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The Physical Body and Change in a Christmas Carol's Scrooge

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The Physical Body and the Change in Scrooge

Throughout our lives, there are objects, and more commonly people, that we take advantage of from time to time. In the notorious and legendary case of Ebenezer Scrooge, taking advantage of people, and society in general is simply a part of his everyday adult life. There is no concern for others by Scrooge in spite of, and perhaps because of his lofty financial situation. However, in Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol, the issues of money, friendships and caring run much deeper. Scrooge is visited by three spirits, each representing a different aspect of his life. All three have a lasting impact on the way Scrooge views his own life, but there is only one spirit who embodies both fear and change, providing Scrooge with the penultimate push to get his woeful life back on track. In stave 4 of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge encounters the last and most frightening of the spirits....the one who is last to visit looms over him, shrouded in black with only a bony hand visible. This Spirit has been recognized as the Grim Reaper, but in the final analysis stands for so much more. The physical realization of this frightful Spirit is the last and most influential reason behind Scrooge's lifestyle change. The Spirit of Christmas yet to come is the embodiment of why Scrooge must change, as well as the messenger of representational death. Without this essential spirit, Scrooge may not have been able to truly see himself as well as the effect he has had on others. In a very real way, this spirit may have eventually saved his life.

This spirit has often been physically associated with that of the Grim Reaper. Both stand tall over their 'victims'; both are shrouded in a black robe with a large hood; both seem to instill fear in anyone in close proximity; and above all, both are messengers of death. As noted in A Christmas Carol, "although well used to ghostly company by this time, Scrooge feared the silent shape so much that his legs trembled beneath him, and he found that he could hardly stand when he prepared to follow it" (Dickens. 63-64) Scrooge is obviously shaken to the core by the physical presence of this last Spirit and continues on to say "'Ghost of the Future!' he exclaimed, ' I fear you more than any spectre I have seen'" (Dickens. 64) This is a very fitting introduction to the Spirit, because this Spirit is not only ordained to promote fear but also to represent death. Unlike the other spirits in previous staves, the Spirit of the future only embodies spirituality, and does not physically represent it. It is created to guide Scrooge through the near future and to intimidate him into being a more generous and caring individual. Yet this Spirit does not fit the physical descriptions of the others. Earlier, they were full of life and appeared beautiful; they evoked no feelings of fear or intimidation. Importantly, this seems to be one of the most crucial elements of change in Scrooge. Without the fear of death or some form of critical consequence, how will Scrooge ever really change for the better? The Spirit enables Scrooge to truly realize and appreciate a new fear of death, something to which he has never really given a second thought. Even throughout their journey together, Scrooge seems oblivious to the fact that he is the deceased man everyone is talking about.

Besides the physical attributes, the third Spirit also embodies something much deeper. As noted in Spectrum Sympathy:Visuality and Ideology in Dickens A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is altered from a self-centered brute to a caring and generous gentleman through the mechanism of spectatorship.(Jaffe. 254) The third Spirit embodies qualities that physically, emotionally, and spiritually change Scrooge. These qualities do, however, go hand in hand with the physical features of the Spirit, which, through fear, allow control over Scrooge. The black shroud and silent attributes help the reader associate the third spirit with the Grim Reaper and death, but more importantly, this is the physical embodiment of foreshadowing. The third Spirit is a representational image of death, and according to Jaffe, "the way to the world lies through representation". (Jaffe. 255) What he is declaring here is that in order to understand the truths in our world, we must look closer at the representational values that other objects might hold. For instance, the third Spirit holds power, through physically representing death, and this concept is ultimately what consumes and encourages Scrooge to change his ways. Another way in which representation works is that Scrooge eventually embodies the physical and representational qualities the Spirit is portraying.(Jaffe. 259) At first, Scrooge seems clueless to the fact that the talk of death in town is actually that of himself. However, through the physical appearance of the Spirit and the qualities it embodies, Scrooge unwillingly admits that he will die. Throughout his entire journey, Scrooge acknowledges the fact that he has done much wrong in his life and has, over time, lost his 'true' self. Significantly, it is not until the journey with the last Spirit and the acknowledgment of death does Scrooge face this true self. The journey on which Scrooge has embarked is one of a fantastical nature. It is almost as though Scrooge, though pretending the hauntings are real, does not actually believe it is happening. Being visited by ghosts and being exposed to the past does not seem real to him. It is not until the visit from the last Spirit that Scrooge accepts the physical qualities of the spirit and realizes that this end, death, is very real indeed.

Being guided along an 'inner' journey by the Grim Reaper or his apparition would have a lasting affect on most. As noted in the Spectacular Sympathy essay,

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