I walked 2 miles…uphill to class today. It was beautiful. And when I got there, what I learned was even more wonderful.
We live in a world of abundance. Everywhere you turn there is excess to the point of grotesqueness. But this is not a new thing. Lack of resources has rarely been a true problem in our society or world. It is the distribution of resources and the generosity (or lack thereof) found within a society that has caused most of our problems.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. This is some kind of call for government reform. Some kind of socialist advocacy. But it’s not. Let me tell you why.
Dickens’ A Christmas Carol has deep roots, having been influenced heavily by Thomas Carlyle’s Past and Present and a previous work by Dickens in the Pickwick Papers entitled “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton”. What we learn from these two works is that A Christmas Carol is not just a fairy tale, it is a text that mimics the abundance of our world showing the best of the best and the worst of the worst. It is this world of superabundance that shows us that you can afford to be charitable. NOT the government, but YOU.
If we look at ”Captains of Industry” a rhetorical selection from Past and Present we see the influences of Carlyle’s ideas on Dickens more fantastical story. In the Victorian era there is a constant fear of rebellion, particularly as a response to the French Revolution having occurred at the end of the 1700s. According to Carlyle, the problems in our society results from isolation, idleness and mammonism, the unholy trinity.
Isolation is a type of wretchedness that keeps us from interacting with our society turning us into savages.
Idleness leaves people soulless. When you rob people of work, you are taking away their humanity.
Mammonism is a worship of money based on Carlyle’s idea of the Cash Nexus; the concept that the only thing binding us together is money—but as a society we need more than money. Otherwise our soullessness becomes permanent and contagious.
Carlyle explicitly says that the problems in our society particularly with the oppressed and the poor—those in want—cannot be fixed by the government. Instead it is a call to personal responsibility for the captains of industry to break the trance and become more aware of the problem. As he says,
“ Ye shall reduce them to order, begin reducing them. To order, to just subordination; noble in loyalty in return for noble guidance. Their souls are driven neigh mad; let yours be sane and ever saner. Not as a bewildered bewildering mob; but as a firm regimented mass, with real captains over them, will these men march any more. All human interests, combined with human endeavors, and social growths in this world, have, at a certain stage of their development, required organizing: and Work, the grandest of human interests, does now require it” (272).
He tells them to be nice! To treat their employees better and as a result a new kind of wholes can be achieved. It seems like common sense, but if it was so common—then why are there so many adaptations of A Christmas Carol teaching the same basic premise over and over again?
Which brings us back to Dickens. Most people are familiar with A Christmas Carol for a reason; because the text is recognizable and acceptable to most of our societal values. The lessons it teaches us are fast—thus bringing us once again to the abundance concept. Today in our NEH seminar I learned many things about the text from many shifting perspectives, but as a writer the most important lesson is what I leaned about how Scrooge teaches us how to show students the value of reading and what it can do for them. Like Scrooge we see things in novels and literature but we can’t interact with them. Novelists and writers are responsible for pointing us to certain things in our past, present and future and helping us to see how we approach and thus change the world. If we learn to read in the right way, we will be a better people because novelists are like the ghosts showing us how to change our futures before it is too late. This is why words, writing and reading is so powerful in our society.
So A Christmas Carol isn’t just about Scrooge or Christmas, but a lesson I how and why we read because it is a lesson in how and why we see things and what it does for us. If we learn this lesson properly we will learn how to change the world. Because the real lesson from Dickens and Carlyle is that we should be helping each other, not relying on the government (or other people) to fix problems that we should all be personally responsible for.
And that’s why I write. I want to help change the world.