Why is the Ghost of Christmas Past a woman?

Posted at 10:28 AM Dec 24, 2009

By Andrea Grimes

The original 1843 illustration seems distinctly male, does it not?
Every year, my family settles in to watch the George C. Scott version of A Christmas Carol six or seven times over the course of a few days as a way to occupy ourselves when we are not cooking or eating. In fact, 2 years ago, we even replaced our VHS copy (taped off television in the 80's, with limited commercials from IBM, the company that brings computing into the home!) with actual DVD copies of the film. We are high-tech.

Which means I haven't seen many other film adaptations of the story, but when I do come across one, I notice that the ghosts themselves tend to be consistent with the original Charles Dickens--except for the Ghost of Christmas Past. (Originally, the Ghost of Christmas Past is androgynous, the Ghost of Christmas Present is a jolly male giant, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is a generally scary fucker.)

So really, the Ghost of Christmas Past is the only gender-spook up for interpretation.

And lo, androgynous seems, in many film adaptations, to mostly mean female. Wikipedia, ever reliable, has a relatively thorough listing of various versions of TGOCP. Are you guys ready for some awesome math? It's coming your way!

Out of 18 Wiki adaptations listed:

  • Nine are female, acted or voiced fairly obviously by women.
  • Five are men (Jiminy Cricket as a dude, right?).
  • Two are attempts at actual androgyny.
  • One stork.
  • One robot.
Dolls, feel free to speculate as to why TGOCP is more often imagined as a woman. Are we uncomfortable with male androgyny? Do we just like looking at ladies in pretty white dresses (psychoanalytic side note: virgin thing)? Perhaps Dickens intended for the Ghost of Christmas Past to be up for interpretation ... as the past itself frequently is.


kate said:

Is 50% of the time really "more often"? Especially considering that the stork and the robot are probably voiced by male actors?

Andrea said:

If you consider the stork, Jiminy and a robot as male, I suppose you get it much more even. But nine pretty obvious human female female portrayals as opposed to a mix of anthropomorphized males and actual dudes does actually strike me as "more" female if it's statistically just 50% of the time, given the explicitness of the female portrayals.

And, of course, this is only a sampling of what Wiki had available. I would love it if people would leave comments with additional adaptations so I can do some more fuzzy Christmas math.

Steve said:

In the only version that ever counts, which is, of course, Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, the Ghost of Christmas Past (hereafter referred to as GCP)looked like a boy but was voiced by a woman (who also did the voice of Tiny Tim, thank you IMDB).

As to why the GCP might be a woman? It probably has something to do with looking to the past for comfort and how that relates to mothers or something.

Stick said:

The version I watch, 1951, I think has a man but I always thought it was a woman growing up. So, there you go.

Burl Barer said:

duh. The Xmas past is about Scrooge falling in love (with a woman), his lost love and the hardening of his heart to romantic love and also it is about his relationship with his sister who has passed away (and her son, who always offers him Christmas dinner). It makes "relationship/romantic/family issue" sense for GOCP to be female or Not Overtly Male


deadlytoque said:

Perhaps it's an attempt by the filmmakers at putting in some female roles. Considering when you're casting ACC, you're going to have many, many women auditioning for what amounts to what, two female parts? Might as well cast one more for the "androgynous" character.

Pete said:

Not sure why that question is being asked. Why not ask why your mom is a woman? She used to be an androgynous infant. (seriously, could you tell gender if they weren't dressed in pink or blue)Doesn't seem all that remarkable to me. Hindsight is 20/20, 20/20 is fair, fair is what they used to call hot chicks, and also the zeroes in 20/20 kinda look like boobs. Yeah, I'm a master deconstructionist.

foofoo said:

Please don't forget the awesomeness that was Carol Kane's ghost of Christmas Present in Scrooged..."Sometimes you have to slap them in face to get their attention"

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