A Christmas Carol

by: Charles Dickens

Moral Responsibility

1

[I] f 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!

Marley explains how justice functions in the afterlife to punish sins of omission. When people withhold good in life, they will endlessly revisit the missed opportunities in death without being able to make the situations better. Humankind must care for each other by helping and sharing. Not doing so results in eternal torment. The value of a life rests on proactive, positive morality rather than a passive strategy of avoiding sin.

2

“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!”

Marley rues the wrong priorities he held in life. Scrooge has just remarked that Marley was always a good man of business. Marley, distressed, knows that his true business should have been helping people. Readers can infer that the message here doesn’t condemn moneymaking per se, but the emphasis in one’s business should focus on helping others. Marley believed that to be a good businessman—that is, to make profits—he needed to ignore the imperatives of charity, mercy, and forbearance. The overall message here reveals that one may be both a good businessman and a good person.

3

There are some on this earth of yours… who lay claim to know us, and who do their deeds of passion, pride, ill-will, hatred, envy, bigotry, and selfishness in our name, who are as strange to us and all our kith and kin, as if they had never lived. Remember that, and charge their doings on themselves, not us.

The Ghost of Christmas Present refutes Scrooge’s accusation that the good spirits instigated Sabbath closures of essential services like bakeries in the name of religion. The Spirit strongly declares such an idea un-Christian, thus immoral. He reminds Scrooge that many people who claim a religious justification for their actions live as strangers to the true meaning of Christianity. His words encourage others to judge morality by the deed, not by how the man doing the deed labels his actions.

4

They are Man’s….And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. The boy is Ignorance. The girl is Want. Beware of them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shelters under his robe two pathetic figures that look like starving children. Here he explains the identities of the figures, or at least what they represent metaphorically: Ignorance and Want. He shelters the two because, in the spirit of Christmas—a day the text encourages people to honor at all times—society should and must take care of the problems of ignorance and want, for the good of all.