“God forgive me for the time I’ve wasted.”
The classic version of this tale sees Ebenezer Scrooge (George C. Scott) dashing out his catchphrase, “Bah, humbug,” per the pending holiday. An elderly miser, Scrooge has one colleague that he constantly criticizes, but no family, friends, or children. Instead, his late partner visits Scrooge in ghostly fashion. Three more spirits – Past, Present, and Yet to Come – pay Scrooge subsequent visits during the night to reveal his fate, should he refuse to change his stingy ways.
We start off this year’s character analysis with the 1984 film, one that sticks closely to Charles Dickens’ novel. Grinch-like in his evolution, Scrooge is the person that has forgotten the spirit of Christmas every day of the year. When specters remind him of the cost he may suffer in death due to a life bereft of charity, Scrooge has a change of heart.
Ego Integrity vs. Despair
If you’ve taken psychology 101 (who hasn’t), then you have probably heard of Erik Erikson. His stages of development illustrate key moments in the aging person’s life. These stages progress from infancy all the way to adulthood, and beyond – into the territory of Ebenezer Scrooge himself. Erikson details eight developmental stages; nurtured and supported, a person often ends up on the “good” side of the stage. Under-supported or neglected, and a person may end up on the “bad” side of the stage. At least, this is one interpretation. A more sensible interpretation takes into account both aspects of each stage and recognizes that a balance can be struck by any person both mature and resilient.
Though we do not learn Ebenezer’s exact age, he is definitely a geezer. Traditional portrayals of him are held by elderly actors; he is a man of success in business. He is known for not having cultivated a family; this is important because the implication is that he is “past his prime” to knock someone up and get that family party started. We can guess that he might be in his 60s, though when Dickens was alive, 60 might have been pushing the age limit…
At this stage in the game, Ebenezer most likely grapples with the last developmental stage outlined by Erikson – Ego Integrity versus Despair. What this means in regular speak is that at the age of about 65 or older, people deal with the reality of their impending deaths. They either find at this stage that they feel immense guilt for their lives or they feel accomplished and satisfied. The visit from the three spirits is essentially Scrooge’s “come to Jesus” meeting with Erik Erikson (though Jesus does not make an appearance in A Christmas Carol, nor does Erik Erikson). Through the ghosts, Scrooge discovers that he will suffer only despair if he does not rectify his nasty behavior.
The Spirits of the Season
In the interest of this much-told seasonal story, it is always a good reminder to live with gratitude, joy, and thoughts for those less fortunate than ourselves. Perhaps our own psychology is reflected in A Christmas Carol when we remember that none of us wants to look back on our own lives with regret or despair.
Luckily, there is still time to make sure that does not happen.