It’s that time of year again when the family watches A Christmas Carol – either the 1951 classic starring Alastair Sim or the Mickey Mouse version. You will spend the next hour or so decrying the odious businessman, Ebenezer Scrooge, and weep for the kind and heartwarming family man, Bob Cratchit.
But is Scrooge really the villain in this Charles Dickens tale or is he the protagonist?
Scrooge is a successful money-lender who takes on risky high-interest loans and helps borrowers stave off destitution, grow their businesses, or repair their homes. He also prefers to be in the company of himself, counting his money. Ultimately, Scrooge is the archetypal businessman who only cares about money, not people. This alone makes him a wicked figure – or does it?
Defending Ebenezer Scrooge
The first situation involving Scrooge is a borrower asking for extra time to repay the loan. Scrooge rejects his pleas, requesting the £20 by its due date. Is this wrong? There was likely a contract agreed to by both parties, and any delay might prevent Scrooge from lending out to other clients.
One of the next glimpses we see of Scrooge is his refusal to donate money to a charity aimed at aiding the poor. Right away, we are to believe he is a selfish person. But does giving to charity make you a virtuous person? Scrooge is still doing more for the economy than others around him.
For instance, borrowers must be better off thanks to Scrooge. Why else would he have become so wealthy? He is extending credit to business and consumers, as well as employing workers, and visiting the local pub, ordering bread and tea on Christmas Eve.
The next storyline is about Bob Cratchit, the underpaid clerk who has a family, including the sick Tiny Tim. But is Cratchit underpaid or is he receiving a fair wage? If Cratchit’s human capital – skills, education, and experience – were worth more than the 10, 15, or 20 shillings he earned, then another business would happily poach him away from Scrooge. Therefore, it must be deduced that Cratchit is getting paid what he is worth.
Scrooge objects to the concept of a paid Christmas holiday, decrying that “it’s not fair” since he is paying for a day without work. He makes an important statement: “You don’t think me ill used when I pay a day’s wages for no work.” In other words, would Cratchit accept an offer of going to work without a day’s pay? Unlikely.
We are also to condemn Scrooge for allowing Cratchit only a single lump of coal. Again, Cratchit does not seem to mind, since he has not been forced to work for Scrooge and could search for a better job. But he doesn’t, suggesting he would rather have the shillings than warmth. This is proven in the real world, too, as research has shown workers want to maximize their earnings and would be unwilling to reduce their pay in exchange for air conditioners or home devices.
Scrooge The Hero?
At the time A Christmas Carol was written, Great Britain was going through the Industrial Revolution. Men like Scrooge, the industrialists and financiers, were vital to the West’s prosperity. He used his own capital to lend to business and consumer alike, funding tea shipments or new rooftops. All of these transactions were voluntary, Scrooge never robbed anyone, and he paid his taxes.
So, why is he hated after all these years?
Scrooge has always been hated by readers. We’ve been told that it’s morally wrong to maximize profit, to hoard your money, and to refuse to be your brother’s keeper. Bah humbug! Scrooge is not only the victim, he is also the protagonist of A Christmas Carol.