Symbolism in A Christmas Carol

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  • 0:04 An Allegorical Tale
  • 0:26 Jacob Marley's Chains
  • 1:31 Ignorance and Want
  • 2:19 The Ghosts
  • 3:47 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In ''A Christmas Carol'', Charles Dickens uses symbols to express his thoughts on education, poverty, selfishness, and greed. In this lesson, we will look at some of the symbolism used in this piece of literature.

An Allegorical Tale

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is an allegory that teaches us that the choices we make have long-lasting effects. Dickens uses a great deal of symbolism in this story about an old miser who is given a second chance at life. Symbolism uses objects or characters to represent an idea. Let's look at some of the symbolism in this novel.

Jacob Marley's Chains

Think about the person you know who is most like you. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Ebenezer Scrooge and Jacob Marley, his business partner, are cut from the same cloth. In life, both are greedy, self-absorbed, and ruthless bankers. When Jacob Marley died seven years ago, Scrooge was his only mourner, receiving a substantial inheritance. When Jacob's ghost visits Scrooge on Christmas Eve, Scrooge notices that he is bound by a long chain made of ''cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.''

Marley explains that during his life, he created his chain by his own actions. Scrooge has made for himself an even longer chain that he will wear in death. ''It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have laboured on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!'' says Marley.

Dickens uses the chains to warn Scrooge, and the readers, that the things you prioritize in life will be shackled to you for eternity.

Ignorance and Want

Why do so many people make bad choices? The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Ebenezer two small children that are clinging to his robe. ''This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware 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. Deny it!''

Ignorance and Want show readers what happens when children are neglected by society. Those in poverty, representing Want, may have a chance to break the cycle, but those who are uneducated, representing Ignorance, are destined to remain impoverished throughout their adult lives. These children are destined to become burdens on society unless something or someone intervenes to save them.

The Ghosts

The three spirits that visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve each have a message for him. The Ghost of Christmas Past symbolizes the events in Scrooge's life that turned him into who he is today. Some moments are happy, but many are not. Scrooge doesn't like to think about the past because it can be painful. Scrooge is reminded of when his parents left him alone at boarding school for the holidays. ''A solitary child, neglected by his friends, is left there still.'' Some wounds never heal.

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