While Christmas Day has past and the New Year is about to begin, I still wanted to convey my thoughts on the iconic Ebenezer Scrooge in my first ever Content of Character post which I teased at earlier in the year. As I was in process of gathering my thoughts about Scrooge’s evolution as a character, a recent post caught from a blog that I had been following for the past couple of months caught my attention. Entitled “Departing from Stoicism: Allowing Ourselves To Feel” fellow blogger, Lance Price, discusses how people mistakenly cut themselves off from feeling pain. He states that,
Some are convinced they have overcome pain with a numbness of heart, but they live in disillusionment; their attitude towards pain weakens their ability to handle the rest of their life adequately, and consequently, they have not overcome pain, but have been submersed in its misery while trying not to blink an eye or shed a tear.
In many ways this is what Scrooge had done for most of his adult life. Dickens himself described in the opening chapter how he would “…edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance…” This is displayed in the way he consistently declined the invitation to come have Christmas dinner with his nephew Fred along with his wife and friends.
As the first ghost shows Scrooge his past, we are given insight into not only how he came to detest Christmas but also how he came to adopt his own brand of stoicism. Having been left alone at Christmas for most of childhood, his company was limited to books. The closest relationship that young Ebenezer had was his sister Fan (or Fran as she is sometimes known). Not much information is given about his relationship with his father, but there is indication in the Fan’s conversation with Scrooge that the relationship was strained. As to why is up to debate since Dickens never did explain; however, several adaptations take the approach that it was because his father blamed him for the death of his mother, having died as she gave birth to him. While this is speculation and not based on Dickens’ novel it would explain and parallel Scrooge’s disdain for his nephew since Fan died when giving birth to Fred. The next closest relationship he had was with Belle, his betrothed who broke off their engagement after noticing a change in his spirit. In her reproach, she described what she had seen in Scrooge:
“You fear the world too much…All your other 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.”
Now this is me theorizing, but I believe that his changed nature was the result of Fan’s death. In order to keep himself from feeling the pain of the loss of his sister, Scrooge completely absorbed himself in his work and in process made him unwilling to interact with anyone in a meaningful way much less developing closer relationships including with the woman that he intended to marry. Just to be clear I am not blaming Belle for leaving him; she gave him a chance by pointing out the unhealthy behavior that he was allowing fester within him. But he made the choice to stay where he was, which led to his transformation into the cold-hearted and unfeeling man we see at the beginning of the story.
As we have seen with Scrooge, stoicism isn’t always beneficial but it is understandable why people are attracted it. The promise it provides of not allowing pain to hurt you, sounds good; however, this is not truly possible. To take another quote from Price’s post,
Like the way we are designed to have desires (i.e. food, relationship, purpose, etc.), we are also designed to feel, and when we choose to pretend that we don’t have feelings, that doesn’t turn them off—we just live in denial—which contradicts the reality that our feelings are being compartmentalized in a place where they aren’t managed properly, where we don’t learn from them or with them, and where their negligence undermines our innate desire to live passionately; the very opposite of a numbness of heart.
Stocism doesn’t fix the problem; it only masks it. It’s like taking a painkiller without fixing a broken leg. You probably won’t feel the pain so it doesn’t bother you but as a result you can’t walk and go anywhere. There needs to be realization that something is broken before the healing process can begin.
Isn’t it interesting that when the Ghost of Christmas Past shows him the painful memories, Scrooge begs for them to be taken away. However it is only by allowing yourself to feel pain that can you truly appreciate joy. Those painful memories served to open Scrooge’s heart so that he could ultimately accept on the love of Christmas and with it the joy of living in the past, the present and the future. In her book Hearing the Gospel through Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”, Rev. Cheryl Anne Kincaid describes Scrooge’s transformation:
Scrooge has learned that his life is not just about himself. His past, present and future have been lived in a community of people. Scrooge had some tough times, but he also had the love of a sister, the encouragement of Mr. Fizzywig and the grace of a fiancé, and the loyalty of his clerk and nephew. (p. 134)
Scrooge was never truly alone. He had support he needed all along the way. All he needed to do was engage.
Stoicism has a tendency to isolate people from the love that family, friends and ultimately God. While stoic philosophy of the ancient Greeks has some merits, the problem is that it places faith in an idea not a relationship. Jules Evans addresses this when he compared Stoicism and Christianity, stating that one of (and I think the most important difference) is that “In Christianity, love is more important than rationality.” He explains,
…this is partly why Christianity is much better at community than Stoicism – because communities need to be grounded in love, not rationality. If a community is grounded in rationality, it immediately leads to a stiff hierarchy of the rational. Love, by contrast, resists hierarchies. Love is gentle, vulnerable, humble, serving.
When Scrooge is free from the burden that he had placed on himself, he was able to demonstrate the love that he had denied to give towards his loyal clerk Bob Cratchit and his faithful nephew Fred.
Christmas is a celebration that reminds us of how love led God to take on the form of human baby so that he could restore the broken relationship between humanity and Himself. This makes Fred’s expression of his love for Christmas even more poignant:
“…I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as 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. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
Thankfully Ebenezer Scrooge came to share the same affection for the season has his nephew did and in the process turned his repressed and dreary into an open and joyful one. So as this year draws to a close, remember to keep Christmas like Scrooge did throughout the new years to come.