Ignorance And Want

What do the children "Want" and "Ignorance'' symbolize in A Christmas Carol?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Ignorance and Want represent society’s abandonment of the poor and the consequences of that abandonment.

Above all else, A Christmas Carol is allegorical.  Dickens was a strong proponent of taking care of society’s poor and downtrodden, and this is why he chose to represent them in children.  Most people will have more sympathy for children than adults.  Dickens wanted to make the case that the adults we see as criminals started out as poor and abused children.

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. (Stave 3)

Ultimately, the little boys will turn into pickpockets and thieves (like Oliver Twist), and the girls will turn into prostitutes (like Nancy).  Unlike most high and might Christians of the Victorian era, Dickens did not look down on the poor.  He even started a charity house for prostitutes, because he recognized that these were the people that society threw away.

Dickens tells us to beware ignorance more than want.  This is telling, because it demonstrates the root of the problem.  If our poor are not educated, they have no chance to escape the cycle of poverty.  Want, or hunger and need, is important.  It comes from ignorance though.  We need to educate and take care of our young people so that they don't have children that are just as badly off as they are.

kmj23 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Stave Three, Scrooge encounters two children hiding beneath the skirt of the Ghost of Christmas Present. They are two children, called Ignorance and Want, whose appearance shocks Scrooge:

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.

These children are symbolic of the poor in Victorian society, specifically the industrial poor who toil away in England's workshops and factories, struggling to make ends meet and, so very often, the victims of extreme deprivation.

Moreover, the placement of these children under the ghost's skirt is symbolic of how the poor have been largely forgotten by the Victorian middle classes. They are, quite literally, hidden from public view, forgotten and neglected by the wider society. 

By presenting the poor as two half-starved children, Dickens forces his readers to sit up and take note of the realities of industrial life, particularly those who become its victims.

Read the study guide:
A Christmas Carol

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