Why is "Doom" written on the brow of ignorance in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the context of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which the miserly, wealthy and exceedingly unpleasant Ebenezer Scrooge habitually rejects the spirit of the holiday season, preferring to continue to conduct his business with nary a nod to the merriment surrounding him, the use of the word “Doom” on the brow of the young boy in Stave III symbolizes the consequences of going through life with an attitude such as his.  Early in story, in Stave I, the spirit of Scrooge’s former business partner, Jacob Marley, visits Scrooge to warn him of the dangers of continuing to reject humanity and conducting his life without compassion and with total focus on his business dealings.  Those consequences, the spirit demonstrates by his appearance (in effect, dragging heavy chains), and demeanor, include an existence in perpetuity characterized by enormous burden:

“It is required of every man,” the Ghost returned, “that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellowmen, and travel far and wide; and if that spirit goes not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world—oh, woe is me!—and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness!”

“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”

The ghost of Jacob Marley has appeared to caution his former partner against emulating his, Marley’s, example.  The further consequences of ignoring this appeal to his humanity are suggested in Stave III, in the final moments between the Ghost of Christmas Present and Scrooge.  Having shown Scrooge the enjoyments of life the old man has heretofore rejected, the ghost then displays before him the human consequences of Scrooge’s neglect, two young children, a destitute-appearing boy and girl.  Asking of the ghost whether the children belong to it, the spirit replies as follows:

“They are Man’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. 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!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. “Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end!”

By placing these two unbearably distraught children before Scrooge, the ghost is placing him face-to-face with the human consequences of his actions.  Just as Scrooge himself will be condemned to an afterlife of misery, so does his conduct in living condemn others to lives of misery.

Read the study guide:
A Christmas Carol

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