Dallas, TX –
Billy Oxsheer was for many years a popular sociology professor at the college where we taught. His popularity permitted him to teach new ideas to students who are, in general, romantic and conservative by nature. I admired his ability to do this and believed that if I had his personality I could have been a better teacher. There were ideas I wanted to introduce into our lessons but did not because I lacked his non-threatening manner. Every Christmas, for example, I had the urge to teach Dickens's story, "A Christmas Carol", and do it according to Billy's sociological views. I didn't because I felt that most students would reject my remarks and do so with velocity. I got my views of Scrooge from Billy but unfortunately never learned how he made them in class and escaped with his whole skin.
Students in general prefer not to be taught but to be reminded of what they have been taught before. They are uncomfortable looking at the familiar from an unfamiliar perspective. It vexes them. And what they had been taught before was that "A Christmas Carol" is a sentimental and heartwarming story about a miser whose heart is changed when he is forced by supernatural beings to see himself as others see him. But, from a sociologist's point of view, Scrooge is not merely a greedy, heartless accountant who uses his two employees, one being his own nephew, as if they were no more than machines.
He is, rather, at least he was until his conversion, the purest specimen of capitalism. He exacts from his employees the maximum output of labor while expending but the minimum cost of doing business. They are required to work by candle light rather than by gas and to warm their hands by a minuscule sliver of coal which must last them all day. "Are there no workhouses, no prisons?" he asks the solicitors seeking Christmas donations. He resents letting his employees leave early on Christmas Eve. "He represents every corporate boss who never saw the need to allow workers to be merry, and his employees stand for every non-union worker both then and now," Billy suggested to his students.
Maybe he could say this and escape with all his body parts because students expect to hear it in a sociology class but not in a literature class, where a story is supposed to be just a story. In any case, if there is one thing we have all been taught it is that capitalism is good and socialism is bad. But, I wonder, if I were teaching today, enmeshed as we are in this capitalistic nightmare - could I teach such a lesson? After all, it's pretty irrefutable, these modern Scrooges in silk suits flying to Washington in their private corporate jets to beg Congress for their share of the common money pile, much of which, by the way, made from the taxes paid by ordinary wage earners. Ebenezer, despite all, lived by his principles and would scorn such arrogance.
Scrooge became a constipated eremitic miser due, said Billy, to childhood social rejection, isolation, and unrestrained self-consciousness - but when he saw his errors, he changed. And, I might add, legions of readers through the years are glad he did. But, more importantly, will our real-life Scrooges do the same?
Tom Dodge is a writer from Midlothian.
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