Being Bob Cratchit

Download Audio
bob-cratchitThis time last year we were all reeling from the shock of the economy tanking. Now, a year later, there's a sense that many of us are getting in touch with the spirit of Bob Cratchit, Charles Dickens' struggling but admirable everyman in "A Christmas Carol."

But is striving to be like Bob Cratchit really such a good idea?

Bob Cratchit is the eternal optimist; the enduring everyman; the frugal family guy who's just happy to have a job, some love, and some figgy pudding for the holidays.

"He's got such a huge heart," said Actor Edward Barker, who is playing the role of Cratchit in "A Christmas Carol" at the New Repertory Theater in Watertown. "I think that's what sustains him through it all."

Barker also said he's seeing a lot more Bob Cratchits out in the real world this year, himself included.

"I think we are Bob Cratchits, you know, unless we've got a lot of money," he said. "I mean, even then we never know when that's going to go."

So being Bob Cratchit-like helps. The frugality movement has long-embraced Cratchit's anti-materialism.

"We are people who believe that enjoying life and spending less is a great way to live," explained Louise Reilly Sacco, co-creator of The Frugal Yankee, a Web site, radio show and podcast about thrifty living. And believe me, she's serious.

"I cut drier sheets in thirds," she told me.

Reilly Sacco met me at Target to talk about the rise of frugality --  and Bob Cratchit. She said Cratchit and his family have been in a recession their whole lives.

"The Bob Cratchits of the world are the ones who are having a wonderful holiday and barely noticed that there's a recession on because they never spent a ton of money," she said. "They always focused on what was important to them, and focused on their families."

But Dr. Steven Cooper, a psychoanalyst, said that's an idealized view of Bob Cratchit, especially when put up against his character foil in "A Christmas Carol," the real star of the show: Scrooge.

"Cratchit is so earnest, so loving, that in some ways he feels kind of unreachable, even for the most generous of us," Cooper said, "whereas Scrooge is, no matter how small a part of us it is, we all have access to our own grouchiness and our own selfishness."

Cratchit is an archetype, according to Cooper, and should be analyzed like one.

"Being a psychoanalyst a lot of weird things pop into my mind," Cooper admitted. "Like he's sort of like a transcendent figure in his ability to forgive people. But other things too, like what's up with taking all this stuff from Scrooge and whether his loyalty or devotion almost gets in the way of having any degree of self-interest, and there's a part of me that kind of wants to grab him by the shirt collar and say: C'mon buddy, why don’t you ask this guy for a raise?"

In the story, Cratchit does ask Scrooge for the day off on Christmas, although he does take a brow-beating for it.

But even Scrooge himself — or at least Paul Farwell, the actor who plays Scrooge in the New Repertory Theatre's production of the play — sympathizes with the real Cratchits of our time.

"It's really hard to be Bob Cratchit. Really hard," Farwell said. "And it's hard to be many people in our society today who have to get up and go to a job that they don't really like to provide for families because the alternative is just too horrible to think about."

But let's not forget, at the end of "A Christmas Carol" everything turns up rosy for Cratchit and Scrooge after Scrooge is given a glimpse of Cratchit's all-too-real poverty. Scrooge then strives to be more loving and selfless, like his humble employee.

As for the rest of us, we'll just have to see how our Cratchit-like sensibilities pay off, not just at Christmastime, but all year long.

This program aired on December 23, 2009.

Andrea Shea Correspondent, Arts & Culture
Andrea Shea is a correspondent for WBUR's arts & culture reporter.



More from WBUR

Listen Live