Christmas is definitely an abundant time of year. Lots of food, lots of gifts, time with your nearest and dearest, christmas carols playing on the radio as of the start of the month, it is certainly a festive time and it is quite easy to forget the less fortunate as we indulge in our own exuberance. This is the role of the ghost of Christmas present in Dickens “A Christmas Carol”.
Eytinge Jr’s lithograph is cram packed, and while I did look for another artist to use for today’s post, I think that this is the best one to define the contrasts which are in play. We see the ghost of Christmas present, sat amongst a grand feast. Food at his feet and a large punch bowl in his lap. Holding out a torch which looks like a horn of plenty. This scene has transformed Scrooge’s drafty and drab sitting room into a warm and welcoming place, although we can still see the remnants of the cold from the steam coming off of the punch bowl and the smoke from the torch. The ghost is quite a traditional representation in that he is robed and bare chested, a garland of holly and icicles on his head and an empty scabbard resting on his left knee (being a symbol of peace on Earth and goodwill to all men). Scrooge appears in the right hand corner of the scene, stopped from entering further by the piles of food that is mounting on the floor. It’s a wonderful image, although it has been met with criticism over the proportions as critics felt that Eytinge Jr. had tried to fit too much in to the scene. This said, I think it captures the purpose of the meaning of the story behind it perfectly.
As we already know, Scrooge has been visited by the ghost of Christmas past, forcing him to look at his actions of days gone by, and the present is the second visitor of the night. The present seems jolly and welcoming, being a physical representation of the feasts of the season, abundance and merriment, but what he shows Scrooge is something very different.
The ghost then takes Scrooge on a city highlights tour, showing him families in the warmth of their homes, enjoying the company and festivities. One of the families is Scrooge’s own nephew, and while they lark about, Scrooge hears their opinions on how his relatives see him. This adds a bleaker view to the merriment, with his nephew mocking Scrooge’s ways.
The pair then look in on the poor Cratchit family, their merger food supplies and simple home, driving home the feeling of those less fortunate, but still making the most of what they have. Their sickly child tiny Tim, a cause of worry for the family which they try and push aside for the sake of all.
When Scrooge asks what is to happen to the boy, the jolly figure of the present uses Scrooge’s own callous words “What then? If he be like to die, he had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.” This is almost a turning point of realisation for Scrooge as pangs of guilt wash over him.
Before leaving the ghost shows Scrooge one last image, and it is one often left out of the more popular films, probably because it is felt that the present leaves a rather nasty taste for what is to come. The ghost lifts his robe to show two emaciated children clinging to his legs. One is called ignorance and the other called want. These are a warning for Scrooge to change his ways. When Scrooge asks if the children have no place to go, once again the ghost responds with Scrooge’s own hurtful comments “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”.
The ghost leaves aging as the present is only for a moment and then it is gone, leaving Scrooge almost repentant in his ways. With one visit remaining to tip the scales.
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