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  • Writer's pictureMaureen Seel

A Christmas Carol: Improving the future by letting go of the past

I had mentioned in the first part of this three-part series that I planned to write about "A Christmas Carol" not quite in order, compared to the traditional telling of the story. In the last installment, I discussed how Scrooge had been holding onto trauma in his past. When we first met Scrooge, he was bitter, cynical, angry, and cruel toward his fellow human beings. We learned how Ebenezer's past had shaped his opinions of people and created a feeling of mistrust and hopelessness.

An interesting difference between the book and the "Muppet Christmas Carol" is how the story of the ghost of Christmas Past ends. In the Muppet movie, the Ghost just sort of vanishes. In the book, however, Scrooge tries to hide or stamp it out. He uses an "extinguisher cap" to literally put out the spirit's light, effectively destroying him. But that's the thing about the past, the spirit may not be visible any longer, but the effects are. Trauma doesn't go away when you sweep it under the rug or "snuff it out". It just means you're ignoring the "elephant in the room"

I mentioned in part one of this "three-parter" that I feel like this book creates a sort of multiverse scenario with two different possible outcomes or futures. The future that we see in the book is only one of two possible outcomes, but another that is hinted at or alluded to at the end of the novel. Both realities branched from the same past. What had to change was the present moment. But instead of jumping to that part, I will save the applicable life lessons for the third and final entry about this, my favorite of Dicken's novels. Instead in this part of the analysis, I want to examine what became of Scrooge when he visited his future with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The book and the movie were fairly close in how they described this part of Scrooge's story. Whether it is through the eyes of people that barely knew Ebenezer or those of people that knew him at least as much as Scrooge would permit another person to know him, what we see is that the memories that Scrooge left behind were nothing but negative. First Ebenezer overhears people from the business circles of London discussing a gentleman that passed away the night before. They describe that nobody knows or cares how it happens-they just know he's dead. They describe a funeral that few will be likely to attend and they wonder what will become of his business (more importantly, his money) now that he's gone.

Next, the Ghost shows Scrooge to a dodgy area of town and a run-down "house" where a peddler is meeting with a couple of his acquaintances. They bring items for "Old Joe" to sellIn the Muppet version of the story, Joe comments how the blanket stolen from Scrooge's bed was still warm, though he has no intention of paying any extra for this. The woman that brought it replies "You should. It's the only warmth he ever had."

The book takes this depressing outcome a step further when Scrooge begs the spirit to take him somewhere that he can hear a person be sad about the man's death (as he doesn't know yet that it is his own story, though he no doubt has his suspicions). The only emotion that Scrooge is able to observe is a woman who is relieved that Scrooge has died, as she and her husband would have, no doubt, lost their home if Scrooge had lived much longer. Their debt will be transferred to another lender, but they bought themselves at least a week or so of air.

Lastly, the ghost takes Scrooge to check in on the family of Scrooge's bookkeeper, Bob Cratchit. It was established pretty early on in the story (before the Ghost of Christmas present arrived) that Bob is underpaid and can't afford to get warm clothing. His family is not well off, and their income goes toward paying for their home and necessities for their children. Their youngest child is Tiny Tim, a boy with an unspecified illness (though some have speculated tuberculosis, kidney failure, cerebral palsy, or polio). In the second part of the book, he endears himself to Ebenezer who seems to take an immediate liking to Tim, only to find out later, during this fateful visit with the ghost from the future that the boy has died. The only tender emotion that Scrooge observes that Christmas Day in this version of the future is a family's grief that he himself had caused.

So-SUPER depressing, right? Nobody cares that Scrooge died unless you count the couple that was relieved at not having to pay their debt to him immediately. He didn't make a bit of a positive difference for anyone during his life. His attempts to snuff out his past and ignore it wouldn't lead anywhere positive. He had to look at what the ghost of Christmas Past told him, examine it, and learn from it.

And this is where I bring it back around to the fact that this book creates a multiverse scenario. The reality we read about in the latter part of the book is one in which Scrooge did not change his miserly ways. And because of that, he hurt those around him, from the poor working in poor houses without a decent meal to the carol-singer outside his office that fled in terror of Scrooge's wrath. And, of course, there is Tiny Tim who died tragically and unnecessarily because of Ebenezer's cruelty. Scrooge had allowed his past to continue to poison and affect him throughout his life until he died a miserable and lonely man with nothing to show for his years on earth except his bed linens to be sold for change.

Scrooge had been so busy focusing on his past, seeing himself as damaged, that he thought it was too late for him. He allowed his sadness and anger to destroy the chances he had of making a difference not only in his own life but that of others as well. It was at that moment, when he saw how the Cratchit family was suffering at the loss of their youngest child, that I think Scrooge decided things had to change. He did not want to see another child hurt the way he had been, not if there was something he could do about it. See, he can't go back and change his past, as the ghost of Christmas Past pointed out. And his future could only be altered if he deviated from his present course.

This is where I will leave you for this evening. We will pick up next time with the third and final installment of the three-part "Christmas Carol" series, as we examine the present and what it looked like to actually live in it for those in Dicken's Tale. If you've never read the book before, I strongly recommend that you do! You can even listen to it for free on YouTube at the link below or, even better, go watch the Muppet Version on Disney Plus and laugh and cry all at the same time. (Rizzo is the best and this is a hill I'm willing to die on).


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