If Christmas, with its ancient and hospitable customs, its social and charitable observances, were ever in danger of decay, this is the book that would give them a new lease.Thomas Hood on A Christmas Carol.
In one of the most beloved Christmas tales of all time, Charles Dickens beautifully captures the mood and humanity of Christmas. It is a tale of a grumpy old man and his encounters with the ghosts of christmas past, present and the yet to come. At its core of this seemingly simple story is a deep rooted geriatric existentialism, founded in the fact that every celebration is a reassertion of life, in the face of death’s certainty.
The redemptive tale of Scrooge and his transformation ripples out meaning from the individual to the larger society. The layers of this spiritual allegory ranges from that of a therapeutic change to economic policies of the 19th century England. It is this almost inexhaustible layers of meaning that this tale encapsulates in its sophisticated simplicity that makes it a coveted essential.
In the eternity of a moment, Scrooge relives his life, beyond the conventions of space and time. Dickens cleverly portrays a case of interpersonal psychology through this tale as he portrays Scrooge empathetically, as someone with attachment issues in the past, being unable to embrace intimacy and vulnerability. Since attachment was unavailable to him in the past, all he had to offer was avoidance and unavailability.
The journey of this Scrooge and his encounter with the ghosts are simultaneously psychotherapy and a hero’s journey. The ghosts embody Scrooge’s shadow, in Jungian terms, reflecting the darkness of his irrational and instinctive being. Unlike the vengeful, destructive ghosts like that of Hamlet, the ghosts of Christmas are a reality in itself than being agents of reality. They, like therapists, helps Scrooge reflect upon his reality.
When we look at the whole story this way, it feels like a dream. Applying the Freudian notion that every dream is a wish fulfillment brings us to believe that the story of Scrooge is a dream about gaining personal mastery through economic security. This becomes all the more clear when we bring the context in which the story was written.
Dickens wrote this tale when England was struck by poverty when there was a sickening indifference among the middle class towards the poor and suffering. In response to the impending poverty, hoarding became so rampant, a phenomenon repeated this year during the pandemic. This fear and ignorance, Dickens believed, would be damaging both to the Economy of the nation as well as that of his household. The antidote that Dickens suggests through a transforned Scrooge is generosity and informed spending, a nod to a primitive Keynesian thought.
Dickens masterfully condensed the post modern cynicism within Scrooge who expresses his indifference towards the poor, sick and dying fellow humans. Despite the story being overtly secular, this depicts Scrooge in a Satanic light, far away from goodness and god, echoing the insights of Siybawayh. But through death, he began living fully. He learns to love his neighbour like himself.
The metamorphosis of Scrooge, from a miser to Midas, is a hope in the resurrection of humanity when we realize that there is so much more to our lives than what it seems and when we are reminded that we are spiritual beings having a human experience.