Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. How could it be otherwise? Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years. Scrooge was his sole executioner, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend, and sole mourner.
The narrator describes the relationship between Scrooge and Jacob Marley. Marley, who has been dead for seven years, had only one friend, or rather, associate—Scrooge, who was also his business partner. Business was Marley’s only concern in life, and nobody besides Scrooge mourned him or was involved in his post-death affairs. Readers speculate that if Marley likewise served as Scrooge’s sole friend, with Marley’s death Scrooge lives his life completely alone.
Marley in his pig-tail, usual waistcoat, tights, and boots; the tassels on the latter bristling like his pig-tail, and his coat-skirts, and the hair upon his head. The chain he drew was clasped about his middle. It was long and wound about him like a tail; and it was made (for Scrooge observed it closely) of cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel. His body was transparent; so that Scrooge, observing him, and looking through his waistcoat, could see the two buttons on his coat behind.
The narrator describes Marley’s ghost’s appearance as he visits Scrooge. Marley looks like he did in life except that he now appears transparent and wears a chain of items related to his business. Scrooge will learn that the chain serves as Marley’s punishment. As those things were his only concern in life, Marley must carry them now and forever. Further, Scrooge learns that he himself has already forged a similar chain—but for seven years longer. Marley’s appearance warns Scrooge of his potential fate.
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”
Marley explains the justice in his everlasting punishment. The choices he made in life, to value money and business over others’ welfare, created the fetters he wears now. He acts surprised that Scrooge does not recognize what makes up his chain. As Marley knows, Scrooge’s currently invisible chain consists of the same items, because the two men made the same choices and focused on the same things in their lives.
“How it is that I appear before you in a shape that you can see, I may not tell. I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day.”
It was not an agreeable idea. Scrooge shivered, and wiped the perspiration from his brow.
“That is no light part of my penance,” pursued the Ghost. “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.”
Watching Scrooge forge his own invisible chain served as part of Marley’s punishment for his deeds in life. Given an unexpected opportunity to communicate—perhaps as a Christmas miracle—Marley feels determined to help Scrooge and he warns him here. People can change, but Scrooge has thus far been content with his situation. Despite Marley’s pitiful appearance and strong words, Scrooge will need further convincing that he needs to change. Thus Marley arrives as only the first of four Ghosts that will visit Scrooge.