Wednesday, December 24, 2014

BAH! HUMBUG!: A CHRISTMAS CAROL







Like most of the read classics in my book cabinet, I read the simplified and coloured edition of Charles Dickens' 'Christmas novella' ; back when I was about 10 years old. That was the first time I was introduced to Dickens' unforgettable character, Ebenezer Scrooge a grumpy, cold-hearted old miser who actually hated Christmas!  That part was what got my interest because the author's opening line Marley's dead: to begin with- rather put me off a little.


How can I describe this Christmas tale? One word: UPLIFTING. The tale is about an old miser who paid a night visit by his late business partner Jacob Marley who (after lamenting of what he could have done besides making money during his life time) warned Scrooge he would be haunted by three spirits, "you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate",  Marley explained, so it looked like the three spirits were coming to open his eyes to his mundane and friendless life, which never bothered Scrooge before.

'Without their visits,' said the Ghost, 'you cannot hope to shun the path I tread. Expect the first one tomorrow, when the bell tolls one. Expect the second one on the next night at the same hour. The third upon the next night when the last stroke of twelve has ceased to vibrate. Look to see me no more; and look that , for your own sake, you remember what has passed between us!" 

And so did Marley's words came to pass. The first 'spirit' was the Ghost of Christmas Past- who took him to the time Scrooge was a boy, which causes a huge hit of nostalgia on Scrooge especially when he got to see his little sister Fan again, Fan had died young and left behind a son (who was more than kind and good-natured enough to invite his grumpy uncle to Christmas lunch but was coldly turned down). Then he saw himself as a young man just starting his path with young Marley under the employ of jolly Mr. Fezzwig then the sober scene of his fiancée Belle breaking up with him because he loved money and making money than wanting to marry and have a family with her... very sad and Scrooge couldn't bear seeing this repressed memory of his greatest mistake, - 'Spirit... show me no more! Conduct me home . Why do you delight to torture me?' 

The Ghost of Christmas Present came next and Scrooge saw people enjoying and celebrating Christmas which he'd described as 'HUMBUG!', his nephew's Christmas party where Fred spoke how he pitied his uncle who had money but no friends and then the humble house of his poorly paid clerk Bob Cracthit who was having a simple Christmas with his family, the brightest person there despite his fragile health Tiny Tim, the youngest child. One thing to note here, even though they were poor, the room was filled with love and Tiny Tim lifting their spirits with the words, 'God Bless us, Everyone!', which stabbed Scrooge with the guilty realisation that the very low salary he paid Bob couldn't cover Tiny Tim's medical bills.

'Spirit, tell me if Tiny Tim will live.' 

'I see a vacant seat in the poor chimney corner and a crutch without an owner, carefully preserved. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die.' 

'No, no... oh no, Kind Spirit! say he will be spared.' 

Before the Ghost of Christmas Present left, he showed Scrooge two emaciated children; the boy was Ignorance, the girl was Want and warned Scrooge to beware the first especially. And when Scrooge cried if they had no source of help, the Ghost calmly repeated Scrooge's earlier cold words, 'Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?'  Talk about a guilt trip! 

Then the final 'spirit' appeared to Scrooge... the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come- the most memorable because it never spoke and:

It was shrouded in a deep  black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.  

What Scrooge saw now, after viewing his mistakes of the past which shaped his present, the consequences. He saw people talking about a wretched man who just died and his funeral would only be attended if food was provided (eww by the way), and the man's possessions being sold cheaply. The next scene was a debtor and his family who were glad of the man's death as they would have more time to pay or not pay at all and the last, very scene of the Cratchit family as they mourn (though they try so hard to be brave) Tiny Tim's death, which upsets Scrooge greatly. The spirit then takes Scrooge to the graveyard and the moment of truth is revealed to him via a neglected gravestone, the wretched man is him to his horror; unloved, unmourned, forgotten.

Spirit! Hear me, I am not the man I was! I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why would you show me this if I am past all hope? 

Christmas morning, Scrooge is a changed man (and then some), spending Christmas with Fred and his family who were surprised yet delighted to see him, sending a turkey incognito to the Cractchits and making a donation, incognito of course for it is not said that one who is silent in his good deeds reap the bigger reward? And of course a huge pay raise for Bob which contributes to Tiny Tim's survival.

Like Oliver Twist, this story is more than meets the eye- it's not just about an old man who found redemption. It glaringly portrayed Dickens' sympathy for the poor, particularly poor children (Tiny Tim being a representative in the story) the joy of giving and sharing, especially on a festive season like Christmas and how the wealthy should do their part in helping the poor. And let's not forget, how past mistakes could shape one's present and future; Life is short and it's never too late to repent. 

Quote from book:

Many laughed to see this alteration in him, but he let them laugh and little heeded them, for he knew that no good thing in this world ever happened, at which some did not have their fill of laughter. His own heart laughed and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him that he knew how to keep Christmas well if any man alive possessed the knowledge." The story closes with the narrator repeating Tiny Tim's famous words: "God bless us, everyone!

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