Tetsunori Koizumi, Director
“Marley was dead: to begin with.” What a way to begin a story! But this is how the story begins in A Christmas Carol, an ever-popular story written by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) in 1843, which has been made into plays, television dramas, movies—and a musical, no less. Dickens, of course, wrote other memorable opening sentences, such as: “Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life.” (Hard Times, 1854), and: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” (A Tale of Two Cities, 1859).
If known to his readers for his memorable opening sentences, Dickens is also known for the memorable characters he created: Fagin and the band of thieves he runs, including a young pickpocket with the nickname of Artful Dodger in Oliver Twist (1839); Nelly Trent, a gentle and noble Little Nell, and Daniel Quilp, a malicious and deformed moneylender who drives Little Nell and her grandfather to their eventual death in The Old Curiosity Shop (1841); Wilkins Micawber, who is constantly in debt despite his sincerity and hard work, and Uriah Heep, a self-proclaimed humble clerk with the mind of a scheming villain in David Copperfield (1850); Philip Pirrip, an orphan nicknamed Pip, Abel Magwitch, an escaped convict who later becomes Pip’s benefactor, and Miss Havisham, a reclusive old lady who perishes in a fire with her wedding dress in Great Expectations (1861). And the list goes on and on.
By creating these memorable characters, Dickens was showing us the wide array of characters—inflexible and corrupt bureaucrats, stern and narrow-minded educators, exploitative and pompous industrialists, cunning and opportunistic lawyers, street-wise and ubiquitous petty thieves, malicious and murderous villains—that he found in Victorian England of his day. Those of us who read his novels today are reminded of the sad fact that these memorable characters, as archetypes, still exist in the world around us. That being the case, the way Dickens depicts the transformation of his major characters serves as a lesson in the plasticity of human nature as it is molded by varieties of life experiences.
In Hard Times, we have Thomas Gradgrind, an educator, who runs his school based on his firm belief in only facts, and who wants to establish one day “a board of fact, composed of commissioners of fact, who will force the people to be a people of fact.” To him, “reason is the only faculty to which education should be addressed.” With his firm belief in facts, Gradgrind convinces his daughter Louisa to marry the town’s influential banker, Josiah Bounderby, despite a great disparity in their ages, quoting figures and statistics to support his claim that such marriages between parties of very unequal ages are quite common. When Louisa comes home from her failed marriage, Gradgrind comes to a painful realization that reason, or “a wisdom of the Head”, alone is not sufficient in life, and that he has neglected the other kind of wisdom, “a wisdom of the Heart”.
While the transformation of Thomas Gradgrind takes place as a result of unanticipated developments in his relationships with real people, the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge, the main character in A Christmas Carol, comes about as a result of his unanticipated encounters with ghosts. Anyone who is at all familiar with it, whether as a reader or a viewer, knows that Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s old business partner, while he was no doubt dead, reappears in the story as a ghost. In fact, it is Marley’s reappearance as a ghost, along with visits by three ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present and Christmas Yet to Come, that transforms Scrooge, “a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner,” into a compassionate, generous, and kind old man filled with Christmas spirit.
Where did Dickens get the idea of using ghosts to trigger the transformation of a major character? Since the story takes place on Christmas Eve, it is conceivable that Dickens was thinking about the story of the transformation of the Apostle Paul from Saul the persecutor into the most fervent missionary of early Christianity as a result of his encounter with the vision of the resurrected Jesus on his way to Damascus. The origin of Dickens’ idea is less important than the lesson we can take from it. Reading this story and applying it to our own lives, we might acknowledge that wholesale transformation of our character and personality does come about as a result of our encounters with ghosts, or visions, in the world of our psyche, whether in the realm of our repressed memories or in the realm of the collective unconscious. With the help of a seasoned psychoanalyst or with the practice of deep meditation, we could gain access to what resides in that world and transform ourselves into people with compassion and loving-kindness towards our fellow human beings.
This year, 2012, marks the bicentennial of the birth of Charles Dickens. Many events have taken place and are still under way to commemorate the occasion in London and around the world, including readings of his stories, exhibitions of his life and work, and new screen adaptations of his novels. With the opening of Dickens World, a theme park in Kent, the world seems to be caught in the Dickens frenzy. In fact, Dickens World is already regarded as a commercial success in creating jobs and selling all sorts of Dickens-related products. While Dickens himself saw the emergence of the “Dickens industry” in his day, it is interesting to speculate what he would have to say about the commercialization of his life and work in view of his harsh criticism of the “Political Economy” of his day in Hard Times.
Instead of being caught in the frenzy of the occasion, let us simply pay tribute to Dickens and his marvelous skills as a storyteller who continues to entertain—and enlighten—us with his wonderful stories and memorable characters. Let us then hope that bankers and financiers, bureaucrats and officials, dictators and party leaders, educators and school administrators, lawyers and law enforcement officers, and merchants and traders of our day will all go through the kinds of transformations that Dickens’ characters went through and wake up, as Thomas Gradgrind and Ebenezer Scrooge did, in order to become people with compassion and loving-kindness towards their fellow human beings.