Dickens and Dasein: A Heideggerian Analysis of “A Christmas Carol”

Tis the season to be jolly! At last, we come to the end of 2017 in order to celebrate the holidays with our families, home from school and work, carefree, warm, and surrounded by those we love. And what a great time it is, might I add, to wrap oneself in a cozy blanket and sit in front of the fireplace with a nice, good-ole book with which to christmas-4.jpgkeep company and entertain oneself; for nothing is better than snuggling up with a traditional story for the whole family. A classic in Victorian literature in 19th century London, Charles Dickens’ novella A Christmas Carol (1843) depicts Christmas through the eyes of the infamous miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who despises the tradition and wants nothing to do with it. It is a loved and cherished story of celebrating and embracing the Christmas spirit as well as personal transformation. A classic in continental philosophy in the 20th century, Martin Heidegger’s magnum opus Being and Time (1927) is considered one of the greatest works of his time, and it analyzes the fundamental structure of human existence through the eyes of Dasein, which serves as the only being which can inquire into existence itself. It is a complex and formidable study of what it means as human beings to be. Together, Charles Dickens, a Victorian novelist, and Martin Heidegger, an existential phenomenologist—an unlikely pair—define the human condition and how we can best live our lives by being true to and understanding ourselves and others. Enjoy your Christmas and have a great New Year! 

111159a.jpgThe first thing I would like to point out is the use of symbolism Dickens employs in A Christmas Carol and how it relates to Being and Time. Known for his brilliant characterizations and descriptions of people and things, Dickens emphasizes “light” through the novella, especially in the Ghost of Christmas Past and Present, the first of which has a fiery head that can be extinguished, the latter of which spreads it as he goes forth. For Heidegger, light also plays an important role, not symbolically, but existentially. He says Dasein (human beings) “is itself the clearing [Lichtung]…. Dasein is its disclosedness.”[1] The German word lichtung translates roughly to “clearing,” as in a “clearing in the woods.” In saying that humans are the clearing, he means that, in existing, we shed light on things, and they are revealed to us from obscurity. Symbolically, light represents wisdom, divine and cosmic purity, and 4775070_f7dc2c5e.jpgrevelation, the latter of which is most important here. Heidegger conceives truth to be essentially revelatory: Truth reveals that which has hitherto been concealed. He bases this on the Greek word for truth, aletheia (αλήθεια), which translates to un-coveredness. That which is made known is truth. As such, Heidegger goes on to say that human beings are their “disclosedness” [Erschlossenheit]. Human beings illuminate their world; they make sense of it; they uncover and thus disclose the world to themselves. Therefore, when Dickens paints the Ghosts as full of light and uses it elsewhere, it is because they bring to Scrooge truth. By leading him through time, they reveal to him truths he needs to come to terms with; his life is disclosed, and he uncovers things of which he was unaware, things which were once hidden to him.

We begin in the present, with Scrooge working in his office, cranky-as-ever. Some gentlemen come inside to ask for a donation to a local charity, which Scrooge rudely turns down, saying the poor people should either go to work or prison or die, so as to “decrease the surplus population.” He refuses to get involved in other people’s businesses, declaring “‘Mine occupies me constantly’” (22). The fundamental essence of christmas-carol-a-1.jpgman, Heidegger writes, is Care [Sorge]. What he means is that we are always involved, engaged, and concerned about things. We can care about things, and we can feel concern for others. We have a certain engagement with everything in our world. If I say, “I do not care about vegetables,” I care about vegetables in a certain sense, in that I have a feeling towards them, albeit a bad one. Scrooge may be called uncaring, but in truth he cares very much—just not in the right way. He is so absorbed in his work, so involved with his entire being, that he has no concern for others, but only himself and his business. A workaholic, he cares too much about his business and not enough about other things, such that his life is centered around his work and nothing else. In our everyday language, we say we get “involved in others’ businesses,” by which we mean that we take an interest to them, or we have concern for their affairs, in which sense we care about them. Thus, when Scrooge says his business always makes him busy, he is really saying by “business” two things: First, it is more important in the sense of money-making; and second, it is more important in the sense of not getting involved with others. Scrooge is what Heidegger calls inauthentic [Uneigentlichkeit] because he lives solely in the present. While this may seem like a good thing—especially with mindfulness being all the craze nowadays—it is not, because by situating himself in the present, using it as a time of activity, he is neglecting the past and especially his future. Normally, in subjective time, we see the present moment as a time of action; it is in the present that we act and make decisions; therefore, we are busiest in the present. Scrooge exists only in the present and is absorbed therein by his work, meaning he can get nothing else done. He is trapped by his work.

Heidegger likens birth to being “thrown” [Geworfen] into the world, insofar as we are, without warning or consent, violently catapulted into life, much like a strong pitch. It is disorientating, unexpected, and outside of our control. Once we are in the world, we find ourselves disposed to a certain mood, or state-of-mind [Befindlichkeit], at every instant. A sad mood makes life appear sad, a happy mood happy. When Scrooge’s nephew Fred visits Scrooge and asks him to celebrate Christmas with his friends, Scrooge replies, scrooge-and-fred-1971.jpg“‘What reason have you to be merry? You’re poor enough,’” to which Fred counters, ‘“What right have you to be dismal? What reason have you to be morose? You’re rich enough’” (16). Here one sees the effect of moods. Regardless of circumstances, our attitudes are influenced by moods. In this particular scene, one man is rich, the other poor, yet because of their dispositions, they regard the same situation—Christmas—differently. Jovial, amiable, and affable, Fred likes the season despite his lack of wealth. Stingy, biting, and mean, Scrooge despises the season despite his abundance of wealth. Further in the book, Scrooge sees Fred discussing Scrooge’s mode of being-in-the-world (existing). Fred laments that Scrooge is corrupted by his moods, that his unhappiness will be his ruin. His greed, he says, makes him lonely. But, were he to be happy, Fred suggests, he could love and be able to be with others. Later, The Ghost of Christmas Past pays Scrooge a visit and whisks him away to the town where he grew up, which Scrooge remembers happily. Everyone has facticity. Facticity is one’s past, the collection of “facts” one has about oneself. Our past is made up of things that cannot be changed, but which are permanent and given. Part of our facticity is the fact that we exist—we acknowledge it, but we cannot change it. Our past is our facticity because we are, as Heidegger says, already-in-the-world. We cannot come into existence now or in five minutes, because we already find ourselves existing. So, the two then fast forward to a moment in which Scrooge’s marriage is called images.jpegoff by his fiancée Belle. Upset that she has been replaced by his love of money, she cries, “‘May you be happy with the life you have chosen!’” (69). Scrooge is shaped by his facticity, namely his decision to forever dispel happiness and instead pursue wealth. As soon as Belle left him, as soon as he committed himself to this course, he could not change it. Because of this moment in the past, his later life is predetermined and foreshadowed by loneliness. This one choice made in past, a fact of his existence, affects his whole life. Scrooge is distressed by this scene and demands to go home, but The Ghost of Christmas Past tells him that it is not its fault that the past is the way it is, and that Scrooge should not blame it. The Ghost implies that no one is responsible for how Scrooge’s life turned out except himself. Considering facts are given and cannot be changed, Scrooge decides to resign himself to his past, submitting to it, letting it determine him. The loss of his soon-to-be wife and the neglect of his father are facts of Scrooge’s life that he lets determine him. Scrooge’s past is inauthentic.

Cratchitfamilyindex.jpgThe Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge to Bob Cratchit’s home so he can see how his clerk lives. Scrooge feels bad for his disabled son Tiny Tim, into whose fate he inquires. If Scrooge continues on in his ways, the Ghost responds, then Tiny Tim will not make it to another Christmas. A disheartened Scrooge is mocked by the Ghost, who uses Scrooge’s own words against him. This moment reveals Scrooge in another mode of existence: falling [Verfallenheit]. In a state of fallenness, Scrooge is lost in the world and experiences forfeiture. Being “lost,” Scrooge loses himself in the present, in everydayness [Alltäglichkeit], so he forfeits himself, so to speak. In everyday life, we go about our business, do our job, eat, sleep, and repeat. There is nothing special, it is just average. In this way, we are “lost” in the world, and we lose sight of our real selves. We end up reverting to chatter, or idle talk [Gerede], to pass the time. We reuse phrases we hear from others and repeat them in trivial, frivolous, and uneventful conversations that distract us from reality. The Ghost of Christmas Present, however, points out that Scrooge has never experienced “the surplus” himself, has never walked among them in person, yet he remarks about them constantly, saying they should die. Hence, Scrooge has fallen to the “they” [Das Man]. The “they” is a vague entity, a collective, at once everyone yet at once no one, the indiscriminate individual, the voice of society. When asked why we do things, we answer, “Because they do it.” Accordingly, Scrooge’s chatter, his repeating what he hears from others, that the population should get rid of unnecessary people, comes from the “they.” He has become lost in them. He has lost himself in them. He is one of them. Fallen, forfeited, determined by social conventions, Scrooge’s present is inauthentic. By partaking in chatter, communicating through assertions, he reveals himself as fallen. Next, he is taken to Fred’s house, where he plays games with the guests, although invisible to them. One can interpret this metaphorically, as though he is both literally and figuratively invisible. He watches as they play the game “Yes or No,” a trivial game. Entertainment. Gossip. For once, Scrooge sees the “they” from the third-person, witnessing their chatter, of which he is the victim, something about which to be talked, a subject of ridicule. This objective exposure makes Scrooge aware of how dispersed the “they” is, how they pervade every part of life. He hears chatter about himself, listening to how he is portrayed himself as inauthentic by others. Finally, the Ghost of Christmas fbe887d568dcb70790119d0b88734ffc.jpgPresent gives his ultimate warning, revealing two depraved children beneath his robe: “‘This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware… most of all… this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it!’” (115). After, he requotes Scrooge’s chatter, condemning his fallenness into the “they.” The purpose of this is to show how Scrooge has fallen victim to the vices of Want and Ignorance. He cares for the wrong things, yet cares nonetheless. The former vice is his greed, the latter his lostness in the “they,” of which he is mostly unconscious, being-amidst-others and the world. In the present, humans are essentially fallen, by which they enter forfeiture, becoming inauthentic, losing themselves, ignorance the inevitable Doom which follows. The Ghost advises Scrooge to pull himself away from the “they” and back to himself.

Existentiality is the third mode of being. It is based on projection. Humans are able to plan ahead, to understand things. We think in terms of possibilities. When the Ghost of Marley comes to Scrooge on Christmas Eve, Scrooge is in disbelief. “Though he looked the phantom through and through, and saw it standing before him; though he felt the chilling influence of its death-cold eyes,… he was still incredulous, and fought against his sense” (31). Here, Marley’s phantom is a metaphor in itself—the arrival of Death. Scrooge, despite death being in front of him, flees from it, denies it. The possibility of death is passionately rejected by Scrooge, who is undeniably frightened, fearful of his life, unwilling to acknowledge its presence. Heidegger thinks death is underrated. He examines the human attitude toward death and concludes that, in everyday life, we see the possibility of death as a “not-yet,” something which will come but has not yet come, something in the distant future, something far away from us, something eventual, improbable, and incapable of touching us; in other words, we are, to use Ernest Becker’s phrase, in denial of death. Yes we will die, just not today. Or tomorrow. Or in the next year. But, eventually, we will! We push back death, unwilling to face it, giving it a deadline, as if it were on our terms, which it is not. Scrooge is not ready to die, so he does not believe in Marley, but says his senses are deluding him. Death itself is a delusion, he tells himself. During the fourth stave, Scrooge sees a dead body and gets to hear people talking about whoever it was who dead. As the reader, I do not think it is hard to predict d71f2d3b87522d55e23bdfee2335a072.jpgwho it is, personally, but Scrooge completely ignores the possibility of his death, ruling it out immediately, thinking he must still be alive—he has to be alive! In spite of all the evidence, from the business partners to the stolen furniture to the family in debt, he fails to deduce that it is he who is dead. The Ghost of Christmas Present, when at the Cratchit house, cautions Scrooge, “‘If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the child will die’” (98). What has this to do with existentiality? Scrooge, like all of us, thinks in terms of possibilities, in the process reducing Tiny Tim to a presence-at-hand; simply put, by thinking about Tiny Tim’s future, he sees him as a thing subject to time, as something that has possibilities, much as a pencil has the possibility of writing. Tiny Tim is considered to be something present, something that is “there.” Scrooge, for this reason, does not think of the future or project possibilities properly. Scrooge’s future is inauthentic. At the graveyard, Scrooge pleads with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come,

‘Are these the shadows of things that Will be, or are they the shadows of things that May be only?… Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if preserved in, they must lead…. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!’ (141)

Thinking of the future, Scrooge is determining whether it is contingent or necessary: Is his death necessary or unnecessary, a possibility or a certainty, a preordained event or an avoidable one? Has he free will? Is his future determined by his past completely, such that he signed his death warrant as soon as he chose his selfish, greedy path? If he is given a second chance, if he returns to his life, will the foreseen things happen, or can he change himself? Scrooge finally wants to become authentic [Eigentlichkeit].

Each of the Ghosts of Christmas represents something in the novella: Past, present, and future. However, up until now, I have not talked a whole lot about the Ghost of Marley. If he is a Ghost, and he visited Scrooge, of what is he, the first of all Ghosts, representative? What role does he play, for both Dickens and Heidegger? Jacob Marley, the dead co-owner of “Scrooge and Marley” and friend of Scrooge, is Scrooge’s call of conscience. In his famous monologue, Marley declares,

‘I wear the chain I forged in life… I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?…. Or would you know… the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself?’ (34-5)

mp_main_wide_christmascarol2008_452.jpgThe chains are a famous metaphor for the decisions Marley made throughout his life. Every single link, he says, is a choice he has made by himself, for himself. He repeats the phrase “free will,” which is important, because it means he alone made the choices; no one forced him to do them; he made his own life. Then, he asks Scrooge if the pattern is familiar. Like Scrooge, Marley stinted, grudged, and cared only about himself, leading to his lifestyle, which he regrets, a fate he abhors yet bears because he has to. Marley expresses remorse that he never went outside the building to see the people during Christmas time, but stayed locked up in his little cubicle working. This is what Heidegger calls guilt [Schuld]. Guilt is both a debt and a responsibility. Scrooge experiences guilt as a debt, because he has to pay off what he has done. His past actions, mind you, are part of his facticity, so he owes with his existence. Similarly, this debt is manifest in a responsibility for one’s actions. To be guilty is to look back at one’s past, to acknowledge that, while the past defines who we are, it does not define who we will be. Scrooge is determined by his past insofar as he has trouble forming intimate connections with others and he loves money, but this does not mean he has to be this way forever. He is indebted to his past, and must as a result carry this responsibility. Heidegger explains that when one is guilty, one is “full of not’s”—that is, we see what we are in contrast to what we are not. Since we are constantly making choices, we are simultaneously negating possibilities. By writing this essay, I am negating the possibility of having never written it, which would make me a different person, a person to whom I would be indebted, and for whom I would hold responsibility; conclusively, looking back, I would be guilty. Marley continues, complaining how sad it is “‘not to know that any Christian spirit… will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness! Now to know that no space of regrets can make amends for one’s 1.jpglife opportunities misused!’” (38). We only have one shot at life; in a word, YOLO. The point of Marley’s jeremiad is to remind Scrooge of his mortality, which has hitherto been neglected. In the present, Scrooge lives too absorbedly in the present, disregarding the future, paying no thought to it, as he is wrapped up in his business. How much change, how much good Scrooge could do, implores Marley, if he only realized his “vast means of usefulness”! Marley fears that if Scrooge sticks to his hermit-like existence, then it will be too late, and he will never get a chance to redo his life, as he did. Notably, he says, “‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business…. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’” (38). Business has two meanings, of which work, the second, is subsumed under the first—the service of humanity. The business of Marley is the sum of his involvement, his care, in the world. Getting money is but a small portion of his engagement with the world; the other half was neglected, namely people. Similarly, Scrooge fails to conduct business with his fellow man. Only through the future can the past be changed. Scrooge, too narrow in his approach, cared too much and was Unknown.jpegconcerned too little, inspiring regret. After lamenting that he did not help the poor on Christmas Eve in life, Marley reveals he has come to warn Scrooge of how to avoid his very fate. First, Scrooge must realize that his facticity is inauthentic; to fix it, he must avoid the determinism of the past. Second, he must take up his duty toward man. In this way, the Ghost of Marley is the call of conscience, as Heidegger saw it. Conscience is itself a calling, a voiceless voice, which calls humans back to themselves. It is the call of the self back to come back to the self, away from the “they,” from inauthenticity, from fallenness, from forfeiture. It retrieves us from our absorption in the everyday. Through the call of conscience, we are made aware of our situation: We are alone, and wholly responsible for our choices. Marley beseeches Scrooge to personalize his past; he must make the past his before the past makes him its. Rather than fall victim to the past and let it define him, he must understand his past and how it shapes him. While he later denied it in an essay further in his career, Heidegger is here supporting Sartre’s “existence precedes essence.”

We are always in a mood. There is a peculiar mood, however, which leads to authenticity by making us confront our mortality: Anxiety/dread [Angst]. Unlike other moods, anxiety discloses our finitude to us. This necessary though unsettling state-of-mind allows us to Unknown.jpegrealize our essential mode of being: Being-towards-death [Sein-zum-Tode]. This is a scary idea, but Heidegger insists that it is at our core. Essentially, we are always moving towards death slowly. Time passes as it inches closer, year by year, moment by moment. Death is defined as “the possibility which is one’s ownmost, which is non-relational, and which is not be outstripped.”[2] Put simply, death is the only certainty in life. Everyone has to face death. No one is exempt from dying. It is insightful for Heidegger to propose that death is one’s “ownmost,” through which he communicates that death is my ownno one can die my death for me, I must die it myself. He notes that I can die for others in the sense of a sacrifice, but I am eventually going to die myself, independent of anyone else. We must all die on our own, for death is essentially private, unique to everyone. Death, then, is both unique and unavoidable, a necessity. Heidegger is quick to critique our views of death: According to him, the “they” in everyday life dismisses death, objectifying it as an observable event that will happen. Think about it: When we talk about death, we say it “will happen, just not right now.” The “they” postpones death and convinces us that we are immune to it. Truthfully, death comes to us all, and it is the ending of life: There are no more possibilities after death, for it is “not to be outstripped.” Scrooge, when he sees his 1984-xmas-future.jpggrave with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, is filled with anxiety; he is immediately made aware of his mortality and the shortness of life on Earth; all at once, his Being is filled with intense emotions. Scrooge achieves resoluteness [Entschlossenheit]. To be resolute is to realize that one’s possibilities are one’s own. Resoluteness, in everyday language, means autonomy. A resolute Scrooge takes responsibility for each of his actions, considering they are his, and no one else’s. His life is his, so he must evaluate his possibilities for the future by himself, in the face of death. Together, being-towards-death and resoluteness become “anticipatory resoluteness,” which is just a fancy way of saying that one anticipates, or awaits, their death (hence anticipatory), thereby becoming resolute. An illustration: Scrooge sees his tombstone, realizing his mortality (anticipation), and decides thenceforth to become a new person (resoluteness). Achieving anticipatory resoluteness leads to a “moment of vision” [Augenblick], in which one reinterprets the past in relation to the future in the Present. The word “moment” is misleading, as it really refers to the fact that it happens in the Present (with a capital ‘P’), which is distinguished from the present, or the “now.” In the present, one is active: One acts in the present. In the Present, one is passive: Things happen to us in the Present. While you are contemplating your New Year’s resolutions, keep death in mind. Being resolute is like making a resolution—just make sure to anticipate death while you are at it! Heidegger describes authenticity in the following passage:

[A]nticipation reveals to Dasein its lostness in the they-self, and brings it face to face with the possibility of being itself, primarily unsupported by concernful solicitude, but of being itself, rather, in an impassioned freedom towards deatha freedom which has been released from the Illusions of the “they”, and which is factical, certain of itself, and anxious.[3]

To conclude, we get out of inauthenticity by confronting our own deaths, our ultimate possibility. We disclose ourselves through anxiety as beings-toward-death, a death which is certain, unique, and total.

Scrooge swears to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come he will change his ways, promising,

‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all year. I will live in the Past, Present, and Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach. Oh tell me I may sponge away the writing on this stone!’ (142)

When I first read this quote, I almost jumped out of my blanket in joy; for while it is the climax of the story, the point where Scrooge truly resolves to turn his life around, it also could not line up more perfectly with Heidegger’s philosophy! Heideggerian temporality [Zeitlichkeit] is extraordinary: On the one hand, it is extra-ordinary in that it goes beyond and even shatters our everyday conception of time; and it is extraordinary inasmuch as it is a creative, insightful, and existential way of thinking about time. “Reaching out to the future, it [time] turns back to assimilate the past which has made the present.”[4] bigstock_Past_Present_Future_Time_Co_4799792.jpgWhat does this mean? Authentic temporality is subjective and finite: It is something experienced by us, and it has a beginning and an end. But unlike our view of time, which divides temporality into three separate dimensions—past, present, and future—Heidegger says time is a unity. Time is not broken up into infinite “nows” in the present, arising from the past and becoming the future. Inauthentic temporality is past, present, and future; authentic temporality is past-present-future, all in one. How can one be in the past, the present, and the future simultaneously, all at once? How is this possible, if even it is? According to Heidegger, when one exists authentically in time, one looks ahead to the future, to what they could be, at death, then reinterprets the past in light of this and becomes aware of how the past has shaped them, notices that what they are is influenced by what they were, and acts in accordance with this in the present—all in an instant. The future is predominant, though, since with it one anticipates death. Now, compare the following passage, from Heidegger, to the one quoted above, from Dickens:

In every ecstasis, temporality temporalizes itself as a whole; and this means that in the ecstatic unity with which temporality has fully temporalized itself currently, is grounded the totality of the structural whole of existence, facticity, and falling—that is, the unity of the care structure.[5]

The above passage basically restates what Scrooge promises to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come: Truly, Scrooge “will live in the Past, Present, and Future”! It is worth considering that Dickens took to capitalizing each of the “ecstasies” of time purposefully because he wanted to emphasize the importance of each structure of time. Conveniently—perfectly, I might chance to say—it fits with Heidegger, forming a union. And also, pay attention to the last part of Heidegger’s passage. He refers to the “care structure,” which is united by—look at that!—the three modes of existence: facticity, falling, and existentiality, each of which lines up with the three modes of time: past, present, and future. The care structure ties in with what was talked about earlier—our involvement in the world. As such, being is essentially linked with time, hence the title of Heidegger’s book, Being and Time [Sein und Zeit]. (Is your mind blown yet?). Another notion is then introduced by Heidegger: Fate [Schicksal]. But did not we discuss that existence precedes images-1.jpegessence earlier, that there is free will, not determinism? Fate is different for Heidegger than it is for us, unsurprisingly. One’s fate is existing in the authentic present. In a process he calls “historizing” [geschehen], we “stretch” ourselves along time. That is, we stretch ourselves between the past and the future, the beginning and end, birth and death. As with anything stretched between two ends, there is a middle ground. In this case, the Present. Our fate is to live authentically in the Present for ourselves, resolutely. It is during this time that we engage in the moment of vision, which, as we said, is not sustained for just a “moment,” but indefinitely, as long as one is authentic.

While planning this, I ran into a perplexing problem with terrible implications: If Christmas is a tradition everyone follows, an event “they” do, and if Scrooge celebrates it, then does that make Christmas inauthentic, something in the realm of the “they”? If this is so, then did Scrooge come all this way and listen to the Ghosts in order to authenticate himself to—what, to become inauthentic again? Does this unravel the entire plot instantly? Lo! luckily, Heidegger has a solution:

Repeating is handing down explicitly—that is to say, going back into the possibilities of the Dasein that has-been-there. The authentic repetition of a possibility of existence that has been… is grounded existentially in anticipatory resoluteness; for it is in resoluteness that one first chooses the choice which makes one free for the struggle of loyally following in the footsteps of that which can be repeated.[6]

The phenomenon known as repetition [Wiederholung] is reaching back into the past and “inheriting” something for oneself. He calls it “handing down.” Much as siblings give each other hand-me-downs or families hand down heirlooms, so we can interact with the past in a special way. Repetition does not necessarily have to happen out of conformity. Unknown.jpegLike Heidegger writes, it can be authentic when acted on through anticipatory resoluteness. If we consciously make the choice to celebrate an age-old tradition which others celebrate, too, then we are authentic. However, those who celebrate Christmas just because their families and friends do, without knowing why they celebrate, what the importance of it is—they are celebrating Christmas inauthentically. They are not giving it the respect it deserves. To celebrate Christmas, to partake in the Christmas spirit, requires that one truly choose it, and this is precisely what Scrooge does. Heidegger adds that authentic repetition “deprives ‘today’ of its character as present, and weans one from the conventions of the ‘they.’”[7] Not only is an appropriated past event not past at all, but it is completely free from the besmirchment of the “they.” Chosen authentically and intentionally in the face of death, projected in the long run, following a tradition makes it neither past nor present, but Present, because it is something which happens, that is not caused, and is not done to progress anything.

3067ba0d24d42f07115774045d4393a8.jpgCare as solicitude, or protection and concern, is thus enacted by an authentic Scrooge, who, embodying the Christmas spirit, united temporally, having encountered death, in a bliss mood, gives a young boy passing by money to buy a big turkey, which he delivers to the financially struggling Bob Cratchit; donates a large sum of money to charity, recanting his mistaken chatter; and befriends the Cratchits, joining the family, becoming a father figure for Tiny Tim, whose life he saves by saving his own. On his way out of the house, Scrooge stops to look at his door knocker, which once resembled Jacob Marley’s Unknown.jpegface, and exclaims, “‘I shall it as long as I live! … I scarcely ever looked at it before. What an honest expression it has in its face! It’s a wonderful knocker!’” (149). This seemingly unimportant moment is probably glanced over by readers, but it holds significance. We encounter things and objects in the world as either present-at-hand [Vorhandenheit] or ready-to-hand [Zuhandenheit]. The former are things that that just are; they are factical and given, and their presence indicates their name. The latter are things that can be used—equipment, if you will. As can probably be gained from this, you can conclude that objects are looked down upon as merely things, objects of use. Living things are more important than lifeless objects lying around. This is why this moment is worthy of our c2127e94e31cfe9a2181bb55974fd9dd.jpgattention. Heidegger explains, “The moment of vision permits us to encounter for the first time what can be ‘in a time’ as ready-to-hand or present-at-hand.”[8] Taken for granted, seen daily but not considered in itself, used mindlessly through subconscious habit, Scrooge’s door knocker only gains value when he sees Marley’s face in it. Now, as a being-towards-death, Scrooge sees the door knocker in a new light (symbolism!), disclosing it, revealing what was once hidden to him, finding pleasure in the simple things. One thinks of the common adage, “Live each day as though it were your last.” The night before was almost his very last, so he cherishes being alive, even being happy towards objects. The moment of vision discloses the world and objects, uncovering them as they are; and it is not just for a single instant, but for a lifetime. Scrooge is authentic Dasein.

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more…. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man as the good old City knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough in the good old world…. His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him (155).

And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

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*I want to dedicate this blog to my dad, who has himself encountered death in his time; who has, I want to think, remained authentic as a father for as long as I can remember; whose avid and ardent affection, appraisal, and adoration for Charles Dickens inspired me to write this post; and without whose support I would not be writing. May we have many more Christmases together!


[1] Heidegger, Being and Time, H. 133
[2] Id., H. 250-1
[3]  H. 266
[4] Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3, p. 461
[5] Heidegger, op. cit., H. 350
[6] Id., H. 385
[7] H. 391
[8] H. 338

For further reading: 
Masterpieces of World Philosophy in Summary Form by Frank N. Magill (1961)
The Columbia History of Western Philosophy by Richard H. Popkin (1999)
Existentialist Philosophy: An Introduction by L. Nathan Oaklander (1992)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Vol. 3 by Paul Edwards (1967)

Time, Narrative, and History by David Carr (1991)
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1994)
Being and Time by Martin Heidegger (1962) 

3 thoughts on “Dickens and Dasein: A Heideggerian Analysis of “A Christmas Carol”

  1. Nicely done! Being and Time is not exactly a page-turner, and it’s even more difficult to simplify in a clear manner. I never did understand much beyond readiness-to-hand and presence-at-hand, and so I appreciate your explanation of Heidegger’s terms in the context of a familiar story. The temporal ghosts really do tie in nicely with Heidegger’s analysis of time! Brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you!

      I totally agree with you. I found it best to, whenever you read a passage, substitute his words with yours, as close as possible in your rendering. Once I got the general layout of the book and the vocabulary, it was as though every page I read blew my mind even more—because Heidegger’s brilliance lies in his ability to communicate those things we’ve all felt but have never been able to put into words, notwithstanding how confusing they are. And yes, it was very convenient!

      I loved your blogs on phenomenology—a topic I’m very interested in. Do you have any suggestions for where to start with Husserl? I don’t have any books by him yet. I’m definitely gonna write more about Heidegger in the future, however.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m glad we met! I’m a big fan of phenomenology, but by no means well versed or academic about it. That said, my husband taught philosophy for many years and if you have any questions, I can relay them to him.

        As for Husserl, I never went much further than “Ideas I”, but I would say that’s the place to start. And it’ll keep you busy. That’s where his methodology is expressed, and that to me is crucial for understanding how phenomenology came to light.

        I recommend continuing with your way of reading since you obviously have been doing well with Heidegger. In class we used to joke that reading Husserl was a game of “find the linking verb.” There’s some truth to that…once you find the linking verb, you can break down his massive sentences into simpler statements (albeit, often with clauses as subjects which also have to be broken down.)

        It’s always been hard for me to simplify. I tend to expand. But simplifying is key, I think, to wresting meaning from these texts.

        I look forward to reading your posts! I noticed you’ve written extensively on many other subjects/philosophers that I’m interested in as well.


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