When Scrooge closes his office for the night he has a conversation with Bob Cratchit about not working Christmas Day to spend with his family. I suppose on the year this story takes place Christmas did not fall on the weekend. Bob protests it is only once a year but Scrooge finds this argument unconvincing.
[I]t’s not fair. If I was to stop half-a-crown for it, you’d think yourself ill-used, I’ll be bound … And yet … you don’t think me ill-used, when I pay a day’s wages for no work… A poor excuse for picking a man’s pocket every twenty-fifth of December!
In the end Scrooge relents and sends Bob Cratchit on his way. In the book Scrooge proceeds to a tavern to eat dinner and read the newspapers. In most dramatizations of the story this scene is omitted. I always had a strange fascination with this scene. This is Scrooge’s down time after work where I assume he unwinds a bit. It could offer a little window into his personality. What did he eat? Did he have an alcoholic drink with dinner? The book does not answer these questions.
After the tavern Scrooge heads back to his dark, empty house where he sees the face of his former partner Jacob Marley in his doorknocker. He is startled at first but then dismisses it as a hallucination. Up in his bedchambers, he takes his gruel and then sees Marley’s face in the tiles around his fireplace. This he also dismisses as a humbug. Then the bell on the wall begins to ring. When it stops he hears chains clanking up the stairs. By this point Scrooge is understandably frightened but continues to disbelieve his senses. Even when Marley’s ghost appears before him he still does not believe it.
Marley’s first task is to get Scrooge to admit that he believes in him. It is an interesting question, why is it so important that Scrooge believe in Marley’s ghost? Is it because, if Scrooge does not believe in him he will have no power to change Scrooge? Is this akin to a belief in God as a prerequisite to salvation and if so why does it matter what Scrooge believes so long as he changes? In the end Marley screams at Scrooge and terrorizes him into believing thus solving the issue.
Then Scrooge asks Marley, “why do spirits walk the earth and why do they come to me?” To which Marley explains, “It is required of every man … that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen … and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.” This description suggests that Hell within this context exists within the material world and not as a separate place. Marley goes on to explain that he “wears the chains [he] forged in life.” Each link was forged from all of his sins of commission and omission. He also says he is permitted only a little time to converse with Scrooge suggesting that his punishment is directly supervised.
Scrooge does not understand why Marley deserves punishment because he was a good man of business. Marley cries, “Mankind was my business!” He then makes reference to a “blessed star,” again suggesting a Christian universe but as always in this story indirectly. Finally he reveals his purpose to Scrooge. Marley’s purpose is to help Scrooge escape his fate. This begs the question why Marley was not given the same chance to escape his fate? Was there no other ghost with compassion for Marley? Does Scrooge live within a solipsistic universe?
Next, Marley spells out the program by which once completed Scrooge will transform himself and escape Marley’s fate. He tells Scrooge that he will be visited by three ghosts on three successive evenings. I am not sure why Marley tells him this and yet the ghosts appear to him all in one night. Perhaps Dickens had an idea in mind that was not fully realized in the story. It feels that way.
At any rate, Marley exits through the window. Outside Scrooge sees other fettered ghosts wailing in misery. He tries to dismiss it with a “humbug” but aborts the effort before completion. He then goes to bed and immediately falls asleep thus setting the stage for the three ghosts.
- A CHRISTMAS CAROL – 2013 6th Annual – First Photographs (thewalpoleplayers.org)
- Thinking of Scrooge (teburley.wordpress.com)
- A Christmas Carol (andrewsbookreviews.wordpress.com)