The first Ghost shows Scrooge five scenes from his past. In doing so, Dickens shows us five glimpses into the character of Scrooge, and he gives us five opportunities to get to know him a little better—to begin to root for him or revile him even more.
We are told in Stave 1, right before Scrooge sees Marley’s face in the knocker, “…that Scrooge had as little of what is called fancy about him as any man in the City of London, …” By fancy, Dickens means imagination. I can’t imagine someone not having imagination, but I raised three girls, so maybe it’s easier for me. Yet I wonder how he ended up that way? Surely he didn’t always lack imagination. For Scrooge, this lack of imagination translated into not being able to see the possibilities around him. Life to Scrooge was black and white, and if life didn’t fit neatly into his ledger, he had no use for it. We saw that with his conversation with his nephew. Christmas doesn’t make sense on a balance sheet: it’s all give.
But we find in Stave 2 that Scrooge once had imagination, once could see beyond the black and white.
We learn that while all Scrooge’s schoolmates are going home for Christmas, Scrooge remains at school, no home to go to, no friends or family to share it with. We get to look in on the boy Scrooge reading a book: The Arabian Nights. The old Scrooge remembers it well, remembers imagining the characters coming to life in the very room where he sat. And he remembers and sees them again as he watches with the Ghost.
Then two amazing things happen. First, we begin to see Scrooge as a real person, a boy all alone with imaginary figures as his only Christmas company. But more importantly for Scrooge, and, I think, for us, is the awakening of Scrooge’s imagination—the ability to see beyond the ledger.
“‘I wish,’ Scrooge muttered, putting his hand in his pocket, and looking around him, after drying his eyes with his cuff, ‘but it’s too late now.’
‘What is the matter?’ asked the Spirit.
‘Nothing,’ said Scrooge. ‘Nothing. There was a boy singing a Christmas carol at my door last night. I should like to have given him something: that’s all.’”
Last night, Scrooge couldn’t see beyond the ledger; he couldn’t put a face with that song. It was just a song that interrupted the work, interrupted the bottom line.
And yet in seeing his old self, the Ghost gives to Scrooge the gift to begin to see beyond himself and his money. The tears that have been flowing since arriving with the ghost at his childhood home, slowly at first and then in greater measure, were cleansing his eyes so to speak, washing away the film that blinded him to the humanity around him. And Scrooge begins to see, not just the imaginary Ali Baba, but a real boy who invaded Scrooge’s space for a moment in time, a boy who offered nothing tangible, nothing of monetary value to Scrooge, and yet Scrooge felt the need to give him something. Scrooge was beginning to see beyond the ledger.