Sunday, January 11, 2009


Though Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" is one of the most beloved books in English literature, there is one aspect of the story with which even the most admiring literary scholar have issues : the characterizations of Tiny Tim and Bob Carchit's family. Simply put, many consider this aspect of the story to simply be too sweet--too "saccharine."

The suffering and death of a small cippled child is something that would play on the emotions of most people; but as he some times did his other works, Dickens relies on this manipulation of emotions without presenting the Crachits as complexed fully developed characters. This is rather astonishing since one of the things that Dickens does so brilliantly in the book is to take a stereotypical grouchy old man (Scrooge himself) and pull back the layers to reveal a complexed, tragic human being with whom the readers can sympathize.

In the famous Crachit family Christmas dinner scene, Bob offers a toast to Scrooge, but his wife--scornful of the old miser--at first refuses to comply. Eventually Bob persuades her to join him in a toast. Since Bob is mistreated daily by Scrooge, his character comes across as rather shallow; he seems too good to be true.

In "A Southern Christmas Carol" the characters of Eppies and Tiny replace the characters of the Crachits.

Rather than being a small crippled child, Tiny is a young man--portrayed by a actor in his late teens to early twenties--crippled from polio. (This characterization was inspired by another famous characters from Southern fiction: Porgy--from the novel "Porgy," which in the 1930's served as the basis for the Gershwins' opera "Porgy & Bess.")

Since Tiny is a young adult rather than a small child, he is a companion to Eppie in addition to being a mere dependent: they can discuss things, have differences of opinions, relate to one another as two adults instead of merely as a parent and child.

When Tiny first appears, he is returning home after Christmas Eve church services. He is a young man who is deeply influenced by his faith.

Eppie, on the other hand, does not attend church but stays home to cook Christmas dinner. When Tiny mentions that the preacher delivered "quite a sermon," Eppie remarks, somewhat sarcastically, "That one always does." It become evident through the scene that Eppie--for reasons that are never spelled out--is uncomfortable with church and the local church community. While she obviously loves her son dearly (her entire life revolves around him) she does not share his religious convictions.

Later in the scene, Tiny wonder aloud what his father might be doing. Tiny's father is completely absent; no details of his relationship with Eppie or Tiny are given. Eppie reacts negatively to Tiny bringing up the subject of the man. "Tiny, why do you wanna go bring him up?" she asks. Though no details are given regarding her relationship with Tiny's father (were they ever married; did he desert her; was he abusive) it become obvious that Eppie's relationship with the man is still a source of great sorrow.

It is Tiny who offers a toast to Old Man Scrooge over Christmas dinner--which outrages Eppie. When Tiny says that if not for Scrooge they wouldn't have all that they have, Eppie retorts: "No, boy! If not for your Mama busting her backside for that mean old cracker we wouldn't have none of this!" Tiny eventually persuades Eppie embrace the spirit of the Christmas season and toast Old Man Scrooge. Reluctantly Eppie gives in to her son, remarking: "You got a way about you boy. You should have been a preacher."

By presenting tension between two characters who are emotionally dependent on one another, a more realtistic family dynamic is portrayed in "A Southern Christmas Carol." Scenes that are simplistic and characters who are rather one dimensional in the original Dickens story become more complexed and believable in "A Southern Christmas Carol."

Later in the show, Scrooge is shown Eppie's future by the Ghost of Christmas-Yet-To-Come. Tiny has died, and Eppie--broken hearted and completely alone in the world--turns to drinking. In Dickens' original tale, Bob and his family are heartbroken over the death of Tiny Tim, but turn to one another emotionally and some how survive the tragedy. In "A Southern Christmas Carol." Eppie has no family or faith to fall back on; her loss drives her to self-destruction.

Witnessing this, Scrooge--for the first time--feels sincere empathy for Eppie. Having lost loved ones earlier in his life (and having become bitter and withdrawn as a result), he sees the same thing happening to Eppie. Suddenly she is no longer simply "the colored girl who works for me." He begins to see her as a fellow human being.

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