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Scrooge and Marley

Wednesday November 29, 2006 in ghost stories | charles dickens

After reading the opening chapter of A Christmas Carol last night I considered that, like many of us, Ebenezer Scrooge lives in a comfort zone. He is comforted not just by the rewards of his avarice, but by his introverted existence; the locked doors and closed rooms of his friendless life (darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it).

When Marley’s ghost visits Scrooge he is disturbed most by the spirit’s restlessness and endless roaming. To be so unsettled and unset in one’s ways troubles him greatly:

“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And travelling all the time?”
“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”

Marley’s comfort zone from his own mortal life is made concrete by the shackles and chains he noisily drags around with him (on closer inspection they are made up of ledgers and cash boxes of Scrooge’s equally miserly partner). Scrooge is alarmed by the revelation that he might become just like his long dead visitor. A wandering ghost, rather than one who can come home, lock out the world and only haunt himself.

In A Christmas Carol Dickens plays wonderfully with the images of Scrooge’s self-imposed isolation. The nose of a carol singer just visible through the letterbox, Marley’s face appearing on the door knocker, the empty and dark house and the other restless spirits that Scrooge sees through his window:

Scrooge followed to the window: desperate in his curiosity. He looked out.
The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few … were linked together; none were free.

There’s little evidence of Christmas in Scrooge’s office, and what the reader senses is only the bitter cold of winter; the single coal in the clerk’s fire and the fog that blurs the edges of the buildings it engulfs as they merge with the night’s visiting phantoms:

Whether these creatures faded into mist, or mist enshrouded them, he could not tell. But they and their spirit voices faded together; and the night became as it had been when he walked home.

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