Bah, Humbug!

Published November 29, 2011 by Jennifer Loring

Thanks to countless film adaptations, there are few people not familiar with Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, even if they’ve never actually read it. The name “Scrooge” entered the lexicon as a synonym for “miser,” just as Dickens’ own name morphed into an adjective denoting extreme poverty. The injustices and outright cruelties of the Industrial Revolution against which he railed throughout his work find their mirror in our own time, when the positively sickening income disparity between rich and poor is at its highest in at least 80 years. That we are encouraged to buy and consume far beyond our means during this, the holiday season, by corporations who share the blame for many of our economic woes (yes, that means you, behemoth retailer whose name starts with “W” and ends with “Mart”) would have Dickens rolling in his grave.

One of Dickens’ great talents is manipulating his readers’ sympathies. Who doesn’t feel sorry for poor, crippled Tiny Tim, fated to die as a result of the poverty inflicted by Scrooge upon the Cratchits unless that wretched old man changes his ways? Who doesn’t want to kick Scrooge in the balls for being such a greedy, insufferable jerk? Let’s be honest, if Scrooge were transplanted to modern-day America, he’d be running the Tea Party, excoriating the poor for their laziness while holding down wages so that climbing out of the poverty pit is virtually impossible, thus ensuring a permanent underclass for the wealthy to stomp on. Scrooge’s relevance to America’s current predicament makes this book more timely than it’s been probably since its publication. The most frightening development since Dickens’ time is that so many of the poor have been been convinced that they, not the tax-dodging millionaires and mega-corporations, are the real problem. They listen to the people with the money tell them that they are lazy, stupid, worthless, and they believe it. Worse, they cling to the “bootstraps” delusion pontificated by any number of conservative blowhards; they aren’t like those “other” poor people–they work hard, damn it, and someday it’s going to pay off. Those who turn to social safety nets obviously have a character flaw. Fostered by a heinous hard-right political shift during the previous decade (“compassionate conservatism” is an oxymoron if there ever was one), the poor have been turned against each other.

When we reached that point, the wealthy had already won.

At this stage of my life, dangling over the precipice of middle age, the holiday season is to me nothing more than a nausea-inducing orgy of greed and consumerism. The religious aspect of the holiday lost its meaning long before I became an atheist. Today I see people ungrateful for the things they’re given; I see an appalling sense of entitlement from people who don’t have to scrape money together for this ritualistic approval-seeking from their loved ones; I see people being trampled, beaten, and pepper-sprayed over cheap plastic crap. And for what? For this: to maintain the illusion that they have more in common with their wealthy corporate and political masters than with those icky poor people. Poor people can’t afford flat-screen TVs and video game consoles. Never mind the debt slavery–hey, look over there! It’s on sale! And so we happily hand over what little we have to those who control us, convinced that one day we’ll be just like them. That we’ll be anything except poor, whom we are told to despise.

There may no longer be debtors’ prisons and workhouses, but–in this country, at least–bigotry and outright hatred of the poor has reached unprecedented levels. Scrooge had a change of heart, but only for the most cynical and self-serving of reasons–he didn’t want to die hated and alone. Did he genuinely care about the poor after the spirits’ visits? The text is ambiguous on that account. Dickens, great social commentator and critic that he was, would doubtless be skeptical; rather, Scrooge’s conversion reads more like wishful thinking from a man who knows altruism amongst the wealthy to be a miracle indeed.   

6 comments on “Bah, Humbug!

  • Very interesting point about Scrooge's alleged "change of heart" at the end of the story. Chris Shearer also brought up an interesting point in his post about how Scrooge didn't necessarily change, but changed his point of view. Regardless of how you look at it, I think this all goes to show that something seemed off concerning Scrooge's supposed transformation. Now that I think about it, it had seemed a bit strange to me as I read, and I hadn't been able to quite put a finger on it. Good post! Got me thinking.

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  • It's funny (but very cool): I love your writing and your honesty so much that I read all of your posts, even when we don't have class together, and enjoy your writing and your mind so much that I've twice asked you to partner with me for final papers, and yet our take on so many of the big-ticket items is so different. I love Christmas. I think it boils down to what you said. You're an atheist. If I didn't consider Jesus my Lord and savior, Christmas would probably seem "a nausea-inducing orgy of greed and consumerism." Really, without, as you call it, "the religious aspect," what's the point, right? So yeah, great, thought-provoking post, as usual, even if you're wrong and I'm right. >:)My only quibble: I think you're oversimplifying Scrooge's transformation as Dickens intended and presented it. Scrooge's tears start long before we see his corpse, and his warmth and concern for those he sees seem quite independent of his his later concern for himself. One more thing: These two sentences are some of the prettiest I've read in a long time: "The name "Scrooge" entered the lexicon as a synonym for "miser," just as Dickens' own name morphed into an adjective denoting extreme poverty. The injustices and outright cruelties of the Industrial Revolution against which he railed throughout his work find their mirror in our own time, when the positively sickening income disparity between rich and poor is at its highest in at least 80 years."

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  • You're pretty swell yourself, Dixon. šŸ˜€ I will miss your presence in my final RiG class.Sure, Scrooge may have regretted some things once he saw them replayed (who doesn't when they think about some of the things they've done?), but there was nothing he could do about it at that point, so I don't think it was enough to effect a real change. Once he realizes who the dead guy is–and he's no idiot; I suspect he knew long before the corpse was revealed, but that would have lessened the drama–it's all about saving himself. Like Chris S. said, he changed his point of view, but did *he* really change? I tend to doubt it.

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  • Hmm… but if Chris's argument is that he was *always* the good guy he "becomes"…And what of his "I would like to say something to my clerk" comment while he's watching old Fezziwig? As to your third RiG class, enjoy. As much as I'll miss our conversations, I'm excited to cut back on class stuff (I'm not taking the teaching class next semester, either).

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  • "…if Scrooge were transplanted to modern-day America, he'd be running the Tea Party, excoriating the poor for their laziness while holding down wages so that climbing out of the poverty pit is virtually impossible, thus ensuring a permanent underclass for the wealthy to stomp on."Jen,I didn't think to put Scrooge into a modern context. Very nice! Great line by the way. :)~Tara

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  • Ha! You and I are on the same wavelength when it comes to the suckiness of this time of year… Besides that, though, this is a well-written post and I like your observations about the current state of the world (including our wackadoo political climate)–I completely agree with all of it. By the way, I too, have a Charlie Brown Christmas Tree (and I'm so happy you and your boyfriend have one!!). I got it as a present a year ago from friends. I went to put it up this year at my Mom's and she said "What the heck is that thing?" I hung the little red ball on the droopy tree and said, "All it needs is a little love!" But she didn't get the quote. šŸ˜¦ Curses, foiled again.

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