In A Christmas Carol, what does Scrooge notice beneath the Ghost of Christmas Present's robe?
Towards the end of his meeting with the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge notices that something is protruding from the base of his robe. On first glance, it looks like a claw but it is, in fact, two children who Dickens describes as being "wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable." The children, a boy and a girl, represent ignorance and want and are used by the ghost to convey a warning to Scrooge and to the city of London.
To put this into context, Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, when Britain was undergoing its Industrial Revolution. While the country grew wealthy from its increased manufacture, the vast majority of people suffered unprecedented levels of poverty as they laboured in factories and workshops. For the children of the industrial working class, life was especially hard. They were expected to work and contribute to the family's income and there were few regulations in place to protect them from long working hours and dangerous conditions. Like the children under the ghost's robe, these children were not healthy and happy like they ought to be, but were instead the victims of their circumstances, forever scarred by hard work:
"Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds."
The ghost's warning, then, is an attempt by Dickens to raise public awareness of child labour and poverty in industrial Britain. He wanted people to act now to help and protect them, before it was too late.