Critique of Christmas Time in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol
An audience member's gleeful first-hand account of Charles Dickens's public reading of "A Christmas Carol" unwittingly exposes an often overlooked contradiction in the story's climax: "Finally, there is Scrooge, no longer a miser, but a human being, screaming at the 'conversational' boy in Sunday clothes, to buy him the prize turkey 'that never could have stood upon his legs, that bird'" (96). Perhaps he is no longer a miser but, by this description, Scrooge still plays the role of a capitalist oppressor, commanding underlings to fetch him luxuries. While Dickens undoubtedly lauds Scrooge's epiphany and ensuing change, "A Christmas Carol" also hints at the author's resentment for an industrial society's corrupted notion of the "Christmas spirit."
Through instances of goodwill which Christmas provokes, Dickens suggests that Christmas is only an interruptive exception from the otherwise capitalistic calendar. Even when Scrooge becomes altruistic, as in the above scene, his philanthropy still operates under the guise of capitalism, measured in economic terms and aimed ultimately at providing himself with pleasure.
Dickens subtly turns his critique of ephemeral and selfish "holiday time" to the reader. The straightforward, Aristotelian structure of the narrative and the constant foreshadowing and repetition reduce any potential anxiety about the story's outcome. The main cause for anxiety over the conclusion of any sentimental tale is to identify with the protagonist in some way. Although Scrooge is a caricature with whom few would commiserate (or admit to so doing), Dickens's Three Spirits lure us into sympathy with the miser while simultaneously engendering empathy in him. But the production of Scrooge's humanity is just that, a manufactured, nearly focus-group mode of voyeurism that attacks Scrooge at his most vulnerable and solipsistic‹either forcing upon him visions of his harm to others or, more saliently, of his own past and future selves at their lowest. For Dickens, the altruism Christmas breeds is a false exercise in guilt-reduction, and the pat ending of "A Christmas Carol" reinforces this; the satisfaction of listening to a story whose conclusion is never imperiled (and grows more knowable with each year's retelling) spares the reader the self-examination Scrooge endures that a darker turn might provoke.
Christmas is only a bright spot if the rest of the year is comparatively dark, and Dickens exposes this contrast through Scrooge's nephew's optimistic ruminations on
'Christmas timeŠas a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.' (8-9)
The nephew's breakdown...