In these days of downgrading the discoveries of Columbus, the conquest of the West, and the alleged achievements of dead white European males, one reverse re-evaluation cries out to be made. I mean that of Ebenezer Scrooge, that traditional Yuletide whipping boy, that Christmas punching bag, that so-called miser and flint-heart.
Consider the facts. Scrooge was no hypocrite when it came to Christmas. Even Dickens, his earliest and most influential detractor, admits that. “Bah, humbug!” was Scrooge’s rallying cry against the excessive consumerism and manufactured merriment which a hollow society had celebrated at Yuletide. Note Scrooge’s indictment: “What’s Christmas to you,” he protests to his clerk, Bob Cratchit, “but a time for paying bills without money?” Could there be any more pointed comment on our present-day credit-card sprees? This has also become a time, he goes on to accuse, for paying lazy workers for doing nothing.
Anyone who reads “The Christmas Carol” with clear eyes will see something else that Scrooge rose above his humble and bitter beginnings. Forgotten as a child, abandoned in a cold room in a decayed house, Scrooge later had to endure the breaking of his engagement and, like one of Horatio Alger’s heroes, to make his way alone and unbefriended.
Nonetheless, Scrooge transformed himself by iron willpower into the very model of a financial giant, one of those on whom our economy rests. His mere word was good on the Exchange. He was universally respected by men of substance. Not for him were welfare cheaters, those Bob Cratchits who expected to be paid without working. Not for him were the charity hounds trying to pamper the nonproductive members of society. Scrooges corned the spurious stratagem of Old Fezziwig, who thought to fob off his labor force with a cheap display of feasting and dancing at year’s end.
Has anyone understood Scrooge as an environmentalist ahead of his time? Here is a man who conserves fossil fuel by economizing on coal fire, even on the frostiest days. To forestall the wasteful leakage of resources, he keeps the coalbox in his own office. What does he dine on at Christmas Eve? Gruel, that’s what. Low-cal, non-cholesterol porridge such as might inspire our modern-day bran-and-oatmeal dietitians. Fully aware of uncontrolled birthrate and its menace to the planet, Scrooge courageously speaks out for “reducing the surplus population.” And Dickens called this man “secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster”!
Scrooge disdained high-flown language. “Don’t be flowery,” he admonishes the theatrical Marley. A pretty levelheaded rejoinder from a man being harangued by a ghost.
This good and great man had wit. When Scrooge asks, “Who are you?” and the ghost of Marley instructs him to “Ask me who I was,” Scrooge retorts, “You’re particular, for a shade!” On ascribing Marley’s appearance to his own indigestion, Scrooge quips, “There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are.”
But now to the celebrated question of the three so-called “Spirits of Christmas” from which Dickens distilled his fable of a “reformed” Scrooge. The late research isn’t all in yet, but any psychiatrist will attest that our own egalitarian culture promotes terrifying guilt feelings in those who dare to make big money: nagging, persistent, ever-deepening guilt. “What awful things must I have done,” the victim will ask, “to have become so wealthy?” From such questions to outright hallucination is a small step. I suggest that Scrooge probably did suffer such an episode, such are the envious pressures exerted upon the rich and powerful.
Then what are we to say about Scrooge’s final resurrection as a reformed, jolly, prodigal Santa Claus flinging largess to the wind? The tough-minded scholar can only snap, “Bah, humbug!” Scrooge’s alleged transformation was simply an audience-grabbing bit of soap concocted by that sentimental do-gooder, that bleeding-heart liberal, that pointy-headed share-the-wealth socialist Charles Dickens.
And so I hold it wasn’t that pampered little twit, Tiny Tim, but Ebenezer Scrooge himself who really said (and may we join him in saying), “God bless us, every one!”