December is a lot of things for a lot of people. For me? Well, it’s mostly a race to finish A Christmas Carol before winter break begins. The Dickens classic is part of the curriculum so I’m up to my eyeballs in ghosts, chains, and mince pies.
While the iconic antihero Ebenezer Scrooge is typically held up as the opposite of kindness and consideration, I’m finding I can’t totally write him off this year. No, it’s not that I’m turning into a sourpuss myself. It’s simply that there are a few lines that pre-reformation Scrooge spouts off that really resonated with me this Christmas season.
“Darkness is cheap and Scrooge liked it.”
After an apparition appears on his door knocker, Scrooge does what any sensible human being would do. He quickly locks himself in and checks his door twice. And while I might pop for a few extra pennies–or pounds, as the case may be–if I were anticipating a haunting as he is, the narrator makes it clear when Scrooge spends time in his home even on this night, it is a dark place indeed.
Of course, it’s a metaphor. Just like the fog in the air, there’s a pervasive darkness that follows Scrooge wherever his blackened heart goes. But there’s also a sensible reason behind the darkness: it costs less. Ever the penny pincher, Scrooge feels much like I do. If one
candle light will do, that’s all you need.
In the delightful George C. Scott version of the film, there’s a scene that mirrors my life on a daily basis.
Bob Cratchit Mr. P sneaks into the other room to increase the heat a few degrees. He’s cold after all. For anyone who engages in the Great Thermostat Wars of Winter, you might want to add this quip to your arsenal: “Garments were invented by the human race as protection against the cold. Once purchased, they may be used indefinitely for the purpose for which they are intended.” BOOM. Step away from the thermostat, Mr. P.
“…a time for paying bills without money.”
Scrooge reveals his colors very early on in the story when he replies to his nephew’s Christmas greeting with “Bah Humbug!” and later promises to see him in hell*. There’s no justifying rudeness. There simply isn’t.
*When my students decode their way through the actual line to realize what a naughty phrase Dickens has cleverly concealed, it’s probably the best literary present I have given them to date. Just wait until we get to Shakespeare and his insults.
But before this year, I dismissed Scrooge’s entire diatribe as obtuse nattering. But this year, a line caught my attention in a new way. When Scrooge tries to explain why he doesn’t keep Christmas, he asks his nephew, “What’s Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, but not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in ’em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you?” This inquiry might have to go in the win column for the curmudgeon of Christmas.
With the average American clocking in at over $900 on Christmas expenses, there’s no question that many of us will, in fact, be trying to pay bills without money. Ah, Dickens. If only you could see consumer debt now.
But wait, it gets better. We’ve come a long way in our ability to rack up a debt and hoard since 1843. So the 1984 movie version has altered the line, perhaps in keeping with the times and our love of all things excess. Here, Scrooge scoffs, “What’s Christmas but a time for buying things for which you have no need and no money?” What, indeed.
So perhaps this year, I should be teaching my students about Scrooge the environmentalist. Better yet, maybe we will discuss Scrooge the minimalist. In fact, Dickens beat out Thoreau by over a decade and didn’t have to shack up in his friend’s backyard to do it.
I kid. I kid, of course.
While I may never be able to paint a rosy hue on the ignorant and indignant miser that is Ebeneezer Scrooge, I must say that finding him slightly more relatable gives me pause. And makes me smile. That, my friends, is the magic of literature.
So Tell Me…How do you feel about Scrooge? Did these lines surprise you?