This project explores four printed Christmas stories and the filmic adaptations of each. The eight selections show a broad range of English-language Christmas texts, as they cover a century-long time span, a variety of genres, and several geographic locations. This project focuses in particular on the ways in which Christmas memories are constructed using "transformation language," hospitality as a theme, alternate realities, and humor in these works. By examining these four elements, we can see that authors and filmmakers are relaying the message that every memory can be considered a "present past," or, memory is a phenomenon directly related to the present. Each of these memories of the past focused on or around Christmas ultimately shows how characters are currently beginning to see and understand their larger worlds. In other words, authors and filmmakers are able to show how an individual's past influences so much of the present, especially in combination with various filmic techniques. First, I analyze Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in conjunction with the Clive Donner's filmic adaptation. A Christmas Carol, which is full of "transformation language," can in fact be seen as the beginning of the Christmas genre of literature. This novel arguably made it possible for the rest of the works discussed in this project to exist. The next text analyzed in this project is James Joyce's short story "The Dead" alongside its John Houston filmic adaptation. This story considers Christmas from a different vantage point and focuses on hospitality as one major theme. Utilizing flashbacks, "The Dead" shows how Christmas does not always provide the joy that it provides for many, but instead can conjure up unhappy memories. It is much darker than the rest of the works. The next text that I discuss is Phillip van Doren Stern's "The Greatest Gift." Van 5 Doren Stern's short story was later adapted into the holiday classic It's a Wonderful Life. This text is the first American work that I examine, as I start with one of the foundational Christmas texts and progress chronologically through some of the more popular Christmas texts. This text is also a very sentimental story and shares plot devices with A Christmas Carol, such as alternate realities and supernatural beings influencing major transformations in the main characters. The final texts that this project will address are Jean Shepherd's In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash, a collection of short stories, and Bob Clark's later film version A Christmas Story. This introduces a more modern edge to the Christmas theme, along with adding a great deal of humorous elements. The use of satire and comedy can link to the "present past" as it may indicate that the author or filmmaker uses the events happening to fictional characters to critique what is currently going on in their larger worlds. Finally, as readers and viewers, we have different memories of how our families celebrated holidays when we were children, and therefore different notions of what "tradition" means. As critics Leigh Radford and Renee C. Romano state about these representations of the past and their relevance to the present, they "can be mobilized to serve partisan purposes; they can be commercialized for the sake of tourism; they can shape a nation's sense of identity, build hegemony, or serve to shore up the political interests of a state and they can certainly influence the ways in which people understand their world" (xxi). I have learned that these elements of cultural memory impact texts in many ways, and the present and past are permanently linked.
Durand, Meghan, "Christmas Presents and Christmas Past: a Study of Memory in Holiday Fiction and Film" (2010). Senior Independent Study Theses. Paper 508.
Bachelor of Arts
Senior Independent Study Thesis
© Copyright 2010 Meghan Durand