‘A Christmas Carol:’ It’s Still the Pure of Heart That Matter
Monday, November 30, 2009
From the classic 1951 Scrooge with Alastair Sim, to the 1992 The Muppet Christmas Carol, to Disney’s 2009 3-D adaptation starring Jim Carrey, which opened at number one the first weekend in November, Dickens’ beloved A Christmas Carol has been in constant reproduction following its original 1843 publication. Generation after generation has sought to adapt the tale not only for film, but theatre, television, ballet, radio and opera.
David Sorensen, D.Phil., professor of English at Saint Joseph’s University says the story’s enduring appeal suggests that people continue to be moved by its simple but powerful message. “At the end of the day, as Dickens would say, it’s the pure of heart that matters.”
However, the tale of the stingy Ebenezer Scrooge and his miraculous conversion would have been perceived quite differently during its contemporary Victorian era, according to Sorenson, a Dickens and Carlyle scholar. “The Victorian era was saturated with humbug; to many Victorians, Scrooge would have been a hero.” Scrooge’s thriftiness, self-help motto, and his all around “go-get ‘em” attitude would have been revered by the Victorian middle class, to whom economic progress was of the utmost importance.
“It’s difficult to imagine a story more relevant to today’s society,” notes Sorensen. With former Chairman of the NASDAQ stock exchange Bernie Madoff pleading guilty to possibly the largest investment fraud in Wall Street history this past March, it seems the ghost of Christmas past has come back to haunt us, says Sorensen, who is also Associate Director of the Honors Program at SJU. “Reading Dickens, people will be inclined to ask ‘What has changed?’ Not much, in certain respects,” he says.
Victorian realities like the rich getting richer while children labored long into the night disgusted Dickens, who was himself a child laborer. Sorensen says, in writing the tale, Dickens provided a radical wake-up call to the industrialists and their intellectual acolytes, arguing that human beings cannot be defined by economic activities: that we are instead defined by acts of virtue. He made people confront the psychological price of behaving like Ebenezer Scrooge, Sorensen notes.
Sorensen finds the staying power of Dickens’ story encouraging, and maintains that so long as the most basic questions about what it means to be a citizen remain important, the story will remain important. “Dickens has a way of pricking the consciences of the rich, and awakening the hearts and dreams of the humble,” he says.