A Christmas Carol, Redux

Once again this holiday season Charles Dickens’ story about Tiny Tim will entertain audiences and leave them feeling good about the conversion of Scrooge into a philanthropist. But most watching the film or play today will not pay attention to the dark backdrop of Victorian England in which the story is set. And fewer still will reflect on the harsh reality that many in the power elite in this country would like to return to the untrammeled capitalism and exploitation of the poor that hid behind the facade of prosperity in Dickens’ England.

Let’s recap the story: Bob Cratchit is toiling on Christmas Eve for rich, selfish capitalist Ebenezer Scrooge who refuses to give his employee Christmas day off work. After a series of supernatural visitations Scrooge is converted to a benevolent philanthropist who pays for the medical care that is desperately needed by Tiny Tim, one of Cratchit’s children. The happy ending makes audiences go away feeling good.

But the happy ending in Dickens’ fable does not change the social and economic structure of the world that Tiny Tim and Ebenezer Scrooge inhabit. This world of mid-nineteenth century England is a harshly classist society, where one’s position at birth determines economic success and social status.

Tiny Tim is born into the underclass — as a worker his father enjoys none of the protections that American workers take for granted — no 40-hour work week, no breaks, no paid vacation, no holidays, no medical insurance and certainly no 401K or Social Security to cushion his retirement. A college education is not in the cards for children like Tiny Tim and his siblings — an apprenticeship or a job like his father’s is the best he can expect. Environmental protection, consumer protection, workplace safety, routine vaccinations against childhood diseases — these were all concepts for the 20th, not the 19th century and were no where to be found in the world of Tiny Tim and his father.

Now as we are ending the seventh year of the 21st century the Bush administration and its cohorts are are working to roll back or eliminate the hard won gains of the 20th century.

  • They want to privatize Social Security and Medicare;
  • they want to make it difficult for unions to organize to protect workers (the recent ruling that e-mails about union matters are not work-related and can blocked on corporate servers is just one example of this effort);
  • they want meat-packers to self-regulate for quality rather than pay for federal inspectors to enforce standards;
  • they have failed to regulate product safety of toys imported from China (toxic lead, deadly drugs going un-noticed);
  • they let bridges and highways deteriorate to the point of catastrophe (St. Paul MN is only the most egregious example).
  • their ineptitude and incompetence let New Orleans drown and Southern California burn;
  • they have failed to protect consumers against the rapacity of housing lenders so people are losing their homes.
  • they opposed and then vetoed the SCHIP bill that would have provided medical insurance to children whose parents cannot afford it.

These are just a few of the ways that the current administration is pushing us back to the conditions of Victorian England where Tiny Tim was saved only by the benevolence of Scrooge. Imperialism and untrammeled capitalism were the hallmarks of the period. The push for “free trade” and unending wars are as much a characteristic of Victorian England as they are of the Bush administration of today.

Do we really want to make a U-turn and go back to the 19th century? Dickens’ other books chronicle some of the other evils of the time — child labor (Oliver Twist), abusive stepparents (David Copperfield), an arcane, unresponsive legal system (Bleak House).

At the happy-ending to this year’s performance of “A Christmas Carol”, take a moment to reflect that no institutions existed in Tiny Tim’s world to provide any kind of safety net. It all depended on charity of a newly-benevolent Scrooge. For hundreds and perhaps thousands of children in Victorian England there was no happy ending because they did not have the intervention of a Scrooge to make their lives better.

In that context Tiny Tim’s “God bless us, everyone,” rings pretty hollow.

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Explore posts in the same categories: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, healthcare, politics, SCHIPs, Scrooge, Tiny Tim

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One Comment on “A Christmas Carol, Redux”

  1. betsyj Says:

    I have a friend whose a very nice person, but a Libertarian. Whenever she talks about Ron Paul or her Libertarian philosophy, I always say, “But we already tried that. Remember Victorian England? Oh, you don’t know about that? Read a few Charles Dickens’ novels and you’ll the get the picture.”

    It will be interesting to see if Ron Paul does well among the Republicans in the caucuses.


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