From Riches to Rags
When a man’s name is synonymous with greed and misery, most readers would not associate him with the shining image of a hero. The hero’s journey is a classic literary pattern in which a character goes on an adventure, faces challenges, and comes through a changed person. It was first used during Greco-Roman times in Homer’s Odyssey but has endured through the years to be utilized in countless forms of fiction. A Christmas Carol details the events of one night in which Ebeneezer Scrooge transitions from an immensely dislikable old miser to a generous, joyous friend to many. Setting aside the individual steps, a hero’s journey is set in both a normal world and a special world, as Scrooge has London and the world of time with the spirits. This is the first of many instances that Dickens’ timeless anti-hero aligns with the most popular method of crafting an iconic fictional figure. As a result of his thorough transformation, Charles Dickens portrays Scrooge as an archetype of the hero’s journey.
The beginning of the story represents Scrooge’s departure, the first step in a hero’s journey. Scrooge begins his path to heroism upon his first interaction with the ghost of Jacob Marley, “I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate” (Dickens). The beginning of every hero’s journey is the normalcy, the status quo. However, they will eventually be interrupted by some supernatural aid, giving them a call to action. For Scrooge, this comes in the form of Marley’s ghost, warning him to change his ways and of the incoming three spirits. Next, Scrooge’s reaction to Marley’s warning: “`You don’t believe in me,’ observed the Ghost. `I don’t.’ said Scrooge… `Why do you doubt your senses?’ `Because,’ said Scrooge, `a little thing affects them” (Dickens). Scrooge, following the next step on the path, refuses the call to action. When Jacob Marley first approaches him, Scrooge is unreceptive and wishes to have nothing to do with spirits. By this exposition, Scrooge kept on the journey’s path, through the entirety of the first stave.
Scrooge’s journey through time with the three spirits contains his trials, the bulk of a hero’s journey. In his literary criticism, Marc Goldstein analyzes the lessons Scrooge learns within the trials, “Christmas Past represents memory, especially suppressed memory. As the second spirit departs, Scrooge understands that he has shut out the human race because he… was excluded as a child… Bob becomes a symbol of a world that Scrooge can enter if he will allow himself to do so” (Goldstein). The many challenges Scrooge confronts in his journey with the ghosts and subsequent lessons he learns come into play later in the story, but in the present, follow the hero’s journey structure. His final trial occurs at the end of the third visit: “…read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge… ‘No, Spirit! Oh no, no” (Dickens)! Here marks the lowest point in Scrooge’s circle, often called the revelation, ordeal, or crisis. He even follows the literal criteria of death and rebirth by seeing his own grave. The reader, in this moment, feels the culmination of Scrooge’s emotional swings including, shock, and anguish. Through the greater section of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge sticks with the circle, tackling his obstacles in the special world.
Scrooge’s return to London strongly resembles that of a classic hero in a standard hero’s journey. He demonstrates the primary step of a return in a grand proclamation, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year… I will not shut out the lessons that they [Spirits] teach. Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone” (Dickens)! The moment following the reveal of the grave is the moment of Scrooge’s transformation. He swiftly goes from a cruel miser to a visibly changed man, displaying that the lessons he learned would be put to quick use. This section could also be known as the treasure or reward; changing would be Scrooge’s ultimate prize. On that same token is one of the story’s final lines: “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father” (Dickens). For the reader, this is the sentence of triumph, everything that the book has been building towards. In the hero’s journey, it is the moment of atonement, where they take what they have acquired and return to normalcy, often improving something they left behind. Upon his return to the normal world, Scrooge begins to right the wrongs he made over the many years, finishing the circle by changing as a person and returning to his normal life.
Once more, Scrooge’s complete change of character and distinct adventure through time make him a more than serviceable example of the hero’s journey. Scrooge begins his hero’s journey in normalcy but is interrupted by his supernatural guardian, Marley, in a grand call to action. He continues the arc by facing many of the stories of his past, present, and future that he does not wish to see, coming through them a stronger man. Scrooge completes the circle by leaving his supernatural world and returning to the regular one to atone for his mistakes and become a better man in his normal life. What makes Scrooge so unique in classifying him as a hero is how purely awful of a person he was at the beginning of the story, but the fact that Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Odysseus are not that way is perhaps why families are still enjoying A Christmas Carol to this day.
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