What does Scrooge mean when he says, "There's more gravy than of grave about you"?          

What Scrooge means when he says "There's more gravy than of grave about you" is that he thinks his senses have been disordered by something he's eaten, which would explain why he is now seeing the ghost of Jacob Marley.

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In the opening stave of Dickens's A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is incredulous when he encounters the Ghost of Marley in his bedroom on Christmas Eve and blames the spirit's appearance on indigestion. Scrooge had just sat down to eat his evening meal of gruel when the bells throughout his home began ringing and the ghost of Marley suddenly appeared. The ghost of Marley recognizes that Scrooge does not believe in him and asks Scrooge why he doubts his senses. Scrooge replies by saying,

Because ... a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

By saying that there is "more of gravy than grave about you," Scrooge is using a pun to explain the ghost's appearance. This is a play on words, because "gravy" and "grave" sound similar and the two words relate to Scrooge's argument. Scrooge is arguing that any type of food, such as undigested "gravy," could account for this strange apparition, the spirit of a deceased person who has returned from the "grave."

Scrooge's incredulous nature aligns with his personality, and his weak pun is an attempt to distract his own attention and calm his nerves in the presence of Marley's ghost. As a rational, practical man, Scrooge does not believe in ghosts and initially views the ghost of Marley as an illusion caused by undigested beef. He is clearly in denial about the entire situation but shudders in fear when the ghost "[raises] a frightful cry" and "[shakes] its chain."

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In this statement, Scrooge, not much of a comic or wit, tries to crack a joke by making a pun on the way the words grave, meaning death, and gravy, the warm liquid we pour over meat and potatoes, sound alike.

What Scrooge means by this statement is that rather than really seeing Marley coming back from the grave, the figure before him is more likely a figment of his imagination brought on by indigestion.

This solution is completely in character for Scrooge, an utterly practical man who doesn't believe in ghosts, the afterlife, or even the spirit of Christmas. Scrooge is fitting the vision of Marley before him into his own frame of reference by seeing him a hallucination brought on by a bad bit of food. He tells Marley that anything, even a "fragment of underdone potato," can affect his senses.

Scrooge is badly unnerved at this point, because it is hard to deny what he sees, so he tells a joke. He is in denial that the figure he is talking to is Marley's ghost, but his denial is beginning to crack. Nevertheless, he is still hopeful at this point that it really will be "gravy" causing this unaccountable scene before his eyes and that he can sink back into his normal life.

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The ghost of Jacob Marley is the first spirit to visit Scrooge on Christmas Eve. When he was alive, Marley was Scrooge's business partner and was as obsessed with making money as old Ebenezer himself.

As a punishment for his greed, Marley's spirit has been condemned to wander round for all eternity weighed down by chains forged from the paraphernalia of business life: "cash-boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel." He's come to warn Scrooge that a similar fate awaits him of he doesn't change his ways.

At first, Scrooge flat out refuses to believe what his eyes are telling him. He frankly tells the ghost of Marley that he doesn't believe in him. When pressed to explain why, Scrooge says that "a little thing affects" his senses. All it takes is "a slight disorder of the stomach" to turn his senses into cheats.

For all Scrooge knows, Marley's ghost may be an illusion conjured up by "an undigested bit of beef" or perhaps even a "fragment of an underdone potato."

That's why Scrooge tells the ghost that there's more “gravy than grave” about him. He's implying that Marley's ghost isn't real; it's simply that something he's eaten is wrecking havoc on his senses.

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The actual quote, to put this bit in context, from Stave One of the text is:

“You don't believe in me,” observed the Ghost.

“I don't,” said Scrooge.

“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?”

“I don't know,” said Scrooge.

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

This statement is Scrooge's way of belittling the apparition of Marley that is before him.  He does not believe in ghosts, so there must be some other explanation for this vision of Marley that is before him.  He suggests that his disagreeable stomach, after his eating something that does not sit well in his digestion, has affected his senses so that Marley has appeared before him.

Scrooge is presented here as a very mundane, very practical fellow.  It will take the convincing of Marley and Three Spirits for Scrooge to begin to believe in the power of the things that he cannot perceive with his five senses alone.

Dickens explains Scrooge's "gravy" comment with these words:

Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre's voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.

So his play on words -- Grav-y / grave -- is also a joke meant to try to get the upper hand in a situation that is, in fact, putting Scrooge in the position of being terrified.  Could it be that he perceives that something amazingly life-changing is on the horizon for him?  If so, he is correct.  Scrooge is in for the alteration of a lifetime.

 

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