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What does ‘A Christmas Carol’ tell us about the meaning of charity?

“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business. Charity, mercy, forbearance and benevolence were all my business.”

By John Picton. Published 12-17-2019 by openDemocracy

Ebenezer Scrooge as illustrated by Ronald Searle in Life Magazine, 1960. | Flickr/Elizabeth. CC BY-NC 2.0.

 

New adaptations of Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella appear on our screens each time the holidays come around. From this year’s brand-new mini-series that’s due to be aired in the UK and the USA to the ever-popular Muppet Christmas Carol, this story is a staple of the season. In it, and after a series of visits from ghostly apparitions, Ebenezer Scrooge changes from a cold miser to a kind and gentle person, but some aspects of the role of charity in this change of heart are lost from modern adaptations.

In the 176-year-old text the call to charity is more demanding than just donating cash. Dickens focuses on personal charity as the assumption of social obligations. After his transformation, Scrooge faces up to his moral responsibilities. Famously, he buys an enormous Christmas turkey for the family of his clerk, Bob Cratchit. But his new-found concern for the Cratchit family goes much further than a single festive meal. He also gives Cratchit a pay-rise. And having been frightened by a premonition of the death of Tiny Tim – Cratchit’s son – Scrooge is said to become like “a second father” to the sickly child. Continue reading

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