Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Scrooge 2

Christmas Carol, Fourth Stave:
Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.
"Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead", said Scrooge. "But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!"
The Spirit was immovable as ever.
Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge. "Am I that man who lay upon the bed?", he cried, upon his knees.
The finger pointed from the grave to him, and back again.
"No, Spirit! Oh, no, no!"
The finger still was there.
"Spirit!", he cried, tight clutching at its robe. "Hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope!"
Now, we might wonder why Scrooge is so very smitten by this; why his ontological horror is so great upon him. The Ghost of the Future shows him that he will die ... in the future! It needs, we might object, no spirit come from the grave to tell us this. More, what Scrooge has already seen (Marley's ghost, and what Marley's ghost shows him) that death is not extinction. It's like Hamlet, worrying about whether death is annihilation, 'from whose bourne no traveller returns' having previously met a returned traveller, the ghost of his father, who stands as absolute evidence that death is not the end!

But I'm being obtuse. In fact Dickens's book is much cannier than this. It understands, for instance, that there is a difference between the death of others, like Marley, which death may haunt us (as Marley does); and our own death, which is not an event comprehsible in life. The former may shake our life; the latter renders shaking and life itself extinct.

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