Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Scrooge's Character Arc

In early December, Teresa Wilde did a great presentation for ORWA on Scrooge's character arc.  She showed how Dickens makes Scrooge's 180 degree character turn in one night a believable story.  He used the 5 act structure to build sympathy for Scrooge and the intensity of the experience allows us to accept the extreme about-face.

It's given me a lot to think about in terms of character growth and it seems timely, so I thought I'd share.

The first major point to consider is that although his name has come to be synonymous with "miser", Scrooge's problem isn't actually being tight with his money.  He's not a miser.  Penny-pincher, yes.  Misanthrope, yes.  But a miser wouldn't turn down an offer of free food at his nephew's Christmas party.  If the money was the extent of Scrooge's problems, A Christmas Carol could have ended with him giving his fortune to charity and being done with it.

Scrooge's problem is actually that he's cut himself off from everyone and everything which used to hold meaning for him.  There was a time when he longed for affection, when he was an abandoned boy at school and when he was an apprentice at Fezziwig's and was engaged to Belle.  He begins his career in business because he wants to earn respect and be powerful, which he equates with being wealthy.

Dickens shows us that Scrooge wasn't always pushing people away.  Instead, it was a gradual process of isolating himself to prevent further hurt.  He refuses to marry Belle until he feels he can provide for her as a husband should.  Personally, I think his misanthropy is a mask.  He's not actually as hard-hearted as he'd like to appear, he's just tired of people trying to push him around, so he's adopted a pose of indifference.  A clue to this is that Scrooge is actually the only character in the book to show a sense of humour.  Everyone else is very earnest and serious in their pursuit of Christmas cheer, but Scrooge sees the absurdity of some of the traditions and customs.

With the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge sees that he's viewed as a tyrant by those beneath him and a joke by those of his social class.  It obviously hurts him a great deal.  He sees himself as a savvy businessman.  It's more signs that he's not actually as heartless as he appears.  He doesn't want to hurt others, he's blinded himself to the impact his choices have on them.

The Ghost of Christmas Future provides a warning, foretelling Tiny Tim's death and Scrooge's own unmourned passing.  Together, all three ghosts show Scrooge that his behaviour isn't getting him what he wants.  Instead, he's putting himself and his immortal soul at risk and, in the end, gaining nothing.

If Scrooge honestly hated people and didn't care if they all died (Are there no workhouses?  No prisons?  If they are like to die, they should do so quickly and decrease the surplus population) then the visions the ghosts show him would have no impact.  Scrooge's change of heart isn't as dramatic as it appears on the surface and that's what allows us to accept it.  It isn't that he's truly changed.  Instead he's able to remove his mask and resume behaving as the sort of person he truly was, but had forgotten.

In the end, that's what all character arcs should be.  People don't often go through true changes of who they are.  They hide themselves (and are often miserable doing so) to try and force themselves into who they think they should be.  But the core stays the same and the change in a character arc should be less about dramatic transformation and more about reminding the character of who they have always been.  It's about casting off the false-self and living true once more.

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