Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!‘ 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.

This quote is 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).

In this quotation, we see the remorseful Marley wishing he had helped people during his lifetime. He mentions the biblical Christmas star which the wise-men used to guide them to give gifts to the newly born Jesus, and wishes that lights from houses of the poor could have guided him to help those less-fortunate inside.

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.

Literary Technique.

This is an example of the literary devices Charles Dickens uses in his works, here using the techniques of an allusion and capitalisation. An allusion is used by an author to help to associate a character, scene or object in a story to another character, scene or object from another literary work. Dickens uses religous undertone throughout A Christmas Carol and in this example he has used allusion to refer to the biblical New Testament nativity story, namely Matthew 2:1-2 (King James Version): “when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem saying ‘where is he that is born King of the Jews, for we have seen his star in the east and are come to worship him'”. The nativity is also the basis for the Christian holiday of Christmas, when the story of A Christmas Carol is set.

Dickens also uses the technique of capitalisation to strengthen his writing. Capitalisation (British English) or capitalization (North American English) is writing a word with its first letter as a capital letter (uppercase letter) and the remaining letters in lower case, and is sometimes used by fiction authors for words the middle of a sentence as a form of literary device to strengthen a point or emotional reaction from their readers. In this case, Dickens has used capitals for the words Star and Wise Men. Star is important because Marley uses it to compare to a light that could have brought him to the homes of the poor during his lifetime. Wise Men alludes to the Marley wishing he was wiser during his lifetime on Earth and could have seen the error of being so selfish.

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:

“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time!”

“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.

“You travel fast?” said Scrooge.

“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.

“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Scrooge.

The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief, and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said, “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!

Scrooge was very much dismayed to hear the spectre going on at this rate, and began to quake exceedingly.

Have Your Say.

Give your view on ‘Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!‘ with a rating and help us compile the very best Charles Dickens quotations.

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars6 Stars7 Stars8 Stars9 Stars10 Stars (3 votes, average: 7.33 out of 10)
Loading...

Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!
  • If you like this, we think you might also be interested in these related quotations:

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 undertanding they are not then sold or used for commercial purposes (and a credit to our site would be nice!).

Discover more.

Read A Christmas Carol.

Discover more quotations from A Christmas Carol.

Learn more about Charles Dickens, his works,