Marley’s Message

by Dianne Armstrong

It held up its chain at arm’s length, as if that were the cause of all its unavailing grief,and flung it heavily upon the ground again.

‘At this time of the rolling year,’ the spectre said ‘I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!’

Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! Such was I!’

‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.

‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’


A repentant Marley appears in Stave I of A Christmas Carol—what a marvelous figure created in the Dickens imagination! Dragging his cashboxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, and deeds, and fettered by the chains that bound him both on earth and in death, he is a formidable sight. But his words speak to a subject the very opposite of his appearance. For despite his seeming devotion, even in the afterlife, to the materialism of an avaricious society, Marley is clearly marked by remorse. The fact that Scrooge can see through him is one sign of this altered state. For it is said that a person with no bowels lacks Christian compassion, a reference to: I John 3: 17: “But whoso may have the world’s substance, and see his brother having need, and shut up his bowels from him, how abides the love of God in him?”

Though he is clearly paying for a life concentrated on the self, Marley redeems that self when he reaches out to save Scrooge from a similar fate, an act of selfless concern. But how does Marley’s “message” to his former partner, that he has already created an analogous destiny, translate to us over 150 years later? Why is “mankind” also our “business”?  A few statistics may clarify the picture for us, for the images of hunger, illness, and death that haunt the pages of Marley’s world as it is depicted in A Christmas Carol, are by no means confined to 19th century London.  Children everywhere today, especially, “are the most visible victims of under-nutrition.  Children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year. Poor nutrition plays a role in at least half of the 10.9 million child deaths each year–five million deaths.  Under-nutrition magnifies the effect of every disease, including measles and malaria. The estimated proportions of deaths in which under-nutrition is an underlying cause are roughly similar for diarrhea (61%), malaria (57%), pneumonia (52%), and measles (45%) (Black 2003, Bryce 2005).

Finally, “According to the most recent estimate, malnutrition, as measured by stunting, affects 32.5 percent of children in developing countries–one of three (de Onis 2000). Geographically, more than 70 percent of malnourished children live in Asia, 26 percent in Africa and 4 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. In many cases, their plight began even before birth with a malnourished mother. Under-nutrition among pregnant women in developing countries leads to 1 out of 6 infants born with low birth weight. This is not only a risk factor for neonatal deaths, but also causes learning disabilities, mental retardation, poor health, blindness and premature death.”

Marley’s urgent appeal comes down to us over time, as a vision, then, in that the plight of the poor worldwide has not significantly altered.  Let his words echo in our hearts and find a home there, inspiring us to act as did Scrooge, blessing everyone as we do.