What do Marley's chains represent?

In A Christmas Carol, Marley's chains represent the worldly concerns which prevented him from tending to other people in life.

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I believe that this question is asking about the symbolism that is present in Jacob Marley's chains. Marley is Scrooge's dead business partner. When his ghost appears before Scrooge in stave 1, Marley is wrapped up with chains and dragging them along with him. They are made of steel, and...

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I believe that this question is asking about the symbolism that is present in Jacob Marley's chains. Marley is Scrooge's dead business partner. When his ghost appears before Scrooge in stave 1, Marley is wrapped up with chains and dragging them along with him. They are made of steel, and they are additionally weighted down with various financial objects, such as cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses.

Jacob Marley himself tells Scrooge and readers that he is forced to wear the chains in the afterlife.

"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."

Based on this quote, it appears that ghosts are forced to wear chains that are symbolic of that person's life path and life choices. When Marley was alive, he was quite similar to the Scrooge whom we have already gotten to know by this point in the story: Marley focused on his own wealth. His greed superseded any care that he might have for anybody other than himself. His chains are symbolic of those choices. He put money and finances before people, and now he is forced to walk all of eternity carrying around those choices.

The chains also serve as a way for Marley to try and redeem Scrooge. Marley does not want Scrooge to end up like he does and wander the afterlife similarly weighed down. While Scrooge is hardly transformed at this point in the story, Marley and his chains start Scrooge's transformation.

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Marley's chains represent spiritual burdens he "forged" in his own life: that is, his callousness towards other human beings in favor of money or power. In any story, chains tend to represent a loss of freedom. They inhibit movement, due to their weight and length, particularly if they are attached to something heavy. In Marley's case, the chains are linked to items that blinded him from concerning himself with the welfare of others when he was alive: "cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel."

Notice that Scrooge sees a similar sight in the ghosts outside his window, who are trying in vain to comfort a suffering woman and her child. Some spirits are linked to one another, representing "guilty governments" more interested in power than people, and one spirit Scrooge recognizes is bound in chains to a safe.

Marley makes it clear that no outside party or devil is punishing him or souls like him. Rather, these chains were "forged in life," created due to their own actions. Their sins effectively punish them, and now that they are dead, it is too late to amend them by helping the poor they had swindled and abused. As ghosts, all they can do is wail helplessly.

Marley tells Scrooge that he, too, has a chain he wears; but as Scrooge is still alive, he cannot see it. The only way Scrooge can save himself from carrying this burden through eternity as Marley does is to reform his actions and help others.

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