An Analysis of Isolation in A Christmas Carol and Rime of the Ancient Mariner
When a man’s actions or beliefs differ from those of his society, the individual often becomes shunned, estranged, or negatively criticized by his peers. When an individual acts adversely to the proper rules of society, he causes his society to dislike him in direct proportion to his unacceptable or disapproved behavior. In “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, the Mariner commits one sin of complete ignorance, which angers his fellow men. In contrast, Charles Dickens’s Ebenezer Scrooge purposely disregards the feelings and needs of others. His isolation is not only physical but also a mental state of mind. Both men, the Mariner and Scrooge, are disliked by society, thus leading to their isolation.
In Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” the values of society contribute to the alienation of the protagonists in each work.
Dickens’s, Ebenezer Scrooge, reveals the values of 18th century culture and society. The novel is set during the joyful time of Christmas. Unlike Scrooge, his contemporaries believe that an individual has some moral responsibility. Giving money to the poor is an important tradition during the holiday season. An unnamed character states, “At this festive season of the year Mr. Scrooge… it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provisions for the poor” (Charles Dickens 5). Giving of man’s recourses during the holidays is social norm.
Edgar Johnson states, “He feels that he has discharged his full duty to society in contributing his share of the taxes that pay for the prisons, the workhouses, the operation of the treadmill and the poorlaw and he bitterly resents having his pocket picked to keep even them going” (85).
Charity in the view of his world is in complete contrast with Scrooge’s greed. Money directs every decision Scrooge makes. He believes that Christmas is only a time to throw your money away. Scrooge tells his nephew Fred, Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s’ Christmas time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books and having every item in’em through a round dozen months presented dead against you? If I could work my will… every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas,’ on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holy through his heart. He should! (Dickens 4)
He does not perceive how so many poor people are merry at Christmas. In Scrooge’s mind there is no valid reason for a celebratory mood because they have no money. Scrooge cannot understand that Christmas is not just gifts, but family gathering as well. The Bob Cratchit family has little but they are just happy being able to have a Christmas feast with family. The feast is small, but is plenty for the Cratchit family, who are happy in spite of their financial woes. In order for Scrooge to become a welcomed part of society he must understand and act on the values that his society holds.
Dickens characterizes Scrooge as “hard and sharp as a flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire; secret and self-contained, and solitary as an oyster” (2). He treats people poorly, and is isolated because of his disregard for the needs or the joys of people around him. In his community, he is feared and avoided at all cost. When members of his community see him they head the other direction. Dickens writes, “Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts; and then would wag their tails as though they said, ‘no eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master” (2). No one stops Scrooge to ask him how he is doing; after all, Scrooge has avoided people in his community.
Communication between him and his fellow men is unpleasant or almost obsolete. People want to have as little to do with him as possible. He rarely leaves his counting house. Not one person has a nice word to say about him. Dickens writes, “Scrooge seized the ruler with such energy of action, that the singer fled in terror, leaving the keyhole to the fog and even more congenial frost” (7). Any act of kindness toward Scrooge always ends with Scrooge yelling or insulting the person. By Scrooge warding off any thoughtful deed, people do not try to be kind.
Many fear the results of being kind to Scrooge. Scrooge is everything that society strives not to be. He is an example of what can happen to those who loose themselves. Harry Stone writes, “He allows us to see how self-interest an impulse that motivates each one of us can swell to monster proportion. He shows us how not to live” (50). Scrooge has been a teacher to many by keeping his selfish beliefs and walking a lonely path down the road of life.
Not only does Scrooge abuse the people in his community, but he also mistreats those that interact with him on a daily basis. Scrooge mistreats Bob Cratchit in many ways. He takes advantage of Cratchit because he is available and near him during the day. Cratchit has to have a job because if he does not he will have no income. Scrooge takes advantage of Cratchit’s current financial situation by paying him very little for long hours. Johnson states, “He under pays and bullies and terrifies his clerk” (85). He lets him off for the holiday but does not pay him for his time off and expects him to come in earlier the following day.
Scrooge thinks it is very problematic for him to take off work because he will lose a day’s work. Scrooge only thinks of how letting Cratchit off work will affect his money; he truly has no appreciation for Cratchit at all. Not only does he under pay him, but also does not provide a decent work environment. Scrooge is so greedy he only gives him one single coal for his fire, resulting in a very small fire. Scrooge enjoys a large, warm fir while he watches Cratchit suffer in a cold room. Cratchit cannot replace the coal, because Scrooge keeps the coal in his office. Bob Cratchit is so poor that he cannot afford a coat for himself so he brings his comforter to keep him warm.
Scrooge does not even treat him like a human; he thinks only of the clerk’s work affecting his business. The desire for gain of wealth and mistreatment of people has left Scrooge lonely and isolated. Society and family have rejected him because of his greed. Over a course of many years Scrooge has become more obsessed with money. He has had friends and even a fiancé, but he lost all of his companions because of his greed and obsession with riches. Bella is his fiancé. They are both in love at one point in time, but it is lost when Scrooge’s values become self- centered. Bella tells Scrooge, “Our contract is an old one. It was made when we were both poor” (Dickens 27). She loves the old Scrooge, the one that has little money. Wealth is not the reason she leaves him, but his love and dedication to wealth is the motive behind her leaving him. Bella feels that she has been set-aside in his quest for wealth.
Bella expresses her feelings, “Another idol has displaced me and if it can cheer and comfort you in time to come as I would have tried to do, I have no just cause to grieve” (Dickens 27). Bella senses she is of no use to him so she leaves him. Bella tells Scrooge, “All your other hopes have merged into the hope of being beyond the chance of its sordid reproach. I have seen your nobler aspirations fall off one by one, until the master-passion, gain engrosses you. Have I not?” (Dickens 27). Their paths for their futures have taken them in two totally opposite directions. Money has become Scrooge’s closest and only friend.
Scrooge’s peers have isolated him because of his addiction to the love of money and lack of care for others. By not interacting with his community in benevolence he has isolated himself from his peers. Many times if one does not interact with his community, he is forgotten, or judged by those people who are being unworthy of their attentions. Peers will no longer concern themselves about that individual, and the individual will not be of any consideration to anyone after some time. Scrooge clearly creates a situation where no one cares about him. Craig Buckwald writes “A good life, is vitally an excursive one. Such a life requires, first that individual go beyond the containing limits of the merely self concerned self, to benevolent participation with one’s proper society” (80).
In order to be a part of society, he must begin to understand and accept the values that his society holds. He simply needs to leave his home and interact with his peers, but his selfish desire pull him into a state of isolation. Buckwald states, “Scrooge’s self-containment, of course is more than physical. His obsession with business and wealth not only occupies his time and energy but constitutes the frame of reference by which he judges everything and everyone in his world” (79). Everything in his world is viewed from his point of reference. Scrooge believes everything must be earned because nothing is given in life. His personal beliefs make it hard for him to accept charity. Elliot Gilbert writes, “For to the old man, such unsolicited generosity, requiring nothing in return, is an anomaly in a material universe where everything must be bought and paid for, and is thus a threat to the very order of his existence” (29). Scrooge’s world is one of his own thoughts and beliefs, and his disgust with goodness in giving, leads him down a lonely path.
Scrooge’s isolation becomes most evident through the visit of the Ghost of Christmas yet to Come. The ghost reveals to Scrooge what will happen to him if he continues to live the life he has been living. The ghost escorts Scrooge through London and they eventually arrive upon a group of people who are talking about his death. At that time he does not know to whom they are talking about. One man says, “It’s likely to be a cheap funeral, for upon my life I don’t know of anybody to go to it. Suppose we make up a party and volunteer?” (Dickens 52). All they know is that Scrooge is a man of wealth. People hear of his death and the first question they ask is what happened to his money, not caring that he is dead.
A man asks, “What has he done with his money?” (Dickens 51). His death is more beneficial than it is a sad event. Many stole things from his house and sold them. While the people are stealing he is lying in his bed, dead and not one person cares. They gain much through his death. A woman says, “He frightened everyone away from him when he was alive, to profit us when he was dead!” (Dickens 56). Sadly, but understandably, his isolation while he is alive is also present when he is dead. Not one person is with him on his deathbed.
Everyone has left him while he is alive because of his rudeness and greedy. Dickens tells, ” He lay, in the dark empty house, with not a man, a woman, or a child, to say he was kind to me in this or that and for the memory of one kind word I will be kind to him” (57). His lifetime is not very different from his death because Scrooge is left isolated while he is alive. Audrey Jaffie states, “Scrooge’s death is a metaphor for his absence from representation; more powerfully, it is a metaphor for his absence from culture” (261). Scrooge will not be missed in his death, anymore than he is in life.
“The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the Mariner has alienated himself from his society. His actions cause his separation from his community. He, unlike Scrooge, has not led a life of total isolation, but he makes one mistake, which affects the rest of his life. As he and the other sailors are on a voyage, an albatross is flying around the boat. One morning the Mariner kills the albatross. He does not know the bird is a good omen to his fellow shipmates. The Mariner says, “Then all averred, I had killed the bird that brought the fog and mist” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge 93-6). After killing the bird, the ship’s good luck disappears. As a sign of his sin the shipmates place the dead albatross around the Mariner’s neck. He is isolated because of his impulsive act of killing the bird. The Mariner’s belief is not different from his society; it is his lack of awareness of his society’s beliefs. Unlike Scrooge the Mariner does not willingly choose isolation; he brings it upon himself. By killing the bird, the Mariner has to live the rest of his life in isolation.
Both the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” and A Christmas Carol have characters who, through their actions and personal beliefs, have isolated themselves from their communities. Each of the stories also has the redemption of both the Mariner and Scrooge. The characters are given a second chance and are forgiven. Even though both are forgiven, the consequences of their actions differ. Scrooge and the Mariner have been given redemption through the use of supernatural elements. The three phantoms in A Christmas Carol have a dynamic effect upon Ebenezer Scrooge. The ghost reveals to Scrooge his fate if he counties to live the life he has been living.
The visit of the Ghost of Christmas yet to Come brings about a fear and a moral force in Scrooge’s attitude toward others. The Mariner receives redemption trough supernatural elements. The Mariner realizes the beauty of God’s creation and in result the albatross falls form his neck. He is now forgiven but is paying penance by traveling over and around the world telling the story of the albatross. While Scrooge has led an entire self-centered life, he attains complete atonement and becomes the caring individual he should have been. Both have achieved redemption, but only one must relive and tell his own tale for the rest of his life.
Dickens and Coleridge have portrayed two individuals who have been rejected by their peers. The values of their societies are in contrast of their own values. For the rest of his life, the Mariner is destined to travel around the world telling the story of his alienating acts. Scrooge has become a changed man and begins making repairs to his former decisions and the behaviors in life. He has reached his goal of a “born again” man who cares his fellow human beings. Both protagonists leave positive marks on the world in which they live.