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  • Mark Brafield

Merry Christmas everyone !

In his excellent book 'The Examined Life' (Vintage Books, 2013), Stephen Grosz, a practicing psychoanalyst, gives a penetrating analysis of Dickens's 'A Christmas Carol' and what causes Scrooge to change.

'Scrooge doesn't change because he's frightened - he changes because he's haunted. We can be frightened of changing weight, but that alone probably won't cause us to change our diet. Haunting is different. It makes us feel - makes us alive to - some fact about the world, some piece of information that we're trying to avoid.

What knowledge is Scrooge trying to avoid ?

Scrooge doesn't want to think about the death of his mother, the death of his sister or the loss of his fiancee. He cannot bear the thought that love ends. Dickens tells us that, before bed, Scrooge eats alone and reads his banker's book - his ledger of deposits, withdrawals and interest paid. I take this to mean that Scrooge spends his evenings comforting himself; as he reads his deposit book, he thinks to himself, 'You see? No losses, only gains'.

Ultimately, Scrooge changes because the ghosts unpick his delusion that you can live a life without loss. They undo his delusion by haunting Scrooge with the losses he has already experienced, the losses now being endured around him, and the inevitable loss of his own life and possessions.

Dickens's story teaches another lesson: Scrooge can't redo his past, nor can be he be certain of the future. Waking on Christmas morning, thinking in a new way, he can change his present - change can only take place in the here and now. This is important because trying to change the past can leave us feeling helpless, depressed.

But Dickens's tale points to a further, darker and unexpected truth. Sometimes change comes not because we set out to fix ourselves, or repair our relation to the living; sometimes we change most when we repair our relation to the lost, the forgotten the dead. As Scrooge grieves for those he had loved but put out of his mind, he begins to regain the world he had lost. He comes to life'.

Merry Christmas everyone !

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