Never trust a ghost to do its own PR. That’s the lesson I learned reading “A Christmas Carol”. Now, I am not talking about the Ghost of Christmas Past as it appears to be accurate enough in the visions it shows to Scrooge. Nor am I complaining about how transparent the Ghost of Christmas Present is about its own abilities in showing that year’s Christmas to Ebeneezer. No, the spirit I have a bone to pick with is the one known as The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
My problem is that by the time of the appearance of The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come, the future of Scrooge would have been changed from the one shown to him. By the time of the third ghost, Scrooge has already learnt his lesson from the previous two and has changed from a cold, heartless man into someone that is kind and generous. Thus, when he dies in the future, people would no longer be glad but instead mourn his passing and be there at his deathbed. Clearly then, The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is doing a little bit of manipulation to try and “scare him straight” by showing him what his future would have been if Scrooge had not changed his ways before this night. Now this is fine, but it means the spirit’s name is a bit misleading. Really the ghost should be named The Ghost of Christmas Future Most Profitable For My Goals or The Ghost of Christmas That Would Have Been Your Future Christmas Before Tonight.
Although perhaps I am being a bit unfair to The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. After all, it was Scrooge that gave the spirit its name and it was Scrooge that told us what the visions were supposed to be showing us. Perhaps it was a bit of miscommunication and the nodding of the ghost that appeared to confirm what Scrooge was guessing about its powers was just it moving its hood to a more comfortable position. Maybe it was all just Scrooge making assumptions about The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come as the spirit was either unable or unwilling to talk.
Except, what if that is exactly what is happening? What if the entire book is nothing but Scrooge’s hallucinations and assumptions? Think about it. There is nothing described that can only be explained by ghosts haunting Scrooge. Jacob Marley was already known to Scrooge. The Ghost of Christmas Past only shows him things he had already seen. The visions of The Ghost of Christmas Present are never verified because Scrooge changes that year’s Christmas when he wakes up. The only part that could prove the ghosts were real and not just Scrooge’s hallucinations is that the people at his nephew’s house were the people he saw in his vision but if Scrooge had been to the nephew’s wedding then he would’ve likely seen those same people and it’s not a stretch to then think he would’ve hallucinated them being at the nephew’s house for Christmas. The Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come has the same problem as all fortune tellers do, that is, the future changes and so visions cannot be verified. In fact, in this case, that is the entire point of the exercise.
On top of the visions, there are other issues with what’s described in Dickens’s story that suggest it is all nothing more than a hallucination. For one thing, why do these ghosts only visit Scrooge? The ghosts are clearly allowed to interfere in human affairs in a very direct manner so surely if they did exist they would have visited more people than just Scrooge, but the world depicted by Dickens doesn’t exactly seem like one in which benevolent ghosts are running around scaring bad people into being good. Their names would suggest they can only interact with people around Christmas time but then that brings up the question of why they would waste their one day of the year on someone like Scrooge. The ghosts complain about the cruel and immoral ways in which people are treated but then they try to affect positive change by haunting Scrooge, a person that could do more than most in affecting change, sure, but still not someone that would be at the top of my list if I was able to scare anybody I wanted into helping the poor, instead I would probably start with the politicians in parliament. But why do all these crazy things happen to Scrooge? Possibly because he’s the one hallucinating, and so of course everything would be happening to him.
Given the circumstances set up by Dickens in the book, it isn’t hard to believe that Scrooge would suddenly be hallucinating either. We are told Scrooge has a cold that he is not doing much to treat, other than eating gruel, and that he does hardly anything to heat up his house. I get a little deranged when I have a bad cold even if the house is well heated and I’m taking medicine, maybe if I didn’t I could get to see ghosts too.
Another thing that prevents me from believing Scrooge really was seeing ghosts is their timing. Scrooge is specifically told he will be visited three times on three different days and Scrooge is specifically shown that he has indeed been visited on three different days. Yet, lo and behold, when the visions are all over he wakes up and it’s Christmas Day and he had fallen asleep on Christmas Eve. It hardly instills confidence in the trustworthiness of the ghosts statements, does it? Scrooge is also very well rested after his visitations, oddly enough. Almost as if the whole thing was nothing more than a fever dream.
I understand that most people won’t think it important whether Scrooge was hallucinating or whether the ghosts that visited him were, in fact, real. “It’s just a story,” after all, and what Scrooge learnt from the whole experience was a good thing. While I agree that Scrooge’s change in behaviour was indeed a great thing, this is not a case of the ends justifying the means. Just imagine if the lesson Scrooge learnt wasn’t so nice. What if the ghosts had told him to smash up everybody’s houses or steal everybody’s presents? Scrooge would have no choice but to turn into the Grinch as he would just take everything at face value. This is why it is important if Scrooge is hallucinating and why need to learn to question our experiences and beliefs to make it harder for delusions and hallucinations to fool us. Can’t we just all agree that it’s best not to trust some ghost just because they tell us they’re real? And that it’s better to learn our lessons about morality some other way than getting haunted?