During the Christmas season, I’ve been reading the Illustrated Classics version of A Christmas Carol with my young preschool-aged son. We’ve both been enjoying it (he likes that it’s a bit spooky because it has ghosts in the story), I very much like the message of charity and love of the story. But something has hit me this time around that I dislike with the story that I’ve never noticed before.
On the surface, the book is supposed to be teaching about having charity and universal love for all, but the spirits of Christmas who visit Scrooge do not exemplify the values they are supposedly teaching. Morally, Jacob Marley and Ebeneezer Scrooge are equivalent–they were partners in the same business and were similarly stingy and uncaring about their fellow man.
After he’s been dead for seven years, Jacob Marley comes back to warn Scrooge and introduce the visits of the other three spirits. Scrooge gets a supernatural intervention that gives a him second chance. Scrooge gains redemption and avoids eternal punishment.
But what about Jacob Marley’s eternal destiny? When he died, he was doomed to roam the earth in chains, suffering in constant misery for the mistakes of his life. Why did Scrooge get a second chance but not Marley? The only reason Scrooge changed his ways and Marley didn’t was because Scrooge got a supernatural visit from the spirits while he was alive and Marley didn’t. Weren’t the spirits supposed to be teaching Scrooge to turn to a life of charity, love, and compassion? They didn’t seem to be exemplifying those attributes with Marley. Just like Scrooge ignored those who needed help, the spirits ignored Marley.
In fact, it seems that, in some ways, Marley is the most charitable character in the book. Marley’s ghost says to Scrooge: “I am here to-night to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.” Marley was thus the one who sought out Scrooge’s redemption. Apparently, the Christmas spirits would have ignored Scrooge if it weren’t for Marley. (The same passage also implies that this act is part of Marley’s pennance, so maybe in the moral universe of A Christmas Carol has some measure of fairness, since it is perhaps implied there will ultimately be redemption for Marley as well as Scrooge.)
So, this New Year’s Eve, raise a glass for good old Marley who, even though he was denied the same chance at redemption that Scrooge got, still came to learn charity on his own and sought out Scrooge’s redemption.