“No space of regret can make amends for one life's opportunity misused”
Ebenezzer Scrooge is one of the most miserly, greedy, selfish businessmen, especially at Christmas. Through the visions of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, and three Ghosts, Scrooge is sent on the learning experience of a life.
There is a reason why this book is so prevalent in our (Western) culture, how everyone, even those who've never read the novella/book, know the story so well (which is why this review will not have any spoiler notices). This story is a story that hits us to the core, that forces us to look outside our selfish lives and to think of others. And while the characters aren't the most nuanced, it is the story, it is the heart of the book that is most important and most inspiring.
The characters are rather one-note, if you think about it. Scrooge is the only one that undergoes any change (somewhat expected, as it is a novel about his growth), but he starts out as the hideously over-done selfish man and ends up as the happiest, most joyful man in the world. Seeing his drastic change, however, does make the story more compelling, which is probably why Scrooge was painted so over-the-top in the beginning. From his little sister to Belle to Bob Crachit and his family, the characters tend to be blindly cheerful and happy despite their conditions. About the only one I can think of off the top of my head that isn't is Mrs. Crachit, who definitely harbors some resentment to Mr. Scrooge.
But the remarkable thing about "A Christmas Carol" isn't the nuanced, varied characters, but the story, the journey, Scrooge's miraculous change. Reading it for the second time (I read it once in high school on my own), I was still touched and intrigued. I discovered more of the humor (the bit about Marley being more of "gravy than of grave"), the deeper meaning of the story. A lot of times, it seems that movies take the bits about Scrooge celebrating and honoring Christmas, and while that is an important theme, I thought the more important theme was to look out for your neighbor and open your heart.
Scrooge was miserly, giving his employee a crappy wage (something like 15 shillings a week!). He refused to have anything to do with his nephew, he wouldn't give to the poor, and he had no compassion for beggars. While he lived in a huge home, he only lit a single candle and lived in a single room. And as the Ghosts reveal his past, present, and future, he slowly realizes, "Hey, I should have been nice to that kid on the street", "Hey, I wish I had agreed to visit my nephew", and "Hey, I should do something about my employee's work conditions".
And that is why this book is so great, in my opinion. Christmas is one day and not everyone celebrates it the same way (or at all!); but kindness and generosity can be expressed ALL YEAR LONG and EVERYONE can share it. That is how I interpret it when Scrooge says, near the end: "I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year". Christmas isn't the Christian holiday, or the commercialized version that we see all around us; Christmas is the compassion we have to those around us.