Jacob Marley: Character Analysis – ‘A Christmas Carol’ (updated & animated)


Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s dead business partner,
is the first Ghost to appear to Scrooge. From the opening line of the novella, Dickens
firmly establishes that Marley is dead: ‘Marley was dead: to begin with’ comes as a shock
to the reader. These words, which follow the title of the
stave, ‘Marley’s Ghost’, promise a supernatural treat and create anticipation. More importantly, they introduce the idea
of time being turned upside down. In many ways, ‘A Christmas Carol’ is a
story of time-travel. The moving around from the present to the
past, the present to other locations in the present, the present to the future and then
back to the present could be very confusing. Dickens cleverly manages this through Marley’s
visit, in which he explains that there will be three more Spirits for Scrooge to learn
from.Marley’s visit makes the upcoming structure clear, and this structure is provided by the
appearance of each Ghost. Since both the reader and Scrooge know what
to expect, it is a relatively easy structure to follow. Dickens also uses repetition to emphasise
the fact that Marley has passed away. Within the first page he repeats this idea
several times. For example, there is repetition of the simile
‘Marley was as dead as a door-nail,’ followed by a reference to Marley’s funeral and how
Scrooge was the ‘sole mourner’. These references, all within the first four
paragraphs of the text, leave the reader in no doubt that, the first time we see Marley,
he will be a ghost. Dickens develops the theme of the supernatural
and begins to create tension when Scrooge first sees an apparition of Marley’s face
on Scrooge’s door knocker. Although Scrooge dismisses the vision at the
time, this event foreshadows the arrival of Marley’s Ghost later that evening. Dickens uses listing to describe Marley’s
Ghost wearing a chain made of ‘cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy
purses’. All these items are related to money and business,
so they symbolise his greed during his life. Marley’s appearance serves as the first
warning to Scrooge that he too could be punished for his greed with money and lack of social
responsibility if he fails to change his self-centred ways. Dickens hints at religious reasons for Marley’s
torment when he says ‘I wear the chain I forged in life’ and he is ‘doomed to wander
through the world’. The former moneylender is suffering in the
afterlife because of his uncaring, money-grabbing behaviour whilst he was alive. With this punishment, Dickens references the
Catholic belief in Purgatory, a place where the evil souls of the dead endure great suffering
before they are purified and go to heaven. Dickens’s use of the verb ‘doomed’,
however, implies that Marley has in fact been judged and condemned to ‘wander the world’
and he has no hope of going to Heaven. The alliteration with ‘wander’ and ’world’
slows down the sentence, almost slowing down time to emphasise the eternal length of his
punishment. Marley clearly regrets his actions of caring
for profit, not people, when he was alive, and we see this through a range of techniques. Dickens employs a pun when Marley states ‘Mankind
was my business.’ Scrooge has just referred to business in the
office; Marley uses the word ‘business’ to tell Scrooge (and, by default, the reader)
that we must all look after one another. Dickens describes Scrooge as Marley’s ‘sole
friend’, highlighting how lonely they were in pursuit of money. He was also, sadly, the ‘sole mourner’
at Marley’s funeral. The repetition of the adjective ‘sole’
emphasises the solitary nature of their work and how Scrooge and Marley were concerned
only with their own profits, not with their relationships with others. This imagery also echoes the ‘solitary as
an oyster’ simile used to describe Scrooge earlier in the novella. Unlike the oyster imagery, there is no hidden
pearl of redemption for Marley. This language and imagery serves as a lesson
to the reader: don’t be like Marley and Scrooge, focusing purely on self gain. Ultimately, Dickens uses Marley as his mouthpiece
to emphasise the importance of social responsibility and the need to look after family, friends
and employees. This is the only way to avoid eternal punishment. By using the concept of Purgatory, Dickens
suggests that it is the Christian duty of his readers to help others. This is aptly summarised in ‘The Life of
Our Lord’ (1846), which he wrote for his children: Remember! — It is Christianity To Do Good always — even
to those who do evil to us. It is Christianity to love our neighbour as
ourself, and to do to all men as we would have them Do to us. It is Christianity to be gentle, merciful,
and forgiving, and to keep those qualities quiet in our own hearts, and never make a
boast of them, or of our prayers or of our love of God, but always to shew that we love
Him by humbly trying to do right in everything. Well I hope you found this video useful. Everything I go through in this video series
can be found in the second edition of Mr Bruff’s Guide to A Christmas Carol. The links are in the description – you can
pick up a copy. Please do subscribe, and like the video.

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1 thought on “Jacob Marley: Character Analysis – ‘A Christmas Carol’ (updated & animated)”

  1. jibran khurram says:

    Hi i really need help on how i word my answers and how much time i spend during the exams, any tips on that to help me ?

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