-“No space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused.”-(Chp.1 page 22) I quote the words spoken by the haunting phantom of Jacob Marley to a terrified Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. These words draw our attention to the pain of a soul who has realized, only after his death, the evil of a life lived not for any other, but only for the self. It was Dickens’s intention to raise in A Christmas Carol “The ghost of an idea”; it was to convey to his readers a message for the season that could last the whole year round. It is a message that preaches the pure gospel of generosity and good will towards fellow men. It is a message bound to acquaint us with the richness that is vested in contentment, a message that invites us to understand the value of good nature and good humor. It is also a somber message that warns us of the consequences attached to greed and ill will, attached indeed like the chains attached to old Jacob Marley! –“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the ghost. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.”-(Chp.1 page 20) Finally, it is a message bent on illustrating to us quite clearly, that, for all the self-fixation greed affords us, it will leave us in the end with not a single tender comfort. These are the lessons Scrooge learned.
Dickens begins A Christmas Carol by making certain our knowledge that Scrooge’s old business partner Jacob Marley is dead, a fact of which I have already alluded to the importance of. We meet Scrooge for the first time in his dingy and ill heated counting house on the fall of a frigid Christmas Eve in 19th century London. Evening is drawing in, yet in the time Scrooge has before locking up, the avaricious old coot manages to spite the generous dinner invitation of his accommodating young nephew, reject the entreaty of two benevolent fund collectors, and, through the action of his limbs, threaten bodily harm to an innocent little caroler. After this is accomplished he returns home, intent on spending a very dismal evening. However, an unsettling event at his doorknocker leaves Scrooge in an apprehensive mood, and he double-locks himself into his quarters. Scrooge’s disquiet proves to be well founded, but the locks are of no use against the entity that is to come, and he is soon confronted by the specter of Jacob Marley, who in life had accustomed himself to the same miserly lifestyle. Marley’s spirit, bound in the chains of his own making, appears before Scrooge, and warns him that he too wears such a chain. That he may witness the human destitution of which he might have helped in life, but is now powerless to alleviate, Marley is cursed to endlessly wander the Earth. In parting, Marley tells Scrooge that to escape this fate he must weather the visitation of three spirits, and to expect the first spirit when the bell tolls one.
It is the first spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Past, who recalls to Scrooge the meaning of real worth: that the value of some things cannot be measured in coin. The spirit presents Scrooge with a Christmas from his youth, his attendance at a dance party hosted by his past employer, Mr. Fezziwig. The ardor of the recollected party intoxicates Scrooge, and his disposition returns to the gaiety of his former self. At an inquiry from the spirit, the truth of the lesson comes upon Scrooge with fervor.
-“He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three of four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?” “It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ‘em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”-(Chp.2 page 43)
In the advancement of his years, it is this truth that Scrooge shunned and forgot; for gain itself became his only care, his only principle. In a scene of his life revisited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge’s only love, Belle, warns him as much. –“You fear the world too much,” she answered, gently. “All your hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master passion, Gain, engrosses you. Have I not?”-(Chp.2 page 44) It is for this reason that Belle releases him, giving him up to the idol of gain, the sole pursuit of which rendered Scrooge utterly alone in life, without friends, without sympathizers; and when the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come shows him the unaltered shadows of the future, Scrooge looks upon his own neglected body, lying cold atop its deathbed. If his death was, among others, evocative of any emotion, relief stands alone, for Dickens writes of the body –“He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say that he was kind to me in this or that, and for the of one kind word I will be kind to him.”-(Chp.4 page 94) In the end, Scrooge realizes what he must do to right his life, and begs for a second chance, that he may strive in the lessons of the spirits. The terrible shadows of the future averted, the spirits return him home upon the morning of Christmas, a changed man.
The benefit of taking these messages to heart is immeasurable, indeed uncountable. If we live for gain, we will live in unrest, trying to fill a jar that can never be brimmed. If we live with generosity, we will reciprocate the love of others and live our lives to their fullest benevolent potential. If we are content, we will need nothing more, and our riches will exceed that of the wealthiest man. And if, in this way, our life’s opportunity is consummated, we will have no reason to regret; so in the words of Tiny Tim I say, “God bless us every one!”