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In Stave IV of A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge witnesses the sordid conditions and actions in a part of London unknown to him.
After seeing many businessmen he knows, Scrooge is led by the Spirit into an obscure area of the city. This is an area unfamiliar to Scrooge, although he has seen it before. This quarter "reeked with crime, with filth, and misery." In one place, for instance, there lay on the floor "unseemly" rags and "sepulchres of bones." Soon, two women come into this rag shop laden with large bundles; then, they lay their booty before the "grey-haired rascal" who sits in the midst of other sordid wares. They all laugh as the man called Old Joe tells them to shut the door.
Once the door is closed, the women unwrap their booty. As the contents are examined, the threesome laugh again and ridicule the dead man from whom all these items have been taken. For instance, one woman claims that the shirt on the corpse is the best that he had and it would have been wasted if she had not taken it. Even the curtains around the deathbed have been stolen as the corpse lies bare.
As this scene changes, Scrooge sees a very dark room in which a pale light falls upon the bed. On it, "plundered and bereft, unwatched, unwept, uncared for, was the body of this man."
Scrooge is devastated to witness the complete lack of respect shown him by these scavengers, as well as by the fact that there was no one to guard his body. In addition, the theft of his material possessions is symbolic of their insignificance compared to spiritual values of love and friendship.
This is an important scene because Scrooge sees all that he has worked so hard to amass, his worldly belongings, being pawed over and in the kind of setting that he himself would never enter. He learns the hard way that whatever wealth and belongings you amass in this world you are unable to take them with you. He thus is challenged to think very hard about how he spends his time and energy.
In Stave IV, Scrooge sees his future. He does not realize he is dead. When he visit's Old Joe's scavenger shop, he sees his servants and the undertaker's assistant selling his possessions: bed curtains, silver and even the shirt he was buried in. Although he has to realize they are his, he is still in denial. He refuses to allow himself to accept that he is the dead man whose life he has been hearing about.
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