Critique of Christmas Time in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
An audience member’s gleeful first-hand account of Charles Dickens’s public reading of “A Christmas Carol” unwittingly exposes an often overlooked contradiction in the story’s climax: “Finally, there is Scrooge, no longer a miser, but a human being, screaming at the ‘conversational’ boy in Sunday clothes, to buy him the prize turkey ‘that never could have stood upon his legs, that bird'” (96). Perhaps he is no longer a miser but, by this description, Scrooge still plays the role of a capitalist oppressor, commanding underlings to fetch him luxuries. While Dickens undoubtedly lauds Scrooge’s epiphany and ensuing change, “A Christmas Carol” also hints at the author’s resentment for an industrial society’s corrupted notion of the “Christmas spirit.”Through instances of goodwill which Christmas provokes, Dickens suggests that Christmas is only an interruptive exception from the otherwise capitalistic calendar. Even when Scrooge becomes altruistic, as in the above scene, his philanthropy still operates under the guise of capitalism, measured in economic terms and aimed ultimately at providing himself with pleasure.
Dickens subtly turns his critique of ephemeral and selfish “holiday time” to the reader. The straightforward, Aristotelian structure of the narrative and the constant foreshadowing and repetition reduce any potential anxiety about the story’s outcome. The main cause for anxiety over the conclusion of any sentimental tale is to identify with the protagonist in some way. Although Scrooge is a caricature with whom few would commiserate (or admit to so doing), Dickens’s Three Spirits lure us into sympathy with the miser while simultaneously engenderi…
… it, since they, already presumably aware of their own Scrooge-ness, need the lesson less than the hypocritical Mrs. Cratchits do. Both sets of listeners will, however, seek out the story each Christmas; for the Mrs. Cratchits, an innocuous retelling reduces anxiety about identification with Scrooge, and the Scrooges receive a reminder of the changes that need to be effected on a social, rather than local, scale. In either case, a rereading is what Dickens solicits, and not only for his own canonization. When “A Christmas Carol” marks the memory of various Christmases for readers, they will, if not perceive all time in such a form, at least live in a literary Christmas Past, Present, and Future.
Dickens, Charles. A Christmas Carol. USA: Bantam Books, 1997.
Genette, Gerard. Narrative Discourse. Trans. Jane E. Lewin. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1980.