Monday, December 22, 2008


Ignorance and Want- The Children of Manunkind

Symbolically representative of social injustice and poverty Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" successfully published on December 19, 1843 deals extensively with the miserable relationship between the two children, Ignorance and Want, introduced by the Spirit of Christmas Present, their cause and effect.

Written in the aftermath of the British governments change to its welfare system known as the `Poor Laws' which required welfare applicants work on treadmills (prison grind wheels) and workhouses (precursors of modern sweat shops) the `carol' is as stirringly relevant today as it was in the 19th Century.

From the foldings of its robe, the Spirit of Christmas Present brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment. These wretched looking children; a boy Ignorance & girl Want, frighten Scrooge. Having them shown to him in this way, he tried to say they were fine children, but the words choked themselves, rather than be parties to a lie of such enormous magnitude. He inquires "Spirit! Are they yours?" "They are Man's" is the answer, the product of society's / Scrooge's greed, selfishness and callous attitude; that if the poor prefer to die than go to prisons & workhouses "they had better do it and decrease the surplus population." The ballad warns "Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!' cried the Spirit", underscoring the book's social message and society's "especially harmful" general ignorance still allows the rich to become richer while the poor starve, leading to "two alternatives: rebellion or poor relief."

Scrooge offends the Ghost of Christmas Present by suggesting that the Spirit's name is linked to a recent attempt to close bakers' shops on Sundays and Christmas Day. Poor people like the Cratchits, who had no oven at home, took their Sunday and Christmas meals to the bakers' to be roasted just as Dickens describes in the book, because the law forbade bread to be baked on that day.. Closing the shops would deprive them of what might be their only hot meat meal of the week. The Spirit of Christmas Present angrily retorts:

"There are some upon this earth of yours....who lay claim to know us, and who do their deed of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and to all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us." (The Ghost of Christmas Present, A Christmas Carol, Stave Three)

This is in part, a reference to the repeated attempts during the 1830s of Sir Andrew Agnew, Member of Parliament for Wigtownshire, to introduce a Sunday Observance Bill in Parliament which would have closed the bakeries and restricted many other Sunday pleasures of the poorer classes. Dickens was vociferously opposed to Agnew's plans and had attacked them in a pamphlet published under a pseudonym.

Scrooges / financiers / prosperous money changers devoted to the accumulation of wealth at the expense of others continue with modern business, resulting in the ongoing downtrodden indifference towards the world's symbolic Cratchits.

It seems no different today - Failure to do so, the writer implies through the personification of Ignorance and Want as these ghastly children, will result in an unnamed "Doom" for those who, like Scrooge, believe their wealth, education and status qualifies them to sit in judgment on the poor rather than to assist them.

Each year the story renews its timely importance- unfortunately, it is only remembered at a time of year when the mans name is given as part of the title whose story is fainly remembered for a holiday even as people brazenly continue to hide their doings and charge not themselves.. . The message the author sought to impart has been missed in ignorance and want just as easily as the man whose name the title represents- `Do to another as you would have them do to you' even if you were in their robes…

It is a purpose of the WUF for all the children of mankind to "Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us."

May Ignorance and Want be put to bed where visions of Food, Clothing Shelter, Education and Good health all dance in their head and can live on in their heart.

As the sickly Tiny Tim Cratchit said, God bless us, everyone… which includes those who sign and those who don't sign the WUF Declaration… It is important to remember, Scrooge did Not die in the end nor did Tiny Tim. After all, are we not all in the caring robes of Christmas Present? (thanks to John Roh for this information)

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