Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death‘ is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 1).
  • A Christmas Carol is a novella, or short story, written by Charles Dickens and first published in the Christmas of 1843. The allegorical tale tells the story of the transformation of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge through the visits of the spirit of his former business partner and three ghosts over the course of a Christmas Eve night. It remains a much-loved traditional Christmas tale.

Context.

Quote said by the ghost of Jacob Marley, the former business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Marley, who only appears in Stave 1 of A Christmas Carol, has died seven years prior to the setting of the story. We can assume that Marley was as tight and greedy as the character of Scrooge when they both worked together.

Dickens introduces the character of the ghost of Marley into the story to warn Scrooge of the consequences of his selfish life, for example how Marley says he is condemned to wander the world bound by chains, chains he says he forged in life (suggesting to Scrooge that he has a choice).

Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley.
Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge (left), here being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, bound by the chains he forged in life.

Symbolism in A Christmas Carol: Chains.

In Stave 1 of A Christmas Carol Charles Dickens uses the imagery of supernatural chains as a metaphor for mental imprisonment and torture in the afterlife. Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner who died seven years ago on the same day (Christmas Eve). Scrooge observes that Marley is wrapped in a chain that was long, and wound about him like a tail. The chain is made of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel, items used to hold or record wealth. Marley explains that during his life on Earth, he created his chain by his own actions, telling him, I wear the chain I forged in life. He warns Scrooge that it is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. Scrooge is told that he has made for himself an even longer chain that he will wear in death, Marley warning him that his own chain was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!. Marley’s ghost serves to make Scrooge fearful of afterlife and that his accumulated wealth will become a burden if it is not liberated by sharing amongst those less fortunate. As Marley leaves, Scrooge became sensible of confused noises in the air; incoherent sounds of lamentation and regret; wailings inexpressibly sorrowful and self-accusatory. Looking out of the window he sees the air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they wentevery one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost, some linked together and some who Scrooge recognises from when they were alive. Dickens uses the symbolism of chains to warn Scrooge, and the readers, that the things you prioritise in life will be shackled to you for eternity.


Jacob Marley.

In life, Jacob Marley was the business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge. Together, as the firm of Scrooge and Marley, they became successful yet hard-hearted bankers, with seats on the London Stock Exchange. Seven years to the day of his death, on a Christmas Eve, Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge. Bound in chains and tormented, the ghost is doomed to wander the earth forever as punishment for his greed and selfishness when he was alive. Marley visits Scrooge to offer him redemption from his own fate, in the hope of changing his mean ways. He tells Scrooge that three spirits will visit that night.

Source.

Taken from the following passage of Stave 1 (Marley’s Ghost) of A Christmas Carol:

Scrooge fell upon his knees, and clasped his hands before his face.

“Mercy!” he said. “Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?”

“Man of the worldly mind!” replied the Ghost, “do you believe in me or not?”

“I do,” said Scrooge. “I must. But why do spirits walk the earth, and why do they come to me?”

It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

Again the spectre raised a cry, and shook its chain and wrung its shadowy hands.

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It is required of every man, that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow-men, and travel far and wide; and, if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death.

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Resources.

We have made our A Christmas Carol quotation slides (seen at the top of each quotation page) available to download for academic or other non-commercial purposes. Available as GIF images, the files can be used for presentation slides, flashcards, handouts etc. Dimensions are 1500 by 850 pixels. We make them free to download and use on the understanding they are not then sold or used for commercial purposes (and a credit to our site would be nice!).