From the opening stave to its ending “God bless Us, Every One,” Dickens’ words are full of meaning and descriptive detail. During a recent reading, I noticed how the author conveys his message of life, love and selflessness by appealing to readers’ inherent reactions to light and weather – specifically the cold weather and dark nights that accompany this time of year – to impress the seriousness of the change Scrooge undertakes throughout the book.
When Scrooge is first introduced by Dickens, he is called “tight-fisted … a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner.” Dickens writes that “external heat and cold had little influence on Scrooge. No warmth could warm, no wintry weather could chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty. Foul weather didn’t know where to have him.”
And so Scrooge kept his work and his living quarters cold, practically devoid of warmth. The Christmas Eve night of this story was described as “cold, bleak, biting weather: foggy withal,” and yet Scrooge seemed impervious to its effects. “The cold within him froze his old features, nipped his pointed nose, shriveled his cheek” and “stiffened his gait.” “A frosty rime was on his head, and on his eyebrows, and his wiry chin. He carried his own low temperature always about with him.”
In contrast, the people in the court outside Scrooge’s office were “wheezing up and down, beating their breasts, and stamping their feet upon the pavement stones to warm them.” When Scrooge’s nephew stops by the counting house for a visit, his face was “all in a glow” in response to walking rapidly through the fog and frost. And Scrooge’s lowly clerk, who shares a work space with old Scrooge, is described a trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to add a piece of coal to the office’s small fire, and instead makes efforts to warm himself by a candle.
Throughout the entire first stave, Dickens constantly reminds readers just how dark and cold this particular Christmas Eve really is and what little Scrooge does to react to or change the freezing conditions. The source of Scrooge’s dark, chilling nature is revealed when two people stop by his office to collect for the poor and destitute.
“It’s not my business,” Scrooge replied to the visitors. “It’s enough for a man to understand his own business, and not to interfere with other people’s. Mine occupies me constantly.”
Speaking of business, after Scrooge walks home that Christmas Eve through the “foggier yet, and colder! Piercing, searching, biting cold,” he receives a visit from the ghost of his seven-years’ dead partner, Jacob Marley, who reminds Scrooge what business he ought to be about.
Puzzled at what contributed to Marley’s sad state, Scrooge said, “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob.”
“Business! cried the ghost, wringing its hands again. Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
Marley goes on to explain that at Christmastime he and others like him suffer most. He bemoans walking through crowds with “eyes turned down.” In fact, a few moments later, Scrooge sees another ghost who “cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant.”
“The misery with them all,” Dickens wrote, “was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.”
As the story goes, Scrooge is haunted by three spirits who help him to see the world through the eyes of others. They help him see the error of his ways and to live Christmas in his heart – to live it in “the Past, Present, and the Future.”
When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning, he is a changed person. This change is illustrated in Dickens’ words as Scrooge “running to his window, opened it and put out his head. No fog, no mist; clear, bright, jovial, stirring cold; cold, piping for the blood to dance to; Golden sun-light; Heavenly sky; sweet fresh air; merry bells. Oh, glorious! Glorious!”
As I mentioned at the start of this column, Christmastime is my favorite time of year. It warms my heart to see so many people who choose to see the world through the eyes of others and live Christmas as Dickens described. As the editor of this newspaper, I have seen stories of many in this county who have given of themselves to serve others.
As the new year approaches, our challenge will be to keep this spirit in our hearts throughout the year. There are many among us who live in coldness and darkness without hope of change. It is our opportunity to decide whether to be impervious to these conditions, refusing to do anything to try to change them, or to react and make mankind our business.
Everyone we meet has a past, a present and a future and we can make life warmer and happier for those around us, if we choose. We can, as Dickens describes, “interfere, for good, in human matters.”
So here’s wishing a very merry Christmas and happy holidays to the residents of Iron County. Let’s make this coming year one of helping, happiness and warmth in our hearts.