His name is synonymous with a miser, the epitome of avarice and greed.
It’s funny (and a little sad) that we remember Ebenezer Scrooge as he was, not as the man he became. But every story needs a villain, and while Scrooge was not the villain, Scrooge-the-miser was. Man vs. Self. The challenge to improve and be our best self.
Is it any wonder A Christmas Carol reshaped the celebration of Christmas and remains a favorite story of the season? (It is said that any TV show that runs long enough will eventually do a Christmas Carol episode; Quantum Leap was s3e10.)
As the story begins, Scrooge is the “tight-fisted hand at the grindstone” his name evokes. He has lost his love for life, for his fellow man. He lives in misery, the surviving partner of Scrooge and Marley. He wants nothing more than to be left alone.
But for some reason—and I suspect his late sister, Fan, was behind it—the spirits sought Scrooge out to redeem him.
Jacob’s message was simple and straightforward, but it’s one of which we need to be frequently reminded: Life (and the afterlife) is one indivisible whole. You cannot divorce your actions from the outcomes they produce.
When the bell tolled one, Scrooge embarked on his journey with the first spirit. They returned to Scrooge’s childhood, when he still knew love and the world was a wonderous place. He may have been sent off to boarding school, but he was the master of his fate. He had plans for the future.
Then, as it so often does, life started to happen.
His sister died. Fan meant the world to him. Dickens doesn’t tell us how she died, though Dickensian scholars agree that she died giving birth to Fred. At the very least, Fred reminded his uncle of Fan, and it strained their relationship. Fred had his mother’s capacity to love and that love was the only reason Scrooge had any contact with family.
Fan’s loss severely impacted Scrooge’s need to love and be loved. What happens when a need isn’t being met? We pour everything we can into compensating for it. Scrooge was an up-and-comer in the world of business, so he doubled down in that area of his life. It cost him.
The second spirit helped Scrooge see things as they really were. Scrooge meets Tiny Tim the same that we do. He knew nothing about the Cratchit family. Bob, to his credit, had never tried to use his ill son as leverage to garner a raise out of Scrooge.
The Ghost of Christmas Present showed him that all around the world, the poor, who had no shadow of the security Scrooge was seeking in his wealth, were happy at Christmas. Scrooge was far down the wrong path. He had not found the solace he sought.
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come showed Scrooge how the choices he had made were going to play out. He would die alone, unmourned. A city would breathe a sigh of relief. And on a quiet street in Camden Town, a little crutch, without an owner, would rest by the chimney.
These were not the shadows of things which must be, but the shadows of things which may be only. After his overnight tour of his past, present, and future, Scrooge changed.
It wasn’t facing his own mortality, as so many adaptations imply. Scrooge didn’t have a change of heart because he suddenly realized he was going to die.
It was Love.
After losing Fan, Scrooge set down a path of trying to satisfy his needs in a way that he wouldn’t have to face loss of Love again. He was afraid, and Fear is a terrible helmsman. It’s not that he didn’t want to Love—he needed to feel a Security that he could Love and not lose them.
I don’t think Fan died giving birth to Fred. She lived long enough to teach Fred how to love, and she taught him well. Then she got sick and the family couldn’t afford the doctor to save her. Scrooge wasn’t going to lose someone else for a lack of money. In his grief, he chose the Security of wealth over the love of his fiancée, his friends, and his family (except Fred, who had Fan’s big heart).
This is why Tiny Tim is at the center of his redemption. Scrooge finally kicks Fear to the curb to make room in his heart for Love. He became a second father to Tiny Tim, who was able to get the medical care he needed. “He did it all, and infinitely more… he became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old city knew.”
I think the haunting saved Scrooge’s life, too, not just his soul. Instead of dying alone in a few months’ time, there was someone to check on him. Maybe he invited the Cratchits to move in with him (he had the room). Maybe he started hiring house servants again. Either way, someone was there for him.
Scrooge and everyone who knew him thought it was too late for him to change course. Five spirits knew otherwise. It’s never too late to late. No matter how many choices we’ve made, we can always make a new choice and change the course of our lives. Of countless lives.
After that Christmas Eve, Scrooge “knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”