December 14, 1989

BOOK REVIEW: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Reviewed by Ira Pilgrim.

The master has done it again in this superb tale of an individualist who is brought to his knees by social pressure.

The hero, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a wonderfully crusty old codger who keeps his own council. He refers to alms giving as "a poor excuse to pick a man's pocket" and to Christmas as a "humbug." At first, he appears to resist all of the pressures applied by people to get him to conform -but not for long.

His clerk, a nebish who seems content to spend his entire life adding up columns of numbers, contributes to Ebenezer's downfall. This servile character, Bob Cratchit is married and has many children, including a crippled son whose primary attribute seems to be a perpetual cheerfulness. By playing upon his employer's sympathies, Cratchit extracts a small bonus and part of a day off.

While on the surface, Scrooge resists the pressures around him, subliminal influences attack his subconscious. He has a dream in which he is visited by three spirits: one of Christmas Past, one of Christmas Present and one of Christmas Yet to Come.

The Spirit of Christmas Past takes him on a journey through the nostalgia of his youth and his courtship of a silly girl who finds his individuality and shyness sufficient reason to leave him for another. His resistance begins to weaken when he perceives that those who conform are rewarded.

The second spirit shows him the present with all of its misery. It points out Ebenezer's loneliness and misery as contrasted with his witless clerk's apparent happiness.

The Spirit of Christmas Yet to Come plays on Ebenezer's sympathies and implies that he, Scrooge, could save the life of Tiny Tim, Cratchit's genial son. It also adds the message that any dolt appears to gets more joy out of life than Scrooge does.

Scrooge awakens an enlightened man and proceeds to use some of his money to purchase good will and surcease of loneliness.

This is a mere outline of the plot. The novel is replete with nuance and the character portrayals are masterpieces of precision. In fact, Scrooge's downfall is portrayed so subtly, that the unwary reader might take it to be his reform.

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