Below are the work we've done for our customers in the past:
Business Trip Schedule Letter
Intercultural Communication: Problems and Solutions
Concentrating Specifically on Chinese/English Relations
This paper will begin with a brief introduction of intercultural communication relating to all forms of communication, but concentrating on verbal aspects. It will continue to explain some of the general problems that may arise from such differences. The paper shall continue on to examine some of the more specific problems, which may arise between Chinese and British cultural differences, and finally, suggest some solutions to these problems. An appendix has been added examining the experience of a British national moving to China (Suzhou) in 2003, and any difficulties he may have experienced.
Introduction to Intercultural Communication
Intercultural communication is both the attempt to bridge the cultural divide affecting understanding between two or more cultures, and the study of such divide. Within each culture are different social groups, arising in different environmental areas, which can also affect communication and understanding. Any organisation or individual living within a certain contextual position within a culture will have a unique understanding of their world, and their place within said world, for one such individual or organisation, communicating under the weight of ethical, religious, political, economic, etc... concerns to be understood by another individual or organisation communicating beneath the weight of even slightly different world views is both a challenge and necessity in the ever shrinking world in which we live.
There are many concerns to be examined within the framework of 'intercultural communication' (sometimes used synonymously with 'cross-cultural communication'). Not only is it important to understand the context within which the individual or organisation is attempting to communicate, but how that context affects communication itself (what medium is used for communication, for example).
'Intercultural communication is defined as situated communication between individuals or groups of different linguistic and cultural origins. This is derived from the following fundamental definitions: communication is the active relationship established between people through language, and intercultural means that this communicative relationship is between people of different cultures, where culture is the structured manifestation of human behaviour in social life within specific national and local contexts, e.g. political, linguistic, economic, institutional, and professional.' (Bib 1)
A study and proficiency in intercultural communication must factor in a great many contextual variables. A knowledge of any culture must include a certain understanding of their institutions: a culture's religious, educational, social, etc... organisations; their laws, practices and customs. Also included should be a certain familiarity of the culture's history, and the historical way of life, of the communities making up any particular culture, and the possible impact another culture may have on given fields of life when encountering another cultural perspective.
Also important in both understanding and utilising intercultural communication is an understanding of the relationship between a culture and its practical uses through communication. For example, how do the people within a certain culture communicate: do they email or write letters, do they socialise in a bar or in a restaurant, do they share their experiences through physical interaction or some form of social media, to list but a very few. How do the people within a culture behave in certain culturally specific situations (microcosmically, what are their eating conventions, table manners, rules of behaviour during meal times – an interesting subject especially concerning the almost obsessive rules and conventions applying to English eating habits).
It is also necessary to possess a critical awareness of you and your culture's own beliefs and values; all of the topics and particularities you understand of the culture you are both studying and attempting to communicate with, apply equally to your own, and if you are attempting communication rather than domination, whether intellectually or ethically, one must examine one's own culture with all the same critical skills that one applies to the other.
Finally, it is important to possess a certain objectivity and understanding towards the cultural stereotypes applicable to both your own and another's culture. These stereotypes can easily hinder or prevent communication. It is important to retain an understanding that it 'does not always rain in England', that 'everyone in China is not short', etc... Retaining an objective perspective of contextual and individual distinctions is vital in managing and understanding intercultural communication.
General Problems Arising During Intercultural Communication
A lack of understanding and/or sensitivity with regard to many aspects can lead to problems with intercultural communication. The most obvious and common problem arises from stereotypes.
'When people get defensive about sensitive issues they often make generalizations and give labels intended to attack the credibility/image of another person or group (e.g. derogatory slurs – which are too abundant to name them all – or terms such as worthless, “evil”, bigot, and so on).' (Bib 2)
As we examined briefly in the introduction above, and not only when people become sensitive to particular issues, but quite normally, in everyday life, we make assumptions about others. The world has too many particulars for us not to make generalisations and successfully deal with each day. Stereotypes are literally necessary, but when carelessly applied to matters of intercultural communication they can, quite reasonably, cause difficulties. How is an individual, or an organisation, who has no experience, but for the stereotypes they have encountered within the context of their own society, suddenly come to a clear understanding of the motivations and foundations of a very different culture?
Another difficulty can arise from a psychological tendency to mistakenly assume other people think in essentially the same way we do. We are grounded in the ego, the 'I', and find it difficult to accept others' 'I' can be in some way different from our own. When we think of ourselves the context is clear; our memories, our social and cultural conditioning, our position within the state and our institutions, when we perceive others, especially from other cultures and societies, we lack that context, so it becomes very easy to make assumptions on their immediate actions, ones which we perceive with eyes coloured by our own culture.
'So to really perceive someone as they perceive themselves, you really need to step back and take a look into their intentions and their situation. Don't think about the consequences or your perceived meaning of their actions, but rather think about what circumstances led them to act in that way.' (Bib 3)
Institutions in each of the communicating cultures may vary in fundamental beliefs. In one culture women may be viewed in a certain way, while in another ideas may be more or less progressive. In one culture the work ethic may be taken more or less seriously than in the other. Education may be viewed with more or less dedication and importance, religious beliefs may be fundamental to the culture, or simply a remnant of a time long past, and the list continues.
Assumptions as to the interactions between individuals within a culture can also easily lead to errors in communicative success. Ways in which people socialise, quite difference in one culture to another, can easily lead to mistakes in understanding (a matter we shall go into in far more detail when we examine the specific differences between English and Chinese cultures, see below). Ways in which people conduct business, the importance placed on time and punctuality, etc... once again, misunderstandings can easily arise simply from assuming that others act as we act, and a lack of understanding as to the cultural customs of a particular group of individuals.
Two mistakes seem to rise to the surface. The first, stereotyping an entire group because of something we believe we know, and secondly, assuming that others think and act as we do, and therefore becoming confused or offended when they refuse to conform to our view of the world.
Specific Differences Arising Between the English and Chinese Cultures
For this part of the essay we shall refer the Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory, developed initially between 1967 and 1973, and continuingly refined, this theory analyses cultural differences based on six elements. I shall briefly note each element and then give a relevant example.
Firstly, Power Distance Index (PDI). PDI is defined as 'the extent to which the less powerful members of organisations and institutions (like the family), accept and expect that power is distributed unequally' (Bib 4). Simply put, for contextual reasons too long to go into in this brief paper, individuals within a culture will expect to be led, or to have an equal (or as equal as circumstances allow), say in the decisions being made.
More specifically, In England due to certain historical, political and education factors, the people believe they have an equal say in political matters, and that their voice will be heard, while in China the political system is more patriarchic; the people trusting in the government to take care of their interests while they get on with parts of their lives they feel more important.
Next, Individualism vs. collectivism (IDV). IDV is interested in the 'degree to which people in a society are integrated into groups' (Bib 4). This question concerns itself with the social psychology of a culture: are they comfortable as individuals or prefer to gather into groups. What factors allow or prevent personal associations, and how close are such associations?
As a people the English tend to be more solitary, while they do participate in group activities the idea of individual excellence remains (based on their essential individualism). The people of China tend more easily towards group activities; the essential equality between people, separated predominately by wealth rather than education or hierarchical station allows for an ease between relationships rarely encountered in Western countries.
Thirdly, Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI). UAI is defined by 'a society's tolerance of ambiguity'. How easily can a culture of individuals or organisations deal with the unexpected? If an event, in the microcosm or macrocosm, does not fit with social expectations how will society react? How acceptant are the people to difference and how easily can they deal with change (all of which are very important questions in advanced societies facing the surprises of the 21st century)?
As a rule people in England are more acceptant of change and the unusual. While both cultures are very old and deeply founded in tradition, England has been developing for a long time, while China is still relatively in its developmental youth (as regards modern technologies and international influences). Other factors include immigration; for a long time now England has been influenced by the influx of foreign peoples into the country, while China still strictly limits the number of immigrants, and thus the influence they can have over its citizens. The less a people encounter new ideas the more shocking the ideas will appear, and the more defensive a people will be to such radical ideas.
Next, Masculinity vs. Femininity (MAS). This is not as sexist as it first appears as masculinity represents 'a preference in society for achievement, heroism, assertiveness and material rewards for success.' (Bib 4) While femininity represents 'a preference for cooperation, modesty, caring for the weak and quality of life.' (Bib 4) In feminine societies men and women tend to share open and caring attitudes, while in masculine societies individuals are more emphatic and competitive.
Assessing differences between England and China within this category is more difficult (although all of these categories have the potential for much deeper assessment, and the distinctions are not nearly as clear as represented here). Both cultures exemplify care for individuals within their society, especially within closer groups, while both cultures enjoy competition and a confidence arising from long and proud histories, but on the whole, due to a more recent open policy, China tends to be a more masculine society.
Fifth, Long-term orientation vs. short-term orientation (LTO). This element assess how traditions and customs are honoured and observed, and steadfastness is valued. First, a country needs to have existed for a significant amount of time for it to have traditions and customs in the first place (for example, the States, as a relatively new country, pays far less attention to the long standing traditions of societies like China and England). Another important factor is how rich a country is; if a country has a great deal of surplus money new activities and actions can be introduced, which will heavily affect how traditions are observed and adhered to.
Both countries are deeply grounded in tradition and custom, but once again, due to the constant influx of immigrants for more than a hundred years now, and due to a certain surplus of money, allowing for experimentation outside normative custom and tradition, English people are less likely to adhere to tradition and custom than the Chinese.
Finally, Indulgence vs. Restraint (IND). This refers to what in modern philosophy is known as Utilitarianism, it is a measure of individual 'happiness', or indulgence, defined as 'a society that allows relatively free gratification of basic and natural desires related to enjoying life and having fun.' (Bib 5), as opposed to 'a society that controls gratification of needs and regulates it by means of strict social norms.' (Bib 5). How condemning is a society to what it considerers self-gratification, at the expense of the group or society as a whole?
The difference here, while relating heavily to many of the interconnected elements above, is fairly obvious. China still exerts heavy social norms on its individuals, dictating how an individual should act within a particular social group and society as a whole. While in England, while, obviously, social norms still have their place, self-gratification, so long as it is not at the cost of another's gratification, or even happiness/detriment, is far more accepted, and acknowledged as a normal part of society.
Possible Methods to Avoid Intercultural Communicative Problems
While the possible solutions to some of these problems might, after the previously provided information, seem relatively self-explanatory, I should like to take the opportunity to suggest several basic courses of action in the hopes communicative problems might be averted.
Firstly, when we consider one of the most common problems regarding intercultural communication to be stereotyped images of individuals and organisations from a different culture, we can see a rather simple, on paper, solution... education. Education in a two-fold manner. The first part would be to come to a better understanding of the culture we wish to successfully communicate with. This can be done by studying the culture's institutions (as a general solution). What do we know of their history, of their educational practices, of their religious and political beliefs, and how can we apply this knowledge to a better understanding of their meaning intentions when we communicate with them? The second part is to understand a little more about ourselves and our own institutions. By a more enlightened insight into our own culture we may avoid misunderstandings when communicating with others from another culture.
A second method to avoid misunderstandings and perceive others, to understand others, as they mean to be understood, is to spend a moment before jumping to conclusions based on our own expectations. We need to step back from our immediate conclusions, take a moment to place the others' actions within an appropriate context, remembering that their motivations for doing or saying a thing, and the expectations they may have for doing or saying a thing, may not be the same as our own, and by applying a little insightful deductive effort we may discover their communicative meaning to be very different from our initial belief.
Finally, but certainly no less important, although, possibly hardest of all, is to attempt to take a non-judgmental view of not only individuals' communicative efforts, but also of the institutions making up a culture. A tolerance towards others, both within our own and others' cultures is vital to clear and correct communicative understanding.
As a secondary consideration to this, one must enter communication without any sense of moral superiority, a mistake many make when they judge another’s' culture to be morally deficient when compared to their own.
Interview with an Englishman who moved to China in 2003
When you first came to China how was your communication perceived here?
When I first arrived in China I couldn't speak any Chinese so my conversation was limited to those individuals who both wished to speak English and could speak English. Many mistakes were made. For example, in England men and women are equally 'tough', perhaps women are considered even tougher, so it is quite normal to use a harsh voice when arguing with a girl, as she will use an equally harsh one, and argue back with at least the same ferocity. I can't speak for the rest of China, but in Suzhou I, to my shame, made several girls cry, quite accidentally, by raising my voice to them in such a manner as I would without thinking in England. I learnt to control myself (as well as I could), quite quickly.
Non-verbally, and verbally, I was generally well accepted. I come from a good family in England, with excellent manners, and I found that please and thank you, letting women take your seat on the train, opening doors for people, etc... went down very well.
What was similar, and how was it similar?
Some things are very similar. There is a stoicism to Chinese people that often reminds me of home; you must have heard of the English idiom 'stiff upper lip'. We don't show much emotion in public, we're not much for holding hands or kissing, and we don't jump around telling everyone how much we like them.
I remember climbing a mountain, Taishan, I think, and asking someone why there weren't any rails to stop people slipping and falling the 1000 foot or so drop to the ground. The answer was “if you fall down there, it's your own bloody fault” (I added the 'bloody'). I especially enjoyed this; unlike the States, where they will sue you if they lose a hair in the supermarket, England still has trees for kids to climb and Dad will still spank your bum if you're naughty.
What was different, and how was it different?
Compliments were different! In England another guy WILL NOT tell a guy he looks handsome unless he is gay. It took some time, and I'm still not comfortable with it, after all these years, for me to accept another guy telling me I look handsome (even if he thinks he's just being polite).
Eye contact while conversing is very different. In England there is an unwritten rule that eye contact will come and go, but often in China I have found people staring at me, even when we are conversing. In England, especially as an Alpha male, this is a challenge, and unconsciously I find I still respond to the potential conflict aggressively.
How were you accepted by others, and how did you accept others?
In most walks of life I was well accepted. I have made some very good friends over the years. The only place I found it difficult to be accepted was in relationships with Chinese girls. As soon as their parents discovered they were seeing a foreigner, no matter how polite, educated, and reasonably nice, every effort was made to break up the relationship.
It is obviously difficult to live in a different culture, especially one which has had so little contact with the rest of the world (especially when you are tall with very blond hair), but you make yourself a nest at home and sally out to do battle every day.
A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
A Critical Examination
Charles John Huffam Dickens was born in Portsmouth, England on the 7th of February 1812, the second of eight children to John and Elizabeth Dickens. Up to the age of twelve Charles’ life appears idyllic, living predominately an outdoor active life, while reading great quantities of books, including authors such as Henry Fielding and Tobias Smollett, famous for their picturesque novels. Although Charles claimed to have been a ‘very small and not-over-particularly-taken-care-of boy’, this period of time, living in Portsmouth, Bloomsbury and Chatham all seem to be without major incident and even included some years of private education in two different schools.
Unfortunately, due to financial difficulties in 1822 his family was forced to move to Camden Town, London, and eventually in 1824 Charles’ father, a man who constantly lived beyond his means, was sentenced to a period in the Marshalsea Debtors’ prison in Southwark London. Charles’s mother and younger siblings went to live in the prison with their father, which was the usual practice of the time, while Charles went to board with Elizabeth Roylance, a friend of the family, and later the back-attic of Archibald Russell, both of whom would one day come to be characterised and immortalised in Charles’ writings.
To pay for his board and to help his family Charles left school and went to work for ten hours a day pasting the labels on tins of boot blacking. The work was monotonous and the conditions appalling as he recalled to John Forster
‘It was a crazy, tumble-down old house, abutting of course on the river, and literally overrun with rats. Its wainscoted rooms, and its rotten floors and staircase, and the old grey rats swarming down in the cellars, and the sound of their squeaking and scuffling coming up the stairs at all times, and the dirt and decay of the place, rise up visibly before me, as if I were there again.’ The Life of Charles Dickens
After just a few months Charles’ great grandmother died, leaving a sum of money to her grandson, allowing him to clear his debts and attain release from the prison. However, due to his mother’s influence Charles was not immediately recalled from his work in the warehouse.
He was later enrolled into Wellington House Academy in North London, which was not a good school, with ‘haphazard, desultory teaching, poor discipline punctuated by the headmaster's sadistic brutality, the seedy ushers and general run-down atmosphere’.
He then went to work in the law offices of Ellis and Blackmore between 1827 and 1828, leaving this to become a freelance reporter, reporting the legal proceedings at Doctor’s Commons, and eventually aged 20 became a political journalist, reporting on parliamentary debate and travelling the country to cover elections.
His fame began with the publishing of The Pickwick Papers, and from then on he continued from success to success. In his life he edited a weekly journal for twenty years, wrote fifteen novels and hundreds of short stories, lectured and performed extensively and was a constant letter writer. His philanthropic endeavours included campaigning for the poor, children’s rights, education, and women’s issues among many other causes.
The humiliating and difficult period of time for Charles, as an intelligent, well-educated boy, from a good family, being forced to pawn his collection of books, and work long hours in dreadful conditions among the lower classes who would refer to him as ‘the young gentleman’ not only disturbed him psychologically, causing him to develop fits, coloured his future works, and haunted his entire work with painful memories, but his firsthand experience of the suffering the poor children of London were forced to endure would inspire him to dedicate a great deal of his life, and meaningfully include many such examples in his works, in his interest in and work towards reforms for the poor.
In February 1843 a parliamentary report was released, exposing the effects of the Industrial Revolution upon poor children, called The Second Report of the Children’s Employment Commission. Partly in response to the information contained within Charles planned to publish a pamphlet entitled ‘An Appeal to the People of England, on Behalf of the Poor Man’s Child’ in May, but reconsidered this plan. Believing that another medium would be more effective to the general population than a pamphlet or essay Charles wrote A Christmas Carol, claiming ‘… you will certainly feel that a Sledge hammer has come down with twenty times the force – twenty thousand times the force – I could exert by following out my first idea’.
In Victorian England there was a general feeling of nostalgia for the pre-Cromwell Christmas sweeping the country after the publishing of books such as Davies Gilbert’s Some Ancient Christmas Carols (1822), William B. Sandy’s Selection of Christmas Carols, Ancient and Modern (1833), and Thomas K. Hervey’s The Book of Christmas (1837, and the introduction of the Christmas Tree, by Queen Victoria’s German born husband Prince Albert after their marriage in 1841, combined with the first Christmas card in 1843, and perhaps most importantly the inexorable growth of the Industrial Revolution, were all factors which suggested to Charles that the Christmas period, with the spirit of harmony and charitable feeling associated, would be an appropriate setting for the message contained within the novella, and the Carol did indeed have a huge impact in rejuvenating the lost Christmas spirit throughout England.
The book is divided into five staves, in accordance with the name ‘Carol’, and begins on Christmas Eve seven years after the passing of Ebenezer Scrooge’s, the principle character, business partner, Jacob Marley. In one of the most beautifully crafted descriptive moments in the book Charles paints a vivid picture of Scrooge, who among other qualities is described as…
‘… a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner! Hard and sharp as flint, from which no steel had ever struck out generous fire, secret and self-contained, solitary as an oyster.’
‘No warmth could warm, no wintry weather chill him. No wind that blew was bitterer than he, no falling snow was more intent upon its purpose, no pelting rain less open to entreaty.’
‘No beggars implored him to bestow a trifle; no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Scrooge. Even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and, when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways…’
At the introduction of the book we find Scrooge turning away two gentlemen seeking charitable donation for the poor, refusing an invitation from the son of his beloved dead sister to join his family for Christmas, sending a boy singing carols fleeing and only releasing his clerk from duty on Christmas day with pay due to social convention, complaining ‘… you don’t think me ill used when I pay a day’s wages for no work.’, clearly setting the character of Scrooge in the midst of a society recently religiously undermined with evolutionary theories, entertaining new ideas of class negation through money, and with the new technologies and markets growing with the Industrial Revolution becoming more and more materially minded.
On returning home Scrooge is visited by the apparition of his long dead partner, who wrapped in covetous chains of his own construction ‘The chain he drew about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought of iron.’, warns Scrooge than a similar fate will befall him if he doesn’t change his ways.
To aid him in understanding what he has lost and what he has become, and the fate awaiting him he will be visited by three spirits; the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.
The Ghost of Christmas Past takes him through a series of his previous Christmas experiences; first to the boarding school he’d been sent to by his harsh father, and his kind sister ‘Fan’ coming with good tidings of his permission to return. He visits his apprenticeship where a merry Christmas is provided for many by his master, Mr. Fezziwig. He moves forward to the breaking of his marriage proposal with his intended wife, and finally observes her in her marital bliss with her eventual husband.
The Ghost of Christmas Present, or The Green Man, a pagan myth stretching back into antiquity, visits Scrooge on the second night and conducts him into the streets of London to observe the mood of the people as they busily go about their preparations, and merrymaking. He then journeys to the humble house of his clerk, Bob Cratchit, who despite his poor circumstances still manages to celebrate a merry Christmas with his family, even toasting his miserly employer, and we are introduced to the pitiable character Tiny Tim.
Scrooge is then transported to a number of less important locations, both near and far, with the intention of showing him that wherever people gather, however remote or poor, Christmas has the effect of producing goodwill and good cheer, among all peoples.
He’s finally taken to the home of his nephew, who had previously invited him for Christmas, who with more insight than Cratchit is able to consummately describe Scrooge, and even poking a little innocent fun at the character still spares a kindly world for the man.
The third and final ghost, the Ghost of Christmas yet to Come, comes in the aspect of Death itself, who transports him to a series of events regarding the passing of some unknown character; a group of business men who will attend the funeral under similar grasping reasons as he might himself ‘I don’t mind going if a lunch is provided’ and ‘Old Scratch, has got his own at last, hey?’ to a group of servants who have apparently stripped the house of the unnamed dead man of valuables, one actually during the process of his dying ‘You don’t mean to say you took ‘em down, rings and all, with him lying there?’ to a young couple in debt to the man, who’s reaction, even though they appear moral people, is nothing but relief…
‘"I don’t know. But before that time we shall be ready with the money and even though we were not, it would be bad fortune indeed to find so merciless a creditor in his successor. We may sleep to-night with light hearts, Caroline!”’
Next he is moved to the house of his clerk, whose son ‘Tiny Tim’ has finally died. The house is in grieving for the loss, though putting on a brave front, until finally his father ‘… broke down all at once. He could not help it, he and his child would have been further apart, perhaps, than they were.’ And finally to a graveyard…
‘Walled in by houses, overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life; choked up with too much burying, fat with repleted appetite. A worthy place!’
In this graveyard Scrooge has his growing suspicions confirmed and discovers the unmourned for man is indeed himself, and in horror of such a despised end, begs the Spirit to confirm this is just a possible end for him, swearing he will change his ways.
In the fifth and final stanza Scrooge wakes up a new man. He begins to see beauty in everything ‘an intelligent boy’ and ‘a remarkable boy’ as he anonymously sends his clerk’s family a giant Turkey, ‘I shall love it as long as I live!’ to the knocker which had so scared him at the beginning of the tale, donating a huge sum to the charitable collector from the previous day ‘I don’t know what to say to such munifi-’, and generally spending time with his fellow man ‘He had never dreamed that any walk – that anything – could give him so much happiness.’ He spends the rest of the day with his nephew, having a delightful Christmas, and at the end of the novella Charles is sure to leave the reader with no doubt of the changes to Scrooge being permanent.
Charles’ love of nursery stories and fairy tales is well exemplified and used to effect in the ghost and spirit images throughout the novella. The image of his partner, Jacob Marley ‘His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on the coat behind.’, and other such traditional ghostly images…
‘At this the spirit raised a frightful cry, and shook his chain with such a dismal and appalling noise, that Scrooge held on tight to his chair, to save himself from falling into a swoon. But how much greater was his horror when, the phantom taking off the bandage round his head, as if it were too warm indoors, his lower jaw dropped down upon his breast!’(at the time corpse’s heads often being bound to keep the mouth from dropping open.)
‘The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free.’
The Ghost of Christmas past makes up a strange image, the most difficult to understand in symbolism, ‘like a child; yet not so like a child as like an old man’ and ‘’the arms were strong and muscular’, ‘and round his waist was bound a lustrous belt’, ‘It held a branch of fresh green holly in its hand; and, in singular contradiction to that wintry emblem, had a dress trimmed with summer flowers’, ‘from the crown of its head sprung a bright, clear jet of light’, with ‘a great extinguisher for a cap’, while ‘the figure fluctuated in its distinctness: being now a thing with one arm, now with one leg now with twenty legs, now a pair of legs without a head, now a head without a body…’
The Ghost represents Scrooge’s memory, perhaps a symbol of some crisis of age, and as both youth and aged figure, as both light and dark, and a myriad of changes he takes Scrooge back so his own poor, lonely life allowing him to recall empathy, to Fezziwig to recall friendship, and remember intimate relations, and through his romantic failure to see how money has interfered with him forming normal lasting relationships.
The Ghost of Christmas Present is drawn in the ancient image of The Green Man, a symbol of rebirth or ‘renaissance’ representing the cycle of growth beginning with every spring. The Ghost shows Scrooge many visions of Christmas as a torch among all the travails of the world, a moment of emotional rebirth, in which people who would normally be unhappy and competitive share a moment of peace and fellowship…
‘There was nothing very cheerful in the climate or the town, and yet there was an air of cheerfulness abroad that the clearest summer air and brightest summer sun might have endeavoured to diffuse in vain’
The Ghost of Christmas yet to Come, is very closely symbolically similar to the Grim Reaper myth ‘It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand’ and ‘… its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread’.
Charles represents the Ghost as a threatening symbol initially, but finally it appears to feel pity at the enormous horror of Scrooge’s fate, and ‘The kind hand trembled’ reminding the reader that Christmas is a time representing the coming of the great redeemer; Christ, who will forgive all sins, and thus the readers are encouraged to improve themselves, by the pity and sorrow felt by even Death at the fate of sinners.
We can see some parallel between the characters in the novella and Charles’ own life in many parts and styles, images and intentions throughout the novella. During his visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, we find Scrooge cast away from the family and having to survive alone ‘The school is not quite deserted, said the Ghost. A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.’ and in his enforced separation from his father and family, but for his beloved sister Frances, with whom he used to visit his imprisoned family on Sundays, once recalling to John Forster ‘How could I have been so easily cast away at such an age’ the reflection of who comes to bring young Scrooge back home
‘”Yes!” said the child, brimful of glee. “Home, for good and all. Home, for ever and ever. Father is so much kinder than he used to be, that home’s like Heaven! He spoke so gently to me one dear night when I was going to bed that I was not afraid to ask him once more if you might come home; and he said Yes, you should; and sent me in a coach to bring you…’
Also Charles’ work throughout his life with England’s poor children, inspired by his difficult time working in the blacking factory, would move him to incorporate many children in terribly poor circumstances into his books. He was deeply troubled by the suffering of 19th Century children, leading him to tour the Cornish tin mines to seeing children working in appalling conditions, and a visit to Field Lane Ragged School, one of several schools designed to educate many of London’s half-starved, illiterate children. These and many more sights would encourage Charles to write Tiny Tim into A Christmas Carol ‘Alas for Tiny Tim, he bore a crutch, and had his limbs supported by an iron frame!’ in his ongoing struggle to alleviate the suffering of the poor.
The greatest effect of the book, which at the time of publishing although selling out seven publications by the following year was a disappointing financial enterprise for Charles due to several reasons including its immediate piracy by Parley’s Illuminated Library, complaints of over-pricing putting it out of the reach of the common man, and problems with design leading it to only be finished two days before publication, was its prolonged influence in the altering of Christmas itself.
Previously, before the time of Cromwell, the festival had been a celebration of community-based activities and church-centered observations, which in the late 18th and early 19th century had been on the slow decline, while it was with Charles successful intent that the novella transform the festival to one of family-centered generosity, goodwill and compassion.
‘”Mr. Scrooge!” said Bob; “I’ll give you Mr. Scrooge, the Founder of the Feast!”
“The Founder of the Feast, indeed!” cried Mrs. Cratchit, reddening. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he’d have a good appetite for it.”
“My dear,” said Bob, “the children! Christmas Day.”
Imposing his secular vision of the festival over the traditional Christian foundations ‘But they didn’t devote the whole evening to music. After a while they played at forfeits, for it is good to be a child sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when it’s mighty Founder was a child himself’, he not only inspired a spirit of philanthropy to the cultural event, but many of the customs as aspects that are now celebrated in the Western tradition, such as family gatherings…
‘Mrs. Cratchit made the gravy (ready beforehand in a little saucepan) hissing hot, Master Peter mashed the potatoes with incredible vigor. Miss Belinda sweetened up the apple sauce, Martha dusted the hot plates, Bob took Tiny Tim beside him in a tiny corner of the table, the two young Cratchits set the chairs for everyone…’
A powerful theme running through the novella is that of redemption, a fundamentally religious idea, which combines with the images of suffering and punishment we find in the spirits who died before atoning for their worldly actions. As the book moves through the visitations we see an increasingly altered Scrooge from the miser introduced to us so powerfully in his description and lack of compassion at the beginning of the book. From the ‘squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!’ to ‘I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now.’ in the second stanza, while in the third he begins to exhibit some humility and understanding of himself
‘Scrooge entered timidly, and hung his head before the Spirit. He was not the dogged Scrooge he had been and though the Spirit’s eyes were clear and kind, he did not like to meet them.’
‘“Spirit,” said Scrooge submissively, “conduct me where you will. I went forth last night on compulsion, and I learned a lesson which is working now. To-night, if you have aught to teach, let me profit by it.”
In the fourth stanza we find…
‘“Spirit!” he cried, tight clutching at its robe, “hear me! I am not the man I was. I will not be the man I must have been but for this intercourse. Why show me this, if I am past all hope?”
‘“Good Spirit,” he pursued, as down upon the ground he fell before it, “your nature intercedes for me. Assure me that I may yet change these shadows you have shown me by an altered life!”
until finally in the fifth stanza…
‘“I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!” Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. “The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. O Jacob Marley! Heaven and Christmas-time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!”
Many of the readers will be able to identify with doubting the veracity and need of beggars, with cynical views of romantic relationships, and general disdain for ‘Christmas cheer’, but the extremes Charles goes to distance the reader from Scrooge makes him the ideal of all those negative thoughts and emotions, as the narrative progresses to the middle we find him more like the rest of us; humble and thoughtful when truly seeing the consequences of his actions, and by the very end of the novella we find in his pity for the Cratchits and sincere concern for Tiny Tim ‘Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did NOT die, he was a second father.’ he has moved from a spiteful and despicable character in such a way as to offer a real image of hope that the reader too might be redeemed.
A Christmas Carol, By Charles Dickens; Simon and Schuster Paperbacks (2007)
The Lives and Times of Ebenezer Scrooge by Paul Davies; Harvard University Press (1990)
Why A Christmas Carol was a Flop for Charles Dickens; The Guardian (2009)
The Life of Charles Dickens, by John Forster; London: Diderot Publishing (2006)
A Vacation in Cancun
Adventure among the Caribbean islands. This winter explore the mysterious and exotic island of Cancun, the last home of the vanished Mayan culture. Rather than suffer the long winter months at home, enjoy a beautiful island where the average temperature is between 26° to 36°C, an island where the sun shines upon golden beaches and sparkles from clear waters. The island of Cancun is known by many as the perfect location for a cruise, a fairyland amidst the ocean, a paradise for those with a taste for water sports, the Caribbean Las Vegas, and the last recorded location of the Mayan civilization before their mysterious disappearance.
Cancun is a delightful island located in the Caribbean Sea. It lies east of the Yucatán Peninsula, and northeast of Quintana Roo State. Cancun is the largest tourist attraction and resort belonging to Mexico, with a current population of only five hundred thousand. The ancient Mayans are recorded as saying Cancun to be the ‘gold at the end of the rainbow’. Due to its stunning coral reefs it wasn’t until its rediscovery, in the 1970’s, that the island became a tourist attraction. The island had been all but forgotten by the rest of the world, thus leaving many of its natural wonders untouched and unpolluted by man. After its rediscovery the Mexican government, in cooperation with the Bank of Mexico, decided to carefully develop the island for tourism, investing some three hundred and fifty million dollars in the attraction.
The island, portentously resembling a ‘7’, is a fully equipped luxurious holiday resort. Among its many attractions are a golf course, various restaurants, several lavish residential areas, many shopping and commercial areas, hospitals and school. As the infrastructure was developed residents from the Yucatán Peninsula and other parts of Mexico were encouraged migrate to the island. Tourists from all around the world, including The United States, Europe, and Canada enjoy the island and its more than one hundred and forty hotels. The hotels have been built in many environments throughout the twenty-three-mile-long island, ensuring those holidaying can choose their ideal location. With twenty-seven thousand quest rooms and more than four hundred restaurants Cancun has become a leading name in global vacations.
Cancun cuisine varies, but the local Mayan dishes remain dominant. These delicate tastes perfectly combine grains, beans, and corn, with chicken, pork and rabbit, and will satisfy even the most demanding critic, and of course the nature of the island dictates a large number of seafood dishes. Visitors certainly shouldn’t miss out on the delicious local dish, Tikinxic (a Mayan traditional dish consisting of lightly grilled fish), the famous shark fishcakes, and their special coconut sauce drizzled over giant prawns, and these are but a few of the local delicacies.