Back in the days when Freudianism dominated literary criticism, the critic Edmund Wilson complained of those who gave psychological explanations of Scrooge’s conversion. The story is essentially a fairy tale, and it’s as meaningless to psychoanalyze Scrooge as it is to ask about penis envy and the death wish in Little Red Riding Hood. Dickens’s friend and first biographer, John Forster, insisted that Dickens took a “secret delight” in giving “a higher form” to nursery stories, and that’s probably the best way to read A Christmas Carol.
It’s naïve of me, I know, but it previously would never have occurred to me that adherents of the various schools of criticism would have felt called to practice their dark arts on such a straightforward story. But this is the second time in as many days that I’ve been, uh, “enlightened.” Stephen Nissenbaum, in The Battle for Christmas: A Social and Cultural History of Our Most Cherished Holiday, writes that Scrooge is “essentially a member of the petite bourgeoisie” who has failed to understand that such relentless hard work and striving is no longer required of him. “Whatever else Scrooge’s conversion represents, it also marks his realization that he has “made it,” after all — that he can finally afford to ease up on himself and others. Considered sociologically, Scrooge’s conversion may mark his entry into the easy culture of the upper-middle-class world, a world for which he has previously been eligible only in an economic sense, but which his temperament has heretofore barred him from joining.” He goes on to stress that this still occurs within limits — Scrooge has a turkey sent to the Cratchits; he doesn’t deliver it himself. His Christmas is spent among family at his nephew Fred’s house, signifying the transformation of the formerly rowdy, carnival-esque atmosphere of Christmas into one captured by “domestic ideology.” Furthermore, even providing your employees with gifts is just “good business practice,” a strategic means of ensuring their continued loyalty. Coincidentally, it was at just this point in the book when I finally pressed the “eject” button.