The girl symbolically named "Want" and the boy named "Ignorance" appear in stave 3, "The Second of the Three Spirits," of Charles Dickens's novella A Christmas Carol. Dickens published the novella at his own expense in time for Christmas, 1843. The first edition sold out by Christmas Eve.
Toward the end of stave 3, Ebenezer Scrooge notices something poking out from under The Ghost of Christmas Present's robe:
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Scrooge, looking intently at the Spirit's robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot or a claw?”
The Spirit lifts his robe to reveal two small children:
From the foldings of its robe it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.
Dickens further describes the children:
They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. 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. Where angels might have sat enthroned devils lurked, and glared out menacing.
Scrooge is appalled by their appearance:
“Spirit! are they yours?” Scrooge could say no more.
“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...
“Have they no refuge or resource?” cried Scrooge.
“Are there no prisons?” said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Are there no workhouses?”
The children represent two things that Dickens abhorred in the Victorian society of his time: the ignorance of the negligent, wealthy, upper classes, and the needs of the abject, desolate poor. Dickens depicts Want and Ignorance metaphorically as the children of mankind—"They are Man's," says the Spirit—a consequence of years of indifference in an oppressive society that the poor can't escape. He considered ignorance and poverty the greatest failings of Victorian society.
As regards ignorance, Dickens was passionate about education. He advocated for a public policy of "education for all" in his books, journalistic writings, and speeches, and he lobbied for the building of public libraries throughout England.
Dickens was a relentless and highly vocal opponent of the harsh "New Poor Law" that sent those who sought relief from poverty to prison and workhouses.
Dickens himself grew up in poverty, and he saw first-hand the effect of laws by which the idealistic, "socially conscious," but essentially ignorant lawmakers forced a "work ethic" on the poverty-stricken people in London and throughout England.
In Oliver Twist, Dickens attacks the New Poor Law as offering the poor a choice between starving to death slowly in their own homes or being starved to death quickly in the workhouses, where they would periodically receive "small quantities of oatmeal; and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll on Sundays."
The scene with Ignorance and Want is jarring, to both Scrooge and to the reader, and seems curiously out-of-place in A Christmas Carol. Nevertheless, Dickens takes the opportunity in the midst of the story about Scrooge's redemption to send a message to Victorian society and to the wealthy upper classes in particular that they need to change their attitude toward education and poverty and that they need to change public policies to provide a better life for everyone.