What do Ignorance and Want mean in A Christmas Carol?  

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Ignorance and Want represent mankind’s need to take care of children.

When Scrooge is visited by two men asking for money for charity, he scoffs at the idea.  He suggests that he already takes care of the poor by paying taxes that fund prisons and workhouses.  He sends the men off without giving them anything.

Scrooge attends many events from his past, and begins to get more reflective.  By the time he has finished viewing what is going on around him in the present and how he influences people’s lives, he is starting to regret his negligence in doing his duty to help the poor.  The ghost finally confronts him with two skeletally thin children.  He asks who they belong to, and the Ghost of Christmas Present tells him that they belong to mankind.

“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. …” (Stave 2)

Scrooge’s reaction to the two children is completely different than how he reacted to the poor in the first chapter.  He is no longer thinking of himself, and the thought of the children going to a workhouse is now repellent to him.  When he asks about the children, the ghost throws his words back at him with vehemence.

“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?” (Stave 2)

Scrooge is a different person now than when he said those words.  He cared about Tiny Tim, and he cares about these children too.  He is already transforming into the Scrooge who cares about other people.  One of the first things he does when he wakes up in his own present again is find the men he denied gifts too and promise them an enormous sum for their fund.

Dickens wrote this book in order to remind people not to just walk past the needy on the street.  It worked.  When people saw beggars in the street, they thought about Tiny Tim.  Eventually, laws were passed providing funds for public education and ending the workhouse system.  Scrooge showed people that they are responsible for the children of their society.

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