Who is the Ghost of Christmas Present?
The Ghost of Christmas Present is the second of the three spirits that visit Scrooge in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Unlike the first spirit, a childlike figure without gender, that shows Scrooge his past, the Ghost of Christmas Present is a huge, earthy figure, evocative of Father Christmas. As first described, his presence fills Scrooge’s little room, as if to show the immensity in importance of each celebration of Christmas.
Scholars have long evaluated the description of the Ghost of Christmas Present. In addition to referencing the English figure of Father Christmas, he is similar to several Greek and Roman Gods. In particular, Father Christmas is derived from stories of Saturn, but there is also some allusion to the Greek Gods Bacchus and Dionysus, who symbolize rebirth in certain interpretations. In Dickens, however, any reference to pagan gods is made over with reference to Christianity. For instance, the Spirit wears a scabbard but does not carry a sword, suggesting victory of peace over warfare.
Scrooge’s visit with the Ghost of Christmas Past has well prepared him for the night’s adventure. With this second spirit, he visits numerous homes and scenes, and two of these visits are tremendously important. The first is to the home of his clerk, Bob Cratchitt. Here, Scrooge learns of the immense poverty in which his clerk and family live, and especially of the illness of Cratchitt’s son, Tiny Tim. Through the Ghost, he learns that Tim’s plight is desperate, and that, without intervention, he will die before the next Christmas.
The other visit that Scrooge makes is to his nephew’s home, where his views of hating Christmas become a source of great merriment. This interlude demonstrates how far Scrooge has already progressed in reclaiming his soul. Instead of being frustrated and annoyed with the jokes made at his expense, he appears to enjoy them, and is animated and excited throughout the party at his nephew’s house.
A vital exchange occurs between Scrooge and the Ghost at the end of the chapter. The spirit reveals that he is concealing two demon children in his robes, which he calls Ignorance and Want. These symbols are one reason that Dickens wrote his story, and subsequent other stories that deal with injustices to the poor. Ignoring ignorance and want dims the spirit of Christianity and the future of humankind, and perhaps Dickens seeks not only the salvation of Scrooge, but also the salvation of his readers with this passage.
The brightness of Scrooge’s visit with the Ghost of Christmas Present is a necessary interlude before the appearance of the final spirit, which shows Scrooge the loss of Tiny Tim and his own death. The bleakness of his visit with the last ghost, and of the chapter in general, is a good contrast when compared with the joy encountered in the present. With these last two spirits, Scrooge is given a clear choice: to keep Christmas in his heart year round, or to die unloved and unwept.
I really enjoy many of the film versions I have seen of A Christmas Carol; what I find interesting that even with the huge difference between, for example, A Muppet Christmas Carol and the more traditional versions, the ghosts, particularly the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Christmas Future, are shown in a serious light; whether they are real or muppets, whether the story is for adults of children, the directors felt the message of Want and Envy to be important and serious.
Another important part of A Christmas Carol's Ghost of Christmas Past is that he represents the actual "present" Christmas; at the end of the evening with Scrooge, he is changed from someone young and vibrant to aged and grey; sometimes in a performance he is even made to change in size from the beginning to the ending.
This idea also stresses the importance of "this Christmas" to Scrooge- it is not enough that he used to celebrate Christmas, or that he sees why others do. In order to really understand its meaning and importance, he has to enjoy each year, each Christmas Present, and be hopeful for the next; just like the ghost, who continues to show cheer even when he is aging and moving on.
The second ghost of three, the Ghost of Christmas Present does show an important turning point for Ebenezer Scrooge's character. When the story is performed as a film or a play, this is especially evident. A theatre professor I had at college who had directed the play several times said that the turning point differed based on whether the man playing Scrooge saw the character as actually changing into a "new man" at the end of the story, or staying the same but realizing what he had always known. Either way, the change Scrooge makes begins during this ghost's visit.
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