Note: There be spoilers ahead for this book that’s been out for a century and a half.
The Cricket on the Hearth, a little Christmas novella by Charles Dickens, weaves an intricate and heart-warming story in a short span of time. John and “Dot” Peerybingle live happily together with their baby though John is considerably older. They keep up a good friendship with Caleb, a poor toymaker, and his blind daughter, Bertha, whom Caleb has convinced that they live in luxury instead of the abject poverty of reality. Their contented existence is up-ended by the arrival of a mysterious old gentleman (who turns out to be a young friend of Dot’s) and the announced marriage between Tackleton, the snooty owner of the toy shop Caleb works for, and May, a good friend of Dot’s.
All the women begin acting strange when these two elements come into play. John, who is honest but slow, doesn’t pick up the uneasiness brewing among his family and friends. It’s not until Tackleton slyly shows him Dot and the revealed young man enjoying a friendly secret meeting that John puts two-and-two together and doubts the faithfulness of his wife.
That night John stays up and has a dark night of the soul. A lonely cricket chirps away and turns into a fairy to remind him of all the happiness his home has known. He concludes that Dot has not been unfaithful, but if she is unhappy because of their gap in ages, she can go home with her family the next day.
I’ll try not to ruin the stirring morning that follows, for it is very well-written and had me on the verge of tears a couple times. But as I concluded the story and thought it over, I had a hard time pin-pointing Dickens’ point. His other two Christmas novellas I’ve read (A Christmas Carol, The Chimes) had a social justice subtext about treatment of the poor. There’s a small hint of it here with Caleb and his daughter, but it’s not as prevalent; there’s more to the tale this time.
In this Christmas story, Dickens seems to be highlighting the sanctity of the home and what makes a home happy. The Peerybingle’s and the toymaker live happily enough, though with struggle, while Tackleton in all his riches is lonely. The peacefulness of their abodes is disturbed when honesty and truthfulness are pushed aside (Caleb lying to his daughter about their state of living, Dot hiding the young man’s true identity). Once confession is made (in heart-wrenching fashion) then happiness is restored.
This is an interesting theme to think about, especially as the husband of my own home. Is our home a happy one? If not, what keeps it from being so? Do we have secrets we keep from each other? By secrets I don’t mean what I got her for Christmas! Is there a hurt that we’ve hidden? Emotional baggage left unexplained?
The home, however modern culture might portray it, is a sacred place. Its happiness and peace should be paramount to those living there. As we near Christmas and return home, or invite others into ours, let us strive for tranquility with our family and friends. Let us truly have a merry Christmas!