A Christmas Carol, 2

A Christmas Carol, 2

Maritain describes the 19th century heritage as follows: “Capitalist civilization enabled the initiatives of the individual to achieve tremendous conquests over material nature. Yet, as Werner Sombart observed, the man of this age was neither “ontologic” nor “erotic”; that is to say, he had lost the sense of Being because he lived in signs and by signs [such as money or honor], and he had lost the sense of Love because he did not enjoy the life of a person dealing with other persons, but he underwent the hard labor of enrichment for the sake of enrichment.”
The spirits of Christmas lead Scrooge to discover being, love and God. The spirit of Christmas past leads him out of the realm of signs (money) to recapture his youthful celebration of the world; the spirit of Christmas present leads him out his isolation to discover the love embodied in family and in society; and the spirit of Christmas future leads him  to discover God in conscience and to form his resolution to live Christ(mas).
PAST: Scrooge’s first journey takes him back in time, through the winding roads of memory. Like Augustine, Scrooge digs deep into the affective dimension of his memories – grief and happiness emerge at every turn raising the issue of what constitutes authentic or true happiness. The first step is the recovery of a memory of himself, as happy, a memory from childhood. One may accuse Dickens of sentimentality or self-pity, but I think they would miss the point. After all, it was Dostoevsky who celebrates the memory of a child who died at the end of Brothers Karamazov. Alyosha says, “There is nothing higher and stronger and more wholesome and good for life in the future than some good memory, especially a memory of childhood, of home. People talk to you a great deal about your education, but some good sacred memory preserved from childhood, is perhaps the best education. If a man carries many such memories with him into life, he is safe to the end of his days, and if only one good memory remains, in our hearts, even that may sometime be the means of saving us.” The happy memory of childhood represents a moment of vulnerability and a moment of grace – one is grateful for what is given, for gifts of kindness and friendship. Scrooge becomes conscious of  “thousands of odors floating in the air” and he recalls “a thousand thoughts, hopes, and joys, and cares.” 
He sheds a tear, and eventually sobs — tears according to Leon Bloy are the “blood of the soul.” Scrooge’s soul is flooded with joy and gladness. His “heart leapt,” as he is a man alive. He saw his “forgotten self as he used to be.” He remembers with joy the books he would read. He remembers his sister with love.  In the grief over her death he finds the attachment to his nephew who he has neglected so many years.  And he begins to form a resolution of repentance. He regrets not giving something to a young lad he encountered the night before. He then remembers his friends at work, when he was young. And the great dance of the Fezziwigs—Dickens says that the recollection of the event led Scrooge to act “like a man out of his wits.” His heart and soul entered fully into the memory of his former self. He remembered and enjoyed. 
The ghost mentions the gratitude of the people for small favors. Once again Scrooge repents and wishes to do better by his friends and fellows. He then finds himself at a crossroad of old – Scrooge was willing to let his fiancé go because she objected to his passion for money and she had little dowery. She accuses him  — his passion for gain was an idol, an all consuming hope, and something that killed off “nobler aspirations.”  Scrooge rejected the “boy” he was, to become the man he is. And the spirit of Christmas moves him to desire to change, to become something different again, what he once was prior to the development of greed. Scrooge sees and understands, and wants to leave. He drops into a deeper sleep.         
PRESENT: The spirit of Christmas present reveals to Scrooge the presence of love in the family and throughout society, especially under the inspiration of Christ at the time of Christmas. Dickens describes in luscious detail the food of a dozen feasts, the delightful play of the children, the warmth of the family, and the numerous acts of kindness that permeate the social order because of Christ(mas). The food is heaped up from the floor to ceiling. The imposing presence of the spirit and the super-abundance of food confronts Scrooge with the reality of things and people which he has avoided through his life among the signs of wealth and domination. Against the darkness and grime of the city, and the darkness of night, the light of Christmas, and love, beckons men to the feast, to play, and to Church. 
The poor should particularly be feasted on the day of Christ, the child born in poverty and obscurity. The spirit has a special “sympathy” with the poor. And so he led Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s house. Again we discover the warmth of the hearth and the devotion and love of family. We encounter Tiny Tim and his cheerful love of life. The poor family holds a wonderful feast, with expressions of gratitude and blessings upon all – “Merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us” says the father, to which the family repeats and Tiny Tim says “God bless us every one.” The blessing is universal. The last shall be first. Clearly Dickens is putting forth an allegory of the Gospel. Scrooge is enthralled with the scene of domestic bliss and the blessing of the poor child. Scrooge asks if Tiny Tim will live. The spirit tells him that he will not, if the “shadows remain unaltered.” Scrooge is mortified and protests. To which the spirit throws back in his face scrooge’s own words – it is better for him to die to decrease the population. Scrooge hangs his head with “penitence and grief.” 
The Ghost calls him to account – “man, if man be you in your heart” he says “forbear that wicked cant.” The Ghost names the depth of the sin – “will you decide what men shall live, what men shall die?” Scrooge has a wicked pride that assumes the role of God and claim of worthiness. Scrooge has inverted the true order of things. Scrooge is said to bend before the rebuke of the Ghost. But there is more. Scrooge hears his named blessed by Bob Crachit, and the family utters their scorn. But by the mercy of Christ(mas) they bless him too. The family opens up to the wider set of relationships of extended family. The Ghost “exulted” and opened its “capacious palm” spreading generosity and joy. Then they pass onto various reaches of society to the limit of the land at the lighthouse and then out to sea. The men at sea were cheerful and kind. Scrooge is over the deep, the “lonely darkness of an unknown abyss whose depths were secrets as profound as death.” And then he hears his own nephew, also cheerful and filled with joy of the day; he hears his niece and nephew discuss the waste of his wealth – “he doesn’t do any good with it.” Scrooge’s nephew still has a kind thought for him, pities him. 
The children play games  – signifying the childhood of Christ. Scrooge is drawn into the games and again seems to recover the spirit of the child. Like a boy he wants to play and never leave. But Scrooge flies on. He learns the “precepts” of the Ghost of Christmas present: hope, cheerfulness, generosity. One last time Scrooge must confront the character of his old self. As he sees the “hideous and miserable” vision of two children, called ignorance and want, Scrooge hears his own words, “are there no prisons?” and “are there no workhouses?” A man without pity, a man without heart, and therefore no man at all, Scrooge has now become a man, through the spirit of Christmas. 
 FUTURE: The spirit of the future is dark and mute. It has really but one message or image, that of death. We encounter two deaths – Scrooge’s and Tiny Tim’s. Scrooge says he is ready, with a thankful heart because he “hopes to live as another man from what I was.” A meditation upon death is salutary, a consideration of the final things. And Scrooge comes one last time to see his extreme isolation — he was already dead in spirit and in love.  No one knew and no one cared whether he lived or died. The lady says “he was a wicked old miser” and he was not “natural” or else he would have had a friend or family member visit him at the time of his death. In death he is stripped of every last vestige of dignity as the beggars take his sheets, his clothes, his drapes. Scrooge has a moment of recognition – “I see, I see the case of the unhappy man might be my own.” It is. But he must know, “my life tends that way now.” There is a power greater than death, and it is the Christian way of the cross. Death cannot destroy the memory of love. Though the sign of death is a limp or heavy hand and the still pulse – men will recall that “The hand was open, generous, and true; the heart brave, warm, and tender, and the pulse a man’s.” No one says a noble word for Scrooge. And then they move to the home of the Cratchit’s. Tiny Tim has died and the family grieves, the father is hit particularly hard. He walks more slowly without Tiny Tim on his shoulder. His family comforts him. But he breaks down in sobs of grief, “my little child.” Scrooge’s nephew showed them kindness. Tiny Tim becomes the sign of reconciliation and love. They pledge never to forget Tiny Tim. And because of his example of patience and kindness, they are pledged to greater love and forgoing  quarrel. Dickens says “thy childish essence was from God.” The visitation ends with the explicit recognition of his death, an understanding that his life tends that way, but it may be changed. He cries out “I will not be the man I must have been.” And the final pledge to Christ(mas) is made: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all year. I will live in the past, the present, and the future.” The vision fades.

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