Fictional Character: Scrooge
Is there a more despised character in literature than Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge? His name itself has become a generic term for a miser — some uncharitable, unfeeling, unloved, greedy disbeliever in the spirit of giving others a helping hand. By the end of A Christmas Carol, of course, he “sees the light,” but the kindly old geezer he turns into — who buys a turkey for the Cratchit family — is not, of course, what we think of when we hear “Scrooge.”
But here’s the Scrooge you don’t know. A neglected, misunderstood child; crossed in love as a young man, he turns inward. He’s quite honest about his feelings: all he wants is to leave his memories behind, and not be bothered by people, but they won’t let him alone. His only salvation is his work, and he works hard; yet he’s besieged by fundraisers, and tortured — literally tortured — by having ghosts rub his face in his painful past. Imagine someone Jewish or Muslim or gay, an atheist, an intellectual, a music critic — anyone surrounded by and forced to submit to cultural norms he or she doesn’t like, or fit, coerced into celebrating someone else’s holiday.
I think Dickens half understands this. He gives Scrooge a reason to turn his back on frivolity. But he also stacks the deck against him, and makes him suffer terribly for what he can’t help but feel. Turns out he’s really pretty lovable underneath — what choice does he have? Scrooge’s best revenge, though, is that he’s the most compelling character in the book, one of the best characters in all of Dickens. Is anyone really interested in Bob Cratchit or, heaven help us, Tiny Tim? Whom do we really care about — or, yes, identify with — in the book, or any of its media incarnations? He’s Dickens’s unintentionally modern hero.
— Lloyd Schwartz