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A miserly 19th-century London businessman attempts to maintain his emotionally guarded world view in the light of a psychological onslaught from three Christmas spirits.


Medium: Novella (© 1843)

Author(s): Charles Dickens (1812-1870)

In Charles Dickens' classic story, A Christmas Carol, the main character, Ebenezer Scrooge, is a wealthy miser. There are many ways for rich men to behave—some spend freely; others seem always to be searching for new ways to increase their holdings. But Scrooge is neither of those. Scrooge is a miser. He maintains a very close eye on the money he has and is reticent to part with it for even his own basic needs, much less those of others. As Charles Dickens describes him:

"Oh! But he was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone... Hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret, and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster."

When it comes to money, Ebenezer Scrooge is a keep character—and his vector of intent involves keeping what he has, not betting the house or grabbing greedily for more in the attempt to satisfy an insatiable hunger. In this respect, he presents a stark and interesting contrast to Gordon Gekko, the power-hungry corporate raider from the film Wall Street, who is all about gaining.

In the context of the story, keeping is what Scrooge is about—both his money and a convenient world view that permits him to be stingy. And at the beginning of the story, he is satisfied with his world as it exists. Notice, I did not say that he is "happy," only that he is content with the condition of his world to the extent that he sees no need to take action to change it. Again, Dickens writes:

"It was the very thing he liked. To edge his way along the crowded paths of life, warning all human sympathy to keep its distance..."

We-the-audience might find the value of that satisfaction lacking, but at the beginning of the story Scrooge possesses a condition of value that he treasures—a comfortable isolation and miserliness. And if left to himself, that condition would likely continue to exist until he died a lonely old man.

The problem for Scrooge, of course, is that Dickens does not leave him to himself. He visits him with agents of change—first the ghost of Jacob Marley and then the three ghosts who adjure him to change his manner of thinking. The resulting tag-team fight is between Scrooge, whose intent is to keep the miserliness that he treasures, and the ghosts, who spend the night attacking his world view and trying to tear down the walls of selfishness that he has spent years constructing.

Scrooge is, in every way, a keep character. His intent is to keep his world as it is—to survive the attacks of the ghosts and to wake in the morning unchanged. And because his general miserliness is a keep characteristic, his vector of intent in the story is entirely consistent with his general nature.

If Dickens had imbued him with an insatiable captain-of-industry lust for financial conquest, the story would change entirely, not only in its particulars but in the goals of both Scrooge and the ghosts. Because he did not do so, however, A Christmas Carol is devoid of actions that seem false or contrived.

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