In defence of Ebeneezer Scrooge
Every year the same old piece of pro over-consumption is trotted out; specifically versions of Charles Dickens ‘A Christmas Carol’. The maudlin story containing a hidden threat that somehow one will be punished by supernatural forces for not emptying one’s bank account, instead spending one’s hard earned on tackiness and waste. Dickens mawkish polemic of seasonal propaganda could not have been written better by some shadowy organisation whose aim is to drain everyone’s bank account once a year.
Gift giving in some circles has disappeared beyond the ridicule event horizon. In some it resembles the custom of Potlach, where items of value are destroyed in a massive display of one upmanship “Hey, look how much I can afford to throw away!”. In others the gift becomes almost a competition “Hey, I can afford to give you this big shiny thing because I’m better than you”. In others a bribe “I hope this shiny thing makes up for my total indifference towards you over the past year”.
Money replaces sentiment. Cash subverts emotion. Not to follow the pack leads to accusations of ‘Scrooge!’ after Charles Dickens fictional creation in ‘A Christmas Carol’.
Personally, I feel that Dickens unfairly traduced the character of poor Mister Scrooge, painting him as villain rather than victim. Through the medium of Dickens story, we see a man embittered by being denied love, subsequently hiding his emotional life from rapacious relatives and a hostile world. We see him struggle to stay in business, maintaining a frugal lifestyle, whilst manfully saving for old age and potential infirmity. No NHS or Social Services for the Self-employed in Victorian times. No remaining close family? For those who had no blood relatives to care for them, there was only the terror of the Poor House in those days.
So, when Scrooge maintains an austere business model in a time of financial recession, Dickens holds him up for censure because of his model of thrifty behaviour. Denying himself creature comforts Scrooge becomes the very model of probity and austerity. In times of shortage a man to be copied, not scorned. In the exacting business of a small counting house, he is seen to demand as much from himself as his employees. Promptness, accuracy, and attention to detail his businesses only defence against penury. His laughter when counting out his small, hard won fortune should therefore be viewed not as a mean maniacal cackle, but rather one of relief, a sense of pleased propriety that he has funds to continue another day.
Scrooge, Dickens appears to contend, is merely callous because he has little time for the fecklessness of Bob Cratchit. He points to the acts of thrift and necessary discipline within the workplace as meanness and heartlessness, not the deeds of a business owner struggling to maintain employee payroll and premises. Scrooge is furthermore not a profligate man, he ‘lives over the shop’ and I would argue that he is not the miser Dickens portrayed, but rather a struggling small businessman with many sterling attributes. To be emulated rather than abhorred. Therefore for us to cheer his supernatural persecution is in itself an uncharitable, and one might say reprehensible, act.