Scrooge was a bit of a mean bugger. One night he had some bad cheese before he went to sleep. Three weird dreams later he woke up a changed man and lived happily ever after.
That’s the short version. That’s the version where the author tells us what happens. Fortunately, Dickens was rather more savvy than that – he went out of his way to show us the various attributes of Scrooge’s character. By dramatising his facets, features and foibles, Dickens shaped the narrative in such a way that the eventual happy ending was more or less inevitable.
Take Scrooge’s legendary mean streak. The narrator takes us straight to the heart of the action by continually placing his man in situations where he has a choice. It’s Christmas eve and his employee, Bob wants nothing more than to get home to the bosom of his family, so what does Scrooge do? He makes Bob work right up until the end of his shift, and then sends him home without a Christmas bonus. The same pattern repeats when his jovial nephew comes a-calling – just for the pleasure of wishing Scrooge all the best for the season. Does he respond in kind? Hardly. He remains true to type – gruff, growly and as bear-like as he has always been. Without exception, each of the other characters in the book gets short shrift from our main man.
At his heart, Scrooge is a decent bloke who set out to provide for the love of his life in the best way that he saw fit – by gathering money. Unfortunately, that became his prime focus and his bride-to-be left him to it. So there he was, making money for nothing – literally. With a massive hole in his life, it’s little wonder that he was ripe for conversion back to the ways of love, and that’s where the ghosts (or weird dreams brought on by mouldy cheese and a bad conscience) come in.
Scrooge is shown (and we are shown alongside him) visions of the effects of the things he did in the past (woe, sadness, misery), the things he is doing now (despondency, melancholy, affliction) and what will happen in the future (catastrophe, tribulation, death). But here’s the kicker – Scrooge is actually one smart cookie. He figures out that these bad things will only happen if he carries on the way he is going, and so what does he do when he wakes up? Something different – yay!
The final scenes show Scrooge reverting back to the kind, loving man that he was as a youngster. He is seen now giving freely of himself because he knows that this is the path to true happiness. He gives the shopkeeper an order for a big turkey. He gives money to a small boy for fetching it. And he gives the turkey to the family of his employer – Bob. But the change runs deeper than this. Scrooge is now shown to be giving time (and a turkey) to other people, love to humanity and attention to the things around him. In short – he is a changed man. And by bearing witness this inspiring transformation, we are, in the process, changed too.