A Christmas Conversion
Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a beloved Christmas classic, but underneath the simple moral messages of the novella, are deep and sometimes disturbing themes and agendas. It’s no doubt that the novella is rooted in religious themes, but through research, I have come to my own conclusions about Dickens’ religious motivations for writing it. Most scholars and writers focus on the more obvious Dickens themes like class systems, poverty and various politics of the working class man. I certainly don’t deny that these themes are relevant and worthy of exploring, but as they’ve been done before, stepping into lesser known territories seemed more appropriate. This blog dissects the religious themes of the novella and presents the idea that he may have used A Christmas Carol as a vehicle for Christian propaganda and at times, even anti-Semitic themes. It’s very important to note that the ideas and themes presented here are not meant to demonize Charles Dickens or make him look a certain way. Instead, the contents of this work are to simply raise questions and offer a new perspective to how one views this classic.
On the surface, when one reads A Christmas Carol, the religious themes appear very light and non-confrontational. Christmas is portrayed as less about the birth of Jesus and more about the merriness and joyful gatherings of family and friends. On Christmas day, after Scrooge has reawakened as a new man, he goes to a church service, but the service is not described. His attendance at church is stated as more of a fact and he’s there to share his new found appreciation for life and the many ways to be grateful and charitable. The story comes off as if Dickens is less concerned with the technicalities or traditions of religion and being more concerned with telling a story about the human spirit and common goodness. The three ghosts that visit Scrooge are not rooted in religion, or, at least they aren’t written that way. The spirits are more elemental figures that exist in a non religious dimension. Heaven and Hell are not given any sort of attention with the spirits. The inclusion of the spirits mirror the mid-Victorian fascination with the paranormal, rather than a religious reference.
Now that a surface-level perspective on the novella has been revealed, it’s time to look a bit closer and inspect the possibilities of deeper meanings. As Scrooge awakens Christmas day as a new person, it’s fair to assume that it might be reflecting a Christian convergence. Scrooge was a rude, selfish, miserable person, who thought that everyone else should be miserable too. After being jolted into awareness by the three spirits, he makes a sharp change of character and lives life much differently. Could this be mirroring an atheist converting to Christianity? Could this mirror a scientist converting? These questions are more important than just a simple Christan conversion. What Scrooge converted from is far more interesting. Perhaps the conversion is about a Jewish man converting to Christianity, and A Christmas Carol is, in fact, anti-Semitic.
Throughout Dickens’ writing career, he’s been accused of being anti-Semitic a couple of times. Most notably, the character of Fagin in Oliver Twist saw a lot of critical scrutiny. To combat these criticisms, Dickens later edited Oliver Twist, to tone down Fagin’s character. A Christmas Carol is not one of the more popular source for critics, but it should be looked at. “Ebeneezer,” is a relatively common Hebrew name coming from the Old Testament. Taking a look at the physical qualities of Scrooge, the idea that he’s Jewish isn’t so hard to believe. Not to start stereotyping and profiling, but we live in a world full of these things and they aren’t isolated to the modern world. They existed back in 1843, when A Christmas Carol was published. He’s described as having a “pointed nose,”(Dickens 1373). So far, Scrooge is pointy-nosed, miserable Jew. It’s entirely possible that Charles Dickens crafted a story to follow the conversion of a bitter old Jew into a born-again Christan.
Any writer, actor, painter, or any form of artist, for that matter, probably wouldn’t want to be called anti-Semitic or be accused of forcing propaganda in their art. However, the fact that people are still talking about an artists’ work, long after the artist has passed on from this world, is an achievement in itself. Some of the most brilliant artists in the world are those who stir up controversy and keep scholars and enthusiasts guessing. There is not a shred of definitive proof that Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol with a sinister or religious propaganda based agenda, but the act of uncovering such possibilities is exciting. These giants of literature have left behind little clues for people to find and keep searching.Regardless, Charles Dickens left behind a wonderful catalog of literary classics. His work and the the study of his work will surpass many years to come.
Dickens, Charles. “A Christmas Carol.” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. Ed. David Damrosch and Kevin J. H. Dettmar. Boston: Longman, 2010. 1376-1425. Print.
Konnova, Maria. “Ch. Dickens’s A Christmas Carol: The Axiology Of Holiday Time. (English).” Vestnik IKBFU 2 (2014): 43-51. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 May 2014.
O’Neill, John. “Dickens and Jews: An uncomfortable issue.” The News Herald. The News-Herald, 10 Nov. 2012. Web. 1 May 2014. <http://www.thenewsherald.com/articles/2012/11/10/life/doc5093f2492b752646707570.txt?viewmode=2>.
Rowell, Geoffrey. “Dickens And The Construction Of Christmas.” History Today 43.12 (1993): 17-24. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 1 May 2014.