For reference, I went on a study abroad to London, Paris, and Rome a couple of years ago. It was one of the most influential trips of my life, if not the most influential trip. While I was there, I went to the Charles Dickens Museum.
I chose to go there as opposed to any other location in London for two reasons. One being that I love Charles Dickens. He is up there as one of my favorite authors of all time. The other reason was that there was an exhibit for the making of A Christmas Carol. Now, not only do I love A Christmas Carol, but I also had an assignment that I needed to complete. I thought perhaps among the documents and exhibits I would find some connection between them and the excerpt given from the book. Below is what I gleaned from that experience.
Each room highlighted a different portion of Dickens’ life, from his writing to his family. There were artifacts from his boot blacking days, from his writing, and documents showing his and his father’s financial troubles.
On the middle level, I found the exhibit dedicated to A Christmas Carol. There I found costumes from the movie The Man Who Invented Christmas, which is a fantastic movie that I should definitely focus on one of these days.
One of the costumes on display was for Marley’s ghost. Like most renditions of Marley, it was covered in chains and shackles, but there were also keys. Now, why on earth would he have keys attached to his chains? That would suggest that he could easily unlock the padlocks and safes from his person. Surely, this had to be some kind of poetic license done by the costume designer? No.
Upon inspecting the text again, I found that there were in fact “keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.” This got me thinking about the chain itself and more about what it represented. We talk about Marley and Scrooge themselves being an allegory for modern business and the chain was part of that, but I think it has a greater meaning.
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” says the ghost (174). We know the chain was “forged” from his misdeeds and his ignorance of his fellow men. He continues later with “I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it” (174). He is insinuating that at this point he is no longer free to choose whether he wears it or not and the rest of the passage confirms that again and again. Later the spirit “held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of its unavailing grief” (175).
Let me press my own allegory upon the chain. It is not only a symbol relating to modern business. It also is a form of contract. Charles Dickens is hinting throughout the passage of some contract made before we are born that is in effect throughout our entire existence. The ghost says “It is required of every man…. that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen…. if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death” (174). This is part of the contract and it brings us back to the chain.
Deeds and ledgers are used as a form of contract on earth. The contract is binding like intangible chains. They can keep poor people imprisoned in debt, unable to move forward. Only those in charge of the deeds and ledgers, like Scrooge and Marley, are able to free the poor of these invisible hindrances. However, if men like Scrooge and Marley don’t have mercy, the chains continue to be built, link by link, and at death, they are contracted to them. They become trapped by their actions in life. They in fact have the keys in their possession in order to free themselves, but they are unable to use them because they refused to use them to free others in life. This is why there are keys on the chain. They are opportunities that have been lost. The ghosts can’t use the keys to free themselves just like how they can’t “interfere, for good in human matters,” and have “lost that power forever” (176).
The irony of this is incredibly palpable. We all have the keys to free ourselves with us all the time but we might not see them.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this post. It’s a bit different from some of what I’ve written before. I hope you all had a Happy Holiday Season, regardless of what you celebrated and that your New Year looks bright!