Two Stories, One Spirit
The two most well known Christmas stories, 'It's a Wonderful Life', and 'A Christmas Carol', were authored almost a century apart. Charles Dickens gifted the world 'A Christmas Carol' in December of 1843. The classic Christmas movie 'It's a Wonderful Life' was adapted from a 1939 self published short story, 'The Greatest Gift', which was written by Philip Van Doren Stern.
The shared spirit of these two stories, and the movie productions of both, use mystical narratives to make powerful statements about nature of true human wealth. One, 'A Christmas Carol', Ebenezer Scrooge experiences an epiphany of what true wealth really means. The other, It's A Wonderful Life', George Bailey discovers his genuine prosperity.
Scrooge was unpleasant, ungracious and grouchy, but not evil. He was an unfortunate character that seemed to exist in chronic soul pain. No, Scrooge wasn't evil, he was a man in emotional discomfort and ignorance. He was alone by choice. Scrooge was a financially wealthy man that lived a sparse life. All the movie versions show him living in a large, meagerly furnished, dismal house. His only employees were a housekeeper, and his long suffering, underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit. Dickens described Scrooge in the floral, yet intense language of Victorian England as a:
"squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner"
Scrooge worshiped Mammon, not as a consumer or seller. He didn't play the game of wealth for conspicuous consumption. Scrooge tried to hide from his soul in the game of finance, he lived for the balance sheet, and the self satisfaction of watching numbers grow and decimals move, in his favor of course. Any expense was seen as disheartening. If money were a bucket bucket of sand, Scrooge would mourn the handful lost in transit, he could find little solace in the full bucket .
Scrooge was soul-sick.
Mirror Characters - Bailey and Scrooge
Many viewers of 'A Christmas Carol' and 'It's a Wonderful Life' may see that Scrooge and the villainous curmudgeon Mr. Potter as mirror characters. Personally, I found commonality in Scrooge and George Bailey, both were protagonists swept up by mystical forces and shown what their lives meant to those around them.
Mr. Potter was not a character in Philip Van Doren Stern's, 'The Greatest Gift'. Director Frank Capra added the character of Mr. Potter in his movie adaptation of Stern's story, Capra needed an antagonist for the movie. Mr. Potter was a genius addition. Potter wanted to economically control people and his environment. Scrooge simply wanted to be left alone. Potter used money as a weapon, Scrooge used it as a shield. Potter was a snake, Scrooge a shelled turtle. Potter had a palpable disdain for others, his presence was a sneering malignancy. Scrooge saw others as irritants, expenses to his solitude.
Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey were the protagonists of their movies. One could surmise that Scrooge was the protagonist and antagonist in one convenient package. 'A Christmas Carol' moved along through the character of Ebenezer Scrooge, and Scrooge himself was his greatest opponent. Capra's Mr. Potter was clearly inserted into the screenplay 'It's a Wonderful Life', as a cold-blooded contrast to the personable beneficence of George Bailey . Potter was the voice of the despot, of economic tyranny, the robber baron. George Bailey represented the only obstacle to Potter owning or otherwise controlling everything in Bedford Falls.
The Mystical Narratives
Both Charles Dickens and Frank Capra were poets at heart. Poets with a mystical sensibility. Neither artist, Dickens or Capra, were religious. However, both used spiritual devices for added narrative depth. Both men grew up in poverty, which shaped their story telling and world view. Poverty can kill the spirit, or provoke ones spirit. Poverty is violence at a distance, impersonally imposed and maintained, not by action, but neglect, one must neglect their humanity to look on poverty and justify it.
These are the main themes of 'A Christmas Carol' and 'It's a Wonderful Life', demonstrating how heartlessness and callous disregard manifest in the mind of mankind.
Dickens and Capra's stories alluded to a reality past Victorian London, Bedford Falls, or Pottersville. An overarching mystical/spiritual dimension that works through mankind. An 'angelic realm' that acts not so much as a guide, but as a mirror. Capitalism is an economic system that often causes a careless disregard for the greater good of oneself, as in Scrooge, or the community as a whole, as characterized by Mr. Potter. The spirit presence as expressed in both movies, exhibited for Ebenezer Scrooge and George Bailey their unseen effects on those around them, Bailey's positive consequences, and the effect of Scrooge's indifference to those in his life, especially significant for his clerk, Bob Cratchit and his handicapped son. Clarence, George Bailey's angel, says to Bailey:
"Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"
George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge are parallel characters, simply reflecting, or projecting their inner angst and unnamed mourning in distinctive ways. Scrooge's agony is unresolved grief, a deep dark, bereavement. Scrooge lost his mother to his own birth, he never knew her, he lost his older sister, Fan, as a young man, to the birth of her only child. Scrooge's father blamed him for his mother's death, in turn Scrooge blamed his nephew, Fred, for the death of his cherished sister, Fan.
Fan may have been the only true connection that Scrooge had to feminine love and empathy. Personally, this speaks to me of Scrooge's loss of the balancing feminine principle in his life. This loss of maternal balance in Scrooge's life caused Scrooge to lose his fiance', Belle, to his predatory pursuit of money. Fred was Scrooge's only remaining family connection. Fred, who was born in the death of Ebenezer's cherished sister. Fred was a reminder to Scrooge that his sister was dead.
Fred had an unflappable charm and appetite for living and human connection, the polar opposite of Scrooge. Following Scrooge's apocalyptic Christmas eve night with the Christmas spirits, it is his relationships to employee, Bob Cratchit, and his nephew, Fred, that he immediately restores and vows to enjoy.
The George Bailey Effect
The George Bailey Effect is synonymous with the Butterfly Effect, also known as the Midnight Ride Effect.
Wray Herbet writes:
“What if” thinking is always a bit tricky. Too much focus on “what might have been” can mire us in regret and feelings of powerlessness or keep us from savoring our good fortune. But is it possible that a bit of such thinking might save us from complacency about our circumstances? Some scientists are beginning to think that imagining an alternative reality might have ironic and tonic effects. Indeed, it might be a practical tool for strengthening commitment to country, workplace and relationships."
George Bailey had much bigger plans for his life. He wanted to be rich, travel the world and be a man of adventure and vast experience. Life happened to George while he was making other plans; his father died just as George was off to live his adventure and make his own mark. George was saddled with staying in Bedford Falls to run the family savings and loan. He nurtured the business through the depression and runs on the bank, he was raising a family, and employing his absent-minded uncle, whose life would have been feckless, if not for the purpose that working for Bailey Savings and Loan gave him.
George Bailey and Bailey's Savings and Loan symbolically represented a much larger theme. It represented capitalism serving a community, a deep resonate service to the people. Potter, Bailey's nemesis, represented capitalism at it's predatory worst, capitalism didn't serve the people of Pottersville, the people served the system, a predatory, monopolistic capitalism that was owned and operated by Mr. Potter. Pottersville, was the place that Bedford Falls became in the absence of George Bailey, and Bailey's Savings and Loan. Pottersville was mocking and contemptuous, it lacked any community or heart. Mr. Potter was the leech that sucked the sense of humanity, and decency from the town, and simply made Bedford Falls into the loud, dark, scornful, personal profit engine - Pottersville, a projection of the economic tyrant that Mr. Potter is.
'A Christmas Carol' and 'It's a Wonderful Life' are in many ways mirror movies. One shows a man what life looks life with him in it it, lonely, dark and disconnected from caring for others.
'It's a Wonderful Life', shows a man what life would look like if he were absent from the lives of others.
"This boy is Ignorance. 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..." ~ Charles Dickens
Always Christmas Present
'A Christmas Carol' and 'It's a Wonderful Life' are movies that speak today as much as they did when the stories were composed. An eternal warning of what wealth disparity looks like. No time in American history has the gap in wealth been so great as it is today. Let us at least be conscious of this reality this Christmas season, and the days that follow. Ignorance married to want is an explosive combination. Like George Bailey, let us be mindful of the human prosperity in our lives. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, let us reconnect to those we've neglected to our own detriment, let us ease our heart aches and welcome in the spirit of the season.
'Peace on Earth, Good will to ALL Mankind'...let us move past the empty sentiments and make those words a doing.
Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Feliz Navidad, Happy Holidays...