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Is Dickens' "Christmas Carol" Antisemitic?

"A Christmas Carol Redux"
Dec. 17, 2009 | John Rabe | KPCC

Early in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” Scrooge scores points against Christmas that are valid today -- especially today – when he says:

"What’s Christmastime to you but a time for paying bills without money? A time for finding yourself a year older and not an hour richer?"

Charles Dickens

And then Scrooge delivers one of the best lines in literature:

"If I could work my will, every idiot who goes about with `Merry Christmas!' on his lips would be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. "

“A Christmas Carol” was lucrative from the start. Dickens himself read it to packed houses, and it’s a staple of film and theatre.


But what is happening to Scrooge? Is it a wonderful transformation … or a conversion? And if it’s a conversion, then from what? Maybe when he wrote that Scrooge was “squeezing, wrenching, grasping, clutching,” Dickens just meant to portray Scrooge as a miser. But remember, Dickens got in trouble for the horrible character Fagin in “Oliver Twist,” who was specifically Jewish.

(Early illustration of Fagin from Dickens' "Oliver Twist")

Attacking “A Christmas Carol” as anti-Semitic may seem harsh at Christmastime, but how do you think it feels to watch the world embrace a story featuring such common stereotypes?


Former UCLA English Professor Judith Rosen says Dickens was not on an anti-Semitic campaign, but he certainly reflected much of the anti-Semitism of his time. However, that taint aside, she says “A Christmas Carol” hit a nerve that Dickens’ other stories didn’t. It was so successful, she says, because Dickens personalized the lesson of compassion, charity, and transformation.

And in doing so, Dickens transformed Christmas. “Christmas used to be, in England before Dickens’ time, a very public, very outdoor festival. One that celebrated the bonds between say the lord of a manor, or a large employer and his workers. And Dickens popularized, through ‘A Christmas Carol’ and through his earlier ‘Pickwick Papers’ a much more private, much more family celebration.”


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