The haunted man is Mr. Redlaw, a teacher of chemistry at a college. His own ghost haunts him, goading him with unhappy recollections. At last the ghost offers Redlaw a gift: the gift of forgetting all past wrongs, trouble, and sorrow. After cautiously making sure that he will lose no learning or good memories, Redlaw accepts the ghost’s offer. But after Redlaw consents, in a bait-and-switch scheme, the ghost adds that Redlaw will confer this gift on all he meets.
The gift has the immediate affect of making people grouchy, rude, unthankful, unsympathetic, and even cruel. To me this seems illogical. No matter what the long term affects of the loss of all bad memories, for the first few hours at least, it would make sense that it would make people happier and more comfortable and agreeable, since they would have no cause for grudges, bitterness, or shame.
That suffering of various kinds can build in us perseverance, diligence, courage, strength, gratitude, and empathy is incontrovertible. But that forgetting that suffering would not only take away lessons so learned, but also the natural affection we had before suffering, and in fact confer evil qualities is questionable. Suffering can teach us good things, not because we remember them well, but because we endured them well. The elderly who suffer memory loss do not become evil, or necessarily lose the personality they developed through the events they can no longer recall.
The idea behind Dickens’s story was good: that our sufferings can be used for the good of others by awakening in us compassion for them, and our sufferings can do us good by showing us the kindness of others in helping us, thus awaking gratitude in us. But, Dickens’s realization of this idea was deformed when it was born in The Haunted Man.