A Christmas Carol Questions and Answers
by Charles Dickens

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What is the meaning of the two children, Ignorance and Want, in "A Christmas Carol"?

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In Stave three, Scrooge meets with the Ghost of Christmas Present. This ghost, as his name implies, shows him what is happening now in Scrooge's world, such as the meager Christmas the Cratchit family is celebrating on Bob Cratchit's poor wages.

As Scrooge and the ghost are parting from each other, Scrooge sees two figures clinging to the robes of the spirit. He asks what they are. The ghost fully reveals these two children. They are ugly, shriveled, yellowed, angry and mean because they have seldom been shown any kindness or had their needs met, and also abject (humble) because they have been degraded and told they are worthless. The ghost calls them Ignorance and Want. They are ignorant because they have never been provided with any kind of education that would allow to get ahead or know right from wrong. They are wanting because they "want" or lack the basic necessities of life, such as enough food and adequate shelter. The ghost warns that they are a danger and will spell doom for Scrooge's society if their needs aren't better met.

Scrooge's newly awakened heart is appalled and filled with pity, and he asks if there isn't anything that can be done for these poor children. The ghost throws Scrooge's harsh words about prisons to house the poor back at him, implying that it is up to wealthy people like Scrooge to use their good fortune to help these children.

The children Scrooge sees, Ignorance and Want, stand for all the millions of children in Victorian Great Britain who, in the days before a social safety net, didn't have the basic necessities of life. Dickens describes them as follows:

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.

Dickens was very angry at the social injustices in his society and much beloved by many readers for pointing them out. He did not, however, believe in the wholesale changing of the system as much as he did in inspiring people to greater compassion and generosity in their charitable giving.

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