anyway. That's not fair to others that try to change but struggle with it.

So apparently at the end of the story Scrooge is an angelic man for the rest of his life, but who's to say that he didn't go back to his humbug ways the following days? The story ends on Christmas Day, which is when people are just automatically happy. Then again, this is the first time in his life after a long period that Scrooge is actually celebrating Christmas, so in that respect we can say that his reaction to it is genuine. However, a person doesn't make such a big shift that quickly and stay that way. First we are to assume that he does change, and now we are to assume that this change now lasts without any slip ups because the story concludes idealistically.

And finally, Dickens is trying to convince us that the life altering event that changes him so drastically is a bunch of dreams consisting of four wacky ghosts? Come on! If anything should change him, it should be an actual realistic event that he has to live through because that's how real life works. Even The Grinch from Dr. Seuss's "How The Grinch Stole Christmas" has a change of heart when he hears the Whos of Whoville singing, and he's not even human! Now that I think about it, Scrooge and The Grinch have a lot in common. They're both grumpy guys that isolate themselves from the rest of their worlds at Christmas time and then at the end learn to truly appreciate the season and everybody around them. We can argue that The Grinch's transformation is even quicker and less fair than Scrooge's, especially in the original 1957 book and 1966 cartoon version where all he has to do is hear the Whos sing and then realize that Christmas isn't about the presents but the people with whom you share it. It isn't until the year 2000 when a live action film version of the story came out starring Jim Carrey and provided us with a backstory and motivations for The Grinch, kind of like how the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge and the reader and audience his past. Past occurrences, and the fact that he isn't human, are the reasons why he hates Christmas. He meets little Cindy Lou Who and Martha May Whovier, his love interest, who help him along the way throughout the movie to make his changes and give him reason to do so. Sure it seems like throughout the movie he doesn't want to change, much like Scrooge, but there are moments where he does cave and seems willing. Also, keep in mind that in the movie the Whos ostracize him because they consider him a monster, making him feel unwelcome.

But the difference with Scrooge is people actually want him around to celebrate with them. Unlike The Grinch, who is pushed away by people because they make assumptions about him, Scrooge is the one that does the pushing away his entire life and it is ultimately his choice to be isolated whereas it may not be The Grinch's choice in his story necessarily. So The Grinch's story changes in the live action version to give him more to work with, but A Christmas Carol has never changed its traditional story too much (thankfully, because I made it clear in my Christmas essay last year that I don't really like that), so basically we have to work with the same thing we've always been seeing for years, which are his dreams. Also, we're supposed to relate to Scrooge more than The Grinch because Scrooge is a human being living among others in society whereas The Grinch looks like a distant relative of Oscar the Grouch and lives in the mountains by himself. (I've never noticed this before, but they look and act a lot alike, don't they? LOL.)

Sure the ghosts show Scrooge real past and present occurrences, as well as peeking into the future and how dire it is going to be if Scrooge doesn't change his ways, but these happen in dream sequences and you know how we humans are with dreams. When we first wake up we still feel like we are in the dream, so therefore Scrooge waking up fearing that he missed Christmas and dancing around in his pajamas in his first waking moment makes sense. He is still in dream mode, that limbo between being asleep and being awake. In this moment too he asks the kid walking by his house to buy his employee Bob Cratchit a huge turkey for his family using his money. All of a sudden he now trusts little children with his money.

This is all being done right after Scrooge wakes up because he didn't even have any time to register anything. He does all of this so hastily. When we wake up from such realistic dreams, aren't we shaken up too? Don't we have trouble thinking straight and critically? As we gradually wake up, the dream starts to make no sense at all. We even start to forget it until eventually it totally disappears from our minds and we come back to reality, thus returning back to our regular routines. After a couple of days, or maybe even later on in the day, since the story seems to conclude on Christmas MORNING, Scrooge could look back on his dream and ghost encounters that Christmas Eve and consider it a bunch of malarkey, returning him back to his old, nasty self.

Looking at it now, I'm actually pretty shocked that his belief in his dream seems to last the entire day, because there are versions of the story where he attends dinners and parties. I've always wondered what exact time he wakes up actually, because the little boy answers that it's Christmas Day, not Christmas morning. If he does wake up in the morning, time moves pretty fast in the final minutes of A Christmas Carol.

I know it's supposed to be fiction so therefore reality shouldn't really matter, but all of this makes me question just how joyful and moralistic this story really is. He supposedly learns his lesson after only ONE night of dreaming, but does he really? He dreams about his rough past and how currently people don't really like him, which actually brings up some unanswered questions on Dickens's part. Knowing Scrooge, why would he care about people liking him anyway? Also, why does he all of a sudden change his tune upon seeing Tiny Tim and how the Cratchit family struggles? He almost presents himself as a misanthrope not caring much about the well being of others, so how does all of this initiate change in him?

How sincere do you think Scrooge is at the end of A Christmas Carol? After reading what I have to say about it, do you still consider it an appropriate Christmas special? What about "How The Grinch Stole Christmas"?

1 comment:

  1. Since I don't celebrate Christmas, I always been somewhat of a humbug or at least jealous of people that get to celebrate it. It gets hyped up that it's easy to get wrapped up in all the holiday cheer. But it really is a good time for family and friends to get together and be merry.

    That's interesting what you said about Scrooge, I never thought of that before. Usually I would come to the conclusion that since his dream experience was so traumatic that it jolted him into the realization that he was indeed a bad person, and that he needed to change that. There's also the punishment that might befall him after he dies, much like Jacob Marley, who wallows in eternal misery chained with the weight of his greed. That alone should scare Scrooge into not being a bad person. Even though I tend to be a pessimist at times, for some reason I always felt that Scrooge really did change for the better. Maybe it's fear alone that's keeping him for returning to his selfish ways.

    I find How The Grinch Stole Christmas having a similar approach. Not in fear, but in way the Grinch witnessed a life-changing experience (the Whos' singing). It jolted him into realizing that it's good to care for others because people care for you in return, as seen when he feasts with the Whos in Who-ville.