Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and It’s Overlooked Biblical References

Could you imagine a classic motion picture with its most moving scenes removed from it?  Imagine the final moments from “Gone With the Wind”, where Clark Gable’s character, “Rhett Butler,” finally accepts the fact that his marriage to “Scarlett O’Hara”, will never be a happy and content one.  He steps out the doorway to enter the uncertain future, symbolized by the dense fog filled streets of Atlanta; he’s leaving their huge, childless mansion for the last time.  Scarlett, chases after him and cries out “Rhett, if you go, where shall I go? What shall I do?” and he replies:  “Frankly my dear I don’t give a d—!”1

How about Humphrey Bogart anguishing over the re-opened emotional wound caused by his old flame, played by Ingrid Bergman, reappearing in an out-of-the-way place in northern Africa called “Casablanca”:  Dressed for a night out but with nowhere to go, he sits alone in his darkened and closed cantina, trying to drown away his sorrow with alcohol when he cries out: “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.”2

In the 1940 masterpiece “The Grapes of Wrath,” a story of family survival in the Great Depression, Tom Joad, played by Henry Fonda, has to separate from his family to avoid the authorities hunting him.  He tells his mother, ‘Ma Joad,’ played by Jane Darwell, that though they may never see each other again he will never truly leave her:  “Well, maybe it’s like Casy says.  A fella ain’t got a soul of his own – just a little piece of a big soul. The one big soul that belongs to everybody…Then it don’t matter.  I’ll be all around in the dark. I’ll be everywhere – wherever you can look.  Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there.  Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there.  I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad.  I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry and they know supper’s ready.  And when the people are eatin’ the stuff they raise, and livin’ in the houses they build, I’ll be there, too.”3

These great lines and set arrangements from cinema and stage help us to peer into the mind of those characters to better understand them, their surroundings and circumstances. 

In the literary world there can also be classic lines, dialogue to help the author to do the same.  You probably can name some but one always missed comes from Charles Dickens.

Dickens as you know wrote the all-time favorite “A Christmas Carol” in the 1840’s.  He included information in it that he must have felt would acknowledge the predominate faith his readers shared- a belief in Jesus Christ.  This Christian underpinning though has never quite made it onto the big screen or television versions of the story.  For that reason I think Dickens would be greatly disappointed if he were around today.

For instance, remember how at the beginning of the tale Scrooge saw the face of his seven-year dead business partner, Jacob Marley, on his door knocker?  He then goes into his house and up the stairs to his bed chamber.  Well, Dickens pen described the inside of the room as having a fireplace:

“The fireplace was an old one, built by some Dutch merchant long ago, and paved all around with quaint Dutch tiles, designed to illustrate the Scriptures.  There were Cains and Abels; Pharaoh’s daughters, Queens of Sheba, Angelic messengers descending through the air on clouds like feather-beds, Abrahams, Belshazzars, Apostles putting off to sea in butter-boats, hundreds of figures to attract his thought; and yet that face of Marley, seven years dead, came like the ancient Prophet’s rod, and swallowed up the whole.  If each smooth tile had been a blank at first, with power to shape some picture on its surface from the disjointed fragments of his thoughts, there would have been a copy of old Marley’s head on every one.”4

When he appears the ghost of Jacob Marley tells Scrooge about how he has suffered since his death for never caring about anyone or anything but himself and his business, and especially how he is especially tortured in the season of Christmas:

“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer the most.  Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode?  Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”5

As the story progresses Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas Present:

“You have never seen the like of me before!” exclaimed the Spirit.

“Never,” Scrooge answered.

“Have never walked forth with the younger members of my family; meaning (for I am very young) my elder brothers born in these later years?” pursued the Phantom.

“I don’t think I have,” said Scrooge.  “I am afraid I have not.  Have you had many brothers, Spirit?”

“More than eighteen hundred,” said the Ghost.6

Keeping in mind that Dickens’ classic was originally published in 1843, the ghost was making an obvious reference to the very first Christmas.

Later, the same spirit tells about how some on earth celebrate the season but live their daily lives as if it meant nothing to them.

“There are some upon this earth of yours,” returned the Spirit, “who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived.  Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.”7

Could Dickens have been referencing Christ’s message as it is recorded in the book of Matthew 7:22-23?  “Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

While walking the streets the specter stops two men from coming to blows. Scrooge asks him how he managed it and the ghost replies it was the spirit of Christmas cheer; a reference to the Holy Spirit?  The “helper” that Christ said he would send us is the very influence in our walk of faith that helps us to resist temptation and to forsake our former sinful ways.

Next, its the Ghost of Christmas Present turn to visit Scrooge.  They witness Bob Cratchit arriving home from church with Tiny Tim riding on his shoulder, just in time for Christmas dinner.  Tim’s brothers take him down and hustle him to another room to wash up for the meal, and Martha Cratchit asks her husband how Tim behaved while they were in the service:

“As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better.  Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much, and thinks the strangest things you ever heard.  He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.”8

Next the same spirit takes Scrooge to the home of his nephew to witness how they celebrate Christmas, with lots of their friends and good food, drink, music and games:

“But they didn’t devote the whole evening to music.  After a while they played forfeits; for it is a good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.  Stop!  There was first a game at blind-man’s bluff.  Of course there was.  And I no more believe Topper was really blind that I believe he had eyes on his boots.”9

Then Scrooge met the Ghost of Christmas Future, a faceless figure in a head to toe black robe, with a solitary method of communicating, pointing with his bony finger.  He made Scrooge re-visit Bob Cratchit’s home; only this time the family was enduring its first Christmas without Tiny Tim.  The dialogue is somber and sorrowful as Bob vows they should always remember their beloved Tim and let the pleasant memories of him prevent any of them from every having a cross word.

“Mrs. Cratchit kissed him, his daughters kissed him, the two young Cratchits kissed him, and Peter and himself shook hands.  Spirit of Tiny Tim, thy childish essence was from God!”10

When the spirit shows Scrooge his own tombstone in a neglected cemetery plot the old Scrooge becomes the new Scrooge.  He finally gets it!  He’s learned that to avoid Jacob Marley’s fate, he must recognize and appreciate what the Christmas season is all about, and (as all Christians should), celebrate it year round:

“I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, Present, and the Future.  The spirits of all Three shall strive within me [a very possible reference to the Holy Trinity].  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.  Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!”11 

“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!”  Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed.  “The spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  Oh Jacob Marley!  Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this!”12

Wouldn’t you agree that if such neglected or omitted information by the entertainment industry, excused away as writer or director prerogative were included in the dialogue that it wold put a complete different emphasis on the story?  Gee whiz, they get so much of the rest of the story right!  Yet, in a world of sinners we have to accept that this ignoring Christ, or at best minimizing his existence, is a day-to-day fact. 

So what are we to do?  I think we must commit ourselves to look for the gifts of Christ in everything; just like Ebenezer Scrooge learned to do.  There are those dedicated to hiding it from us, even denying its existence, but it doesn’t alter the fact that in everything good thing there is Him.

Lets accept the fact that taken as whole the Dickens’ classic seems to be a play on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, from Chapter 16 of the book of Luke in the Holy Bible; the exception being Jacob Marley is allowed to visit and warn the living Ebenezer Scrooge.

So now you know the versions of the Dickens’ classic you’re familiar with all miss something.  The movie people have churned out many different versions of the story but its obvious it wasn’t just supposed to be about being good for goodness sake.  I don’t think it was just a call by Dickens for the wealthy to be generous to those less fortunate, nor a lesson to leave this world with as many friends as possible.  Those are all worthwhile; but it had a much deeper meaning and intent.  I want to believe it was his reminder that all good things and goodness itself comes from Jesus of Nazareth, “The Christ” our eternal, personal savior and master.  What you choose to do with this information is up to you just as it was up to Ebenezer Scrooge.  Merry Christmas!

P.S. Bring back the original, wonderful story as Charles Dickens intended it for your family.  Get your own copy by visiting amazon.com or any other fine retailer.  It’s only $3.95 plus tax and shipping.

 END NOTES

  1. GONE WITH THE WIND (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1939).
  2. CASABLANCA (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer 1942).
  3. THE GRAPES OF WRATH (20th Century Fox 1940).
  4. Charles Dickens, “A Christmas Carol,” 12 (Bantam Books 2009) (1843).
  5. Id. at 17
  6. Id.  at 41
  7. Id. at 45
  8. Id.  at 47
  9. Id. at 57
  10.  Id. at 76
  11.  Id. at 78
  12.  Id. at 79
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