I do read some fiction but I am rather particular about the writers of fiction that I read. There are two writers in my library that stand out above the rest when it comes to fiction. John Steinbeck and Charles Dickens. I have read all of Steinbeck's novels and the major works of Dickens. What makes these writers stand out in my mind is that they write a fictional story that is based on the period of time in which they are living and mold these stories to present to us a lesson in humanity much more personal than a history book could. When I read Steinbeck or Dickens, a picture is painted by their words that take you into the time that the story is taking place. They place your mind inside the minds of the characters so that you understand what they are thinking, what they are feeling and how the world is seen through their eyes. Both of these writers are masters of presenting their works in such a manner.
In 1843, Charles Dickens published "A Christmas Carol". It was a short story compared to the length of his novels but carried as strong of a message as the longer works did. Most of us are familiar with the story of Ebenezer Scrooge. The old miserly man who had a firm dislike for mankind, particularly the poor. The story revolves around Scrooge being changed overnight into one of the most beloved men who lived in London by the lessons of three spirits who visit him on Christmas Eve and show him how he must change for his own benefit as well as mankind's. It is truly a story for the ages and one that is celebrated every year through movies, plays and readings. It is a story that will never fade away I hope.
Every Christmas season over the last few years, myself and some cousins of mine have attended a production of "A Christmas Carol" at a local university. The production is magnificent and very entertaining as well as thought provoking. It brings to life the characters that Dickens created all those years ago.
This year, for some reason, made me stop and think about the message Dickens was bringing to us. There was one scene in particular that filled my mind. Towards the end of the visit by the Spirit of Christmas Present, two children are revealed from under the Spirit's robes. The children are in rags, with sunken eyes and skeletal figures. The Spirit explains to Scrooge who the children are:
“They are Man's and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. 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.”
Keeping the poor ignorant will trap them in a cycle of poverty from generation to generation without a means to escape. Education is a must, and was a must for Victorian London. Schools were not very available then and most times the children could not go to school because they were forced to help the family by spending their time in the work houses. Without at least a minimal education, these children would grow up in ignorance as their parents had and the poor, they extreme poor would always be with us. In Dickens time, this was the case. Very little education that would allow for children to have at least a chance at breaking that cycle of poverty.
"Ignorance" can also be applied to the well off. Those that do not live in poverty tend to not see what they don't want to. They are ignorant of the plight of the poor who live around them. Indeed, if anything, the poor provide a much needed service to the well off. The cheap labor that the poor provide make it possible for the well to do to continue living that life style. But ignorance of the poor is not a solution. Ignorance of the poor, and keeping the poor down, will eventually bring society down as well. I think perhaps the spirit was pointing out to Scrooge his own ignorance of the poor and how he, as well as society, fair better with a more prominent working class.
The result of ignorance is always more want, more need. We should make ourselves aware of those in need and to do what we can to help them out of the cycle they find themselves in. It is a problem that has faced man for centuries and continues to do so.
I am not sure what Dickens personal philosophy was as to how to break the cycle of poverty, but he is correct I think that the first step is getting rid of ignorance by both the poor and the wealthy. I feel that once we make a dent in ignorance, once we teach and give those in the poverty cycle the tools to begin to climb out of it, then every generation after that should become a little more self reliant. I think that once we take away the ignorance of the wealthy and they learn what tools need to be given to help the poor out of poverty then their investment in this endeavor will bring society as whole up to a better level. With the wiping out of ignorance, there will be less crime, less bigotry and racism. There will be more of an understanding of our fellow man. There will be less want.
I also think that it is important that while the poor are given the tools to climb out of that hole, it must not be blindly given, but earned. For those things that are earned are vastly more appreciated by an individual than that which is given freely and blindly.
So let's take Dickens wisdom to beware ignorance and work on eliminating it, which will result in less want.
Society will be the better for it.