YMMV A Christmas Carol Discussion

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07:43:35 AM Dec 14th 2015
Moving this example to discussion (which I assume was posted by Ayn Rand's ghost):

  • Designated Hero: Bob Cratchett is considered the "good guy" of the story, but he basically does nothing other than sit around and hope things improve for him or his family vs. actually doing out and doing something to get a better job during a time when new businesses were springing up all over the place thanks to the Industrial Revolution.

Seems like an easy cut in that regardless of what the troper thinks of him, he doesn't fit the Designated Hero trope since the trope describes a character who "despite being presented as heroic, is actually a Jerkass at best and an arguable villain at worst." Doesn't really sound like Cratchett at all.

Also, for what it's worth, that kind of critique of Cratchett that seems to come up every once in a while is off base. Basically, although modern people tend to think of Bob as working class, he was someone who was considered of a better strata, being an educated clerk. Which is part of why Scrooge's treatment of him is so egregious. He really shouldn't be financially struggling the way he is.

And I'm not completely positive on this (but I think it's alluded to in the story?) but with that kind of social strata/job, Bob would really need a positive reference from Scrooge in order to leave and get another job of the same type or better (which Scrooge obviously wouldn't have given him). So if he left the job, he'd only end up worse off economically.
09:49:01 AM Dec 14th 2015
I agree that Designated Hero doesn't apply, but the argument that he could've looked for a better job (especially if he's as educated as you claim) holds up well, unless Scrooge was paying Bob a decent wage and it's the size of the family along with the medical bills to care for Tiny Tim that overwhelm Bob, making him as destitute as he appears. It still doesn't make it Scrooge's fault that Tiny Tim is sick.

The example fits better under Alternate Character Interpretation because Bob doesn't act like a villain/antagonist. He might be considered annoying/lazy by some, but as you said, he fails the "is he a Jerkass" test, marking him as Not an Example to Designated Hero.
10:05:39 AM Dec 14th 2015
edited by Hodor2
Thanks for the reply. I'm not sure if I'm offbase with the idea that Bob would need a positive reference in order to get a better job, but that's my understanding. I do know though that one element (that would be clear to Dickens' audience but may not be clear to a modern audience) is that Bob is in a precarious position between middle class and lower class and it's like if Scrooge treated him decently, he/his family would be upwardly mobile whereas with the way Scrooge treats him (prior to his change of heart) they are downwardly mobile. And I don't think that Bob's family size would be considered unusually high by the standards of the day.

Which doesn't quite get into the "should get a better job" argument, but it's part of why Dickens disapproves of Scrooge- because while he mostly hurts himself by his actions, he also is hurting other people.

Tl; dr- Scrooge does become an Uncle Pennybags type at the end of the story, but the Bad Future could have been avoided just by being a bit less of a stingy jerk.

Should also note the bullet under Designated Villain that I removed, which was the following:

  • Scrooge was a miserly, cynical man, but what were his actual crimes against people? We're supposed to hate him because he's a rich/successful businessman who wants to do what he wants with his own money.

Besides being natter, it's kind of factually wrong. I mean Scrooge probably doesn't do anything illegal (that we know of) but he does treat his employees badly and while he's more hurting himself than others in this respect, he's pretty ungrateful to his loving nephew.
10:55:13 AM Dec 14th 2015
I think Bob's precarious position wouldn't exist with the problems that come with Tiny Tim. It's clear that Bob or his wife takes Tim to see doctors regularly, and each checkup is an expense. Why would Bob still have that problem without the medical expenses, or would you argue that medical expenses were not a significant cost?

I agree the family size (usually three, right?) doesn't sound like an abnormal amount of people. Part of the reason Scrooge never got married is because he was trying to plan ahead and not have children before he was financially stable. If Bob did the same thing, then it again points to Tiny Tim's medical costs that cause the problems in the Cratchett household.

What Dickens wants is for Scrooge to be generous, not fair. He constantly implies he thinks this is fair, but he wants people like Scrooge to make exceptions for "people in need". That's not justice, it is favouritism to the poor/unfortunate. Now, my own ethics inclines me to agree with the favouritism to a degree, but I do not think Scrooge is wrong for having different ethics, like Dickens does. Depending on the adaptation, Scrooge makes good points about "Poverty before Pride" that the charity collectors enable.

How does Scrooge treat his employees (usually just the one man) badly? Bob needs the money, right? So why would Bob want to abandon his wages even for one day? Scrooge still relents and allows for Bob to abstain from his paycheck for one day, being persuaded more by the argument that he's probably going to be losing money by being open on Christmas day than he is by the heartfelt plea.

"Loving Nephew"??? No, we're not sharing the same story. In most versions, the nephew mocks and insults Scrooge behind his back. A Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. I'd consider him a Designated Hero if he was as present as Bob is. His efforts to sway Scrooge are born out of a sense of familial obligation, not love. When we see the Ghost of Christmas Past, we see that Scrooge has been forced to tolerate Bitch in Sheep's Clothing before.

It was bad Example Indentation, and I'm not sure it really adds anything to the current entry, just restating it differently.
11:07:12 AM Dec 14th 2015
edited by Hodor2
I'm mostly with you accept for a couple of things:

I agree that Dickens wants Scrooge to be generous and not just fair (hence his epiphany at the end) but I think to some extent the status quo Scrooge is less than fair. Like I don't think Christmas was a Bank Holiday (think that's what they call them in the UK) yet, but it would certainly be the norm for an employer to give employees that day off. So Scrooge's reluctance to give the day off is kind of not cool. And more concretely, Scrooge doesn't have to provide adequate coal to keep his clerks warm (in the sense that there's no law), but it's not really fair that he doesn't.

As far as charity goes, Dickens' sort of oddly seems to focus mostly on it making the giver feel good but he definitely disapproves of Scrooge's reasons against which are Malthusian/Social Darwinistic.

As for Scrooge's nephew, IIRC in the book and I think most of the film adaptations, he does have some humor at Scrooge's expense at the Christmas party, but Bitch in Sheep's Clothing is a stretch. This is the chapter where he is at the party. What seems pretty consistent is that while the various lady guests are more condemning of Scrooge, Fred (the nephew) keeps stressing how Scrooge's behavior hurts himself most of all and how he wishes his Uncle well even if Scrooge doesn't appreciate it.

And of course, Scrooge is watching the scene and it doesn't make him angry. In fact he wishes he was at the party. I agree with what you say about Fred working less well as a protagonist though since he's sort of the oppose extreme as Scrooge. I kind of think he's supposed to represent what Scrooge would have been like had he not rejected Belle/put money first. And that's why Scrooge rejects him initially- it's not just that Fred is impecunious (although he kind of is); it's also that Scrooge sees a lot of himself in Fred and subconsciously regrets his own life choices.

Edit- I guess what I find weird about the urge of some people to treat Scrooge as the hero and reinterpret Bob in an unsympahtetic light is that the book isn't as polemic as they think it is. I mean Dickens doesn't say anything about the government stepping in nor that there's anything wrong with Scrooge's business practices (except in regard to his own employees). And like a huge element is how much Scrooge hurts himself by his lifestyle/behavior. I mean the charity element is obviously there and important but some people act like the work is Socialistic and demonizes Scrooge whereas the actual work is highly sympathetic toward him and more about Good Feels Good than concerns about economic inequality.
01:31:56 PM Dec 14th 2015
I see where we get a different view of Fred.

"It was a Game called Yes and No, where Scrooge's nephew had to think of something, and the rest must find out what; he only answering to their questions yes or no, as the case was. The brisk fire of questioning to which he was exposed, elicited from him that he was thinking of an animal, a live animal, rather a disagreeable animal, a savage animal, an animal that growled and grunted sometimes, and talked sometimes, and lived in London, and walked about the streets, and wasn't made a show of, and wasn't led by anybody, and didn't live in a menagerie, and was never killed in a market, and was not a horse, or an ass, or a cow, or a bull, or a tiger, or a dog, or a pig, or a cat, or a bear. At every fresh question that was put to him, this nephew burst into a fresh roar of laughter; and was so inexpressibly tickled, that he was obliged to get up off the sofa and stamp."

In many adaptations, the creators allow Fred to turn the answers nasty and spiteful at Scrooge. The original keeps Fred in good humour the entire time and keeps pity to the core. Pitied for having a constant bad mood, not for his wealth. (Some works have Fred say the only thing to keep his uncle company is his cold and lonely money) The most rude Fred is here is to call his uncle "savage", which is not an accurate statement.

Scrooge's reluctance to not spend another day working is uncool? Perhaps. It certainly isn't immoral to work. Instead of framing the story the way Dickens does, the counterview is to frame this story as a debate between Generosity and Capitalism. The narrator is heavily biased to one side and uses this story as a way to preach Good Feels Good. But what if you assume instead that penny-scraping Scrooge is a happy rich man? What if doing your best and getting rewarded for it made Scrooge happy instead? Most of the arguments begin to fall flat. Fred's rationale is lost, as Scrooge isn't miserable, just miserly. The coal? note that Scrooge barely has more himself, and I doubt the populace at the time would be surprised to have the head of a company with more warmth than the clerk below him.

The story is designed to tug at your heartstrings, but not all adaptations do it as well as the classic does. But Dickens frames his story so that to be happy you must be friendly. To be friendly, you must be kind. To be kind, you must be generous. Therefore only generous people are happy. But there's no rule that says you can't be happy by achieving. You mention Objectivism, whose very nature is an ethical system based on "if you make it yourself, you'll be happier than if you get it from another". The philosophy comes from a person who saw the starvation and greed created by state-run generosity, and decided to escape to a country where your ability to earn was rewarded more than your ability to beg.
01:52:46 PM Dec 14th 2015
Well I see we obviously have very different politics but thank you for the thoughtful reply.

Good call with Fred's charade. I missed that he was suggesting Scrooge himself and it wasn't just the others guests. I'm not familiar with all of the other adaptations but as you acknowledge, at least in the original book he's shown as good natured.

I'm not sure what you mean with this: "Scrooge's reluctance to not spend another day working is uncool? Perhaps. It certainly isn't immoral to work."

My point was that while I don't think there were any "labor laws" as such at the time, it would be the norm for an employer to give an employee Christmas off (well, I don't know all industries- but definitely in Bob's type of work). And so Scrooge's reluctance kind of makes him a bad employer and not just anti-Christmas.

RE the coal, that is a good point but I think that's a big part of why Dickens frames Scrooge as largely hurting himself as much/more than he hurt others and part of what makes him pitiable/sympathetic. If he lived a more comfortable life but still treated his workers the same way, Dickens would seem him as a bad person in a way he doesn't in the book.

RE the Good Feels Good thing and the generosity- Yes, that was kind of my point about critics of the story being offbase. Dickens is not really anti-Capitalist in the slightest and while he's pro-generosity, it's more in terms of "you feel good doing it" than concerns about helping poor people. It's kind of a messed up reasoning for charity.

But I'm kind of confused by your seeing capitalism and achievement as diametrically opposed to generosity (and seemingly generosity as a bad thing). Dickens definitely doesn't have a problem with someone earning money. That's kind of the point of Fezziwick (somewhat undermined by adaptations where Scrooge and Marley drive him out of business). And going back to Fred, I don't recall if the novel is clear on this, but he presumably works for a living and I don't think the reader is supposed to see him as anywhere near as reckless as Scrooge does.
04:38:29 PM Dec 14th 2015
In the Objectivist philosophy (not mine, by the way, I just like studying ethics) the idea of charity is immoral. It says that the giver feels the receipient is incapable of moral action, since a moral person works and acheives, without needing help. They would agree that the response to "Death before Poverty" (this is meant to reference the people who would rather die than use the government help) is to allow them to die.

You got part of my point about the coal, but missed where I connected to the labour laws. The point of labour laws are to protect employees from abuse by their employers. My point is that Scrooge asks nothing from Bob that he does not ask of himself. Bob never works a single day without Scrooge. Scrooge's fire is only slightly larger than Bob's, and yes, that is part of Dickens' intended sympathy. Bob is overworked, but Scrooge is not any less a taskmaster of himself. That's a part where The Scrooge is villified unjustly in almost any version. Bob has a miserable time, and Scrooge is even worse off. I have no doubt the heat/cold thing was also intended to draw sympathy from the audience. To be honest, before you gave me the link to the original text, I had thought the only fire in the business was closer to Bob than to Scrooge. To know that there were two fires and Scrooge's was larger adjusts my opinion of the man downwards.

I agree that Dickens was probably not anti-capitalist, but he does predicate Scrooge's Heel Realization on feeling good for handing out free money. He wanted to convice people to give and to pity (not hate) those who did not. I don't find it surprising that some people might see the adaptations of Adaptational Villainy and hatred of Scrooge's success and blame the classic version instead of the specific adaptation.
10:22:00 AM Dec 15th 2015
edited by Hodor2
Thanks for the reply. Ah. Now I get your points better.

I see what you are saying with Scrooge being (almost) as hard on Bob than he is on himself but I'm not sure how much I'd consider it "fairness" (for lack of a better word). Like I think it somewhat evokes sympathy for Scrooge and definitely supports the theme of Being Evil Sucks and Good Feels Good. But I'm not sure how much Scrooge consciously makes an attempt to act fairly. Although, thinking about it, the ending makes a lot more sense if you assume that on some level Scrooge always did like Bob.

That being said, I'm kind of iffy with seeing Scrooge not wanting to let Bob have the day off as being as hard on Bob as he is on himself. I mean yeah, Scrooge is the boss but I'm not sure why morally the fact that he wants to work that day means that Bob should have to work that day, especially because in that line of business they couldn't really do much work that day anyway (because banks and the like would probably be closed).

That is a good point on people reacting against the book based on adaptations. I was thinking about Adaptational Villainy given to Scrooge in some versions. The one I recall (forget who played Scrooge) had him corrupted by an Affably Evil Marley and the two took over Fezziwig's business and it was implied that Marley was sort of a Corrupt Corporate Executive generally.

My guess is that this change may derive from two adaptations: First, it wouldn't surprise me if the film makers felt that in order to present a businessman in a bad light they had to make it clear that he was a corrupt businessman as opposed to just greedy and lacking in empathy.

Additionally (and this one I'm more confident in) it makes a lot of sense to show Marley as a bad guy because he's in Hell or at least Purgatory (despite Anglicanism rejecting the idea of Purgatory) despite seeming to be repentant, which seems pretty unfair. And what little we learn about him in the text does support the idea of someone as miserly as Scrooge but more sociable.
06:42:34 AM Dec 16th 2015
I think we're on the same page now.

"I'm not sure how much Scrooge consciously makes an attempt to act fairly."

I doubt it was a conscious effort at all. I think it's just in his nature, because Dickens wanted Scrooge to be redeemable.

"I mean yeah, Scrooge is the boss but I'm not sure why morally the fact that he wants to work that day means that Bob should have to work that day, especially because in that line of business they couldn't really do much work that day anyway (because banks and the like would probably be closed)."

Which is probably why Scrooge was easily convinced by the practical argument Bob used.

"First, it wouldn't surprise me if the film makers felt that in order to present a businessman in a bad light they had to make it clear that he was a corrupt businessman as opposed to just greedy and lacking in empathy."

Agreed. This would explain why some people act like the work is an attack on capitalism (when Dickens wasn't doing so). Although I think miserly is a slightly different shade than greedy.
07:25:34 AM Dec 16th 2015
edited by Hodor2
Enjoying this debate/discussion. Never thought I'd be treating this work as such Serious Business, but it's fun.

Yeah. Should have been clearer that as you note, the financial/pragmatic argument for giving Bob the day off is actually made by Bob himself and Scrooge finds it convincing. I'm not sure how much to ascribe Scrooge's reluctance to hatred of Christmas as opposed to an "unfair labor practice". Probably more the former than the latter.

One other thing I was thinking of that I should have been clearer is that I think Dickens makes a big effort to present the Cratchetts as the "deserving poor" and Scrooge as hurting himself by his miserliness because it makes it a lot easier to "prove" the argument for generosity. And I think there may be something autobiographical with the Cratchetts. Dickens' father was a clerk and after falling on bad times, he ended up in debtor's prison and Dickens left school to work in a factory.
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