A Christmas Carol

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Jacob Marley Character Analysis

Scrooge’s former business partner. Despite not being particularly missed by Scrooge, he was nevertheless the miser’s only friend, and is the figure that haunts and protects him by appearing in place of Scrooge's door knocker and introducing the three Christmas ghosts. He makes manifest the horror of regret with his burdensome chain and describes how he is doomed to wander the earth for eternity, a fate that Scrooge too will face unless he changes his ways.

Jacob Marley Quotes in A Christmas Carol

The A Christmas Carol quotes below are all either spoken by Jacob Marley or refer to Jacob Marley. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of A Christmas Carol published in 2003.
Stave 1 Quotes

Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Related Characters: Jacob Marley
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

At the very beginning of the story, the narrator establishes that Marley, Scrooge's business partner and sole friend in the world, is dead. This quote epitomizes the amusing emphasis that the narrator puts on the fact that Marley is definitely deceased--which makes it all the more shocking and supernatural when he appears, as a ghost, in Scrooge's room the night before Christmas. (It's also worth noting that Dickens is not the source of this common colloquialism, which is actually quite ancient, but this sentence does foreshadow Marley's ghost appearing in the door knocker.)

Marley's definitive dead-ness also shows that ever since Marley died seven years ago, Scrooge has been totally isolated from other human beings, besides the ones he is required to interact with (like his clerk Bob Cratchit). This is entirely by choice: Scrooge is a miser not just in money, but in affection, too. Though Marley was Scrooge's only companion, the tone of this quote suggests that he thought of his business partner like one might think of a door-nail: necessary and useful, but otherwise insignificant. Thus, when Marley dies, Scrooge ensures that he gives his old friend a cheap funeral and never changes the name on the door to their business; he takes to responding to both names. This quote therefore establishes Marley's death, winks at his future arrival in Scrooge's room, and shows the reader the crassness with which Scrooge treats other people, even those for whom he musters slight fondness. 

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'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!'

Related Characters: Jacob Marley (speaker), Ebenezer Scrooge
Page Number: 49
Explanation and Analysis:

Marley's ghost, wrapped in chains, visits Scrooge in his room that night. He is bound by his sins--represented by the chains--to roam the earth in purgatory. He thus visits Scrooge to warn him to change his ways or face a miserable fate like his after death. Scrooge expresses surprise at Marley's sentence, saying that he was a "good man of business." In this quote, Marley is upset by Scrooge's statement, noting that the business of dealing with goods and finances is but a small aspect of life; paying respect to his fellow mankind should have been his business, as he has only seen too late. 

Marley visits Scrooge to show him what kind of fate--or perhaps worse--awaits him if he continues his miserly ways. Scrooge's only delight in life is the making and hoarding of money, and Marley here urges him to think of the "common welfare," which Scrooge refuses to acknowledge. Scrooge thinks every person's misery is their own fault, and to be poor is to be lazy and to be wealthy is to have high morals. In making and keeping his own wealth, spending very little and giving away absolutely nothing, Scrooge equates his thrift to morality and assumes that this will buy his way into heaven. Marley refutes this thinking and tells him quite the opposite: to ignore one's fellow men in need is to buy one's way down towards Hell. Just because Scrooge chooses to ignore everyone in need, doesn't mean that his inaction cannot be counted against him at St. Peter's Gate: he is equally at fault for what he does not do (give affection or charity to anyone or anything) than what he does do (hoard his money). Marley's apparition serves to warn him of what will happen if he continues to live a solitary and mean life--an afterlife of regrets and woe. 

Stave 5 Quotes

'I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future!' Scrooge repeated, as he scrambled out of bed. 'The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. Oh, Jacob Marley! Heaven, and the Christmas Time be praised for this! I say it on my knees, old Jacob, on my knees!'

Related Characters: Ebenezer Scrooge (speaker), Jacob Marley
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

After the final grim visit to the grave yard, Scrooge awakens the next day with a firm resolve to change his ways. In this quote, he thanks the Ghost of his one and only friend, Jacob Marley, for showing him the importance of rejecting their mutual miserly ways to avoid a purgatorial fate like his. 

Scrooge resolves to embody all three spirits: the youthful reminiscence of the Ghost of Christmas Past, the joy, understanding, and generosity of the Ghost of Christmas Present, and the somber foresight of the Ghost of Christmas Future. He knows now that it is important to understand one's own context and perspective, as well as those of others, to properly conduct oneself with kindness and charity. Scrooge has some good reasons for acting particularly bitter around Christmas--there are unhappy memories from his past that make the holiday a sore subject--but he also has very happy memories that he has now learned to try and evoke, such as old Fizziwig's ball. As he has awoken on Christmas Day itself, he now has the chance to evoke the spirit of Christmas Present, and immediately spread joy and generosity on the people who deserve and need it. 

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Jacob Marley Character Timeline in A Christmas Carol

The timeline below shows where the character Jacob Marley appears in A Christmas Carol. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Stave 1
Family Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
The narrator states that there was no doubt about Marley’s death. Scrooge, Marley’s business partner, signed the register of his burial. The narrator considers that... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
...to grieve much (apart from the loss of business), and got a bargain price for Marley’s funeral. Since the firm’s name has always been Scrooge and Marley, Scrooge has taken to... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws Theme Icon
...one of the two partners listed above the door he is. Scrooge informs them that Marley died seven years ago this very night. The two gentlemen hope that Scrooge will be... (full context)
Family Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
...family. Scrooge, meanwhile, goes home to a suite of gloomy rooms that used to be Marley’s. The narrator describes the building as completely out of place, as if it was once... (full context)
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
...sane man. He also mentions that Scrooge had not been thinking about his late partner Marley. The narrator then explains what a surprise it is to Scrooge when he looks at... (full context)
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...hurries indoors, annoyed by the apparition. He stops briefly to check that the back of Marley’s head is not similarly behind the door. Again scorning his fear, Scrooge goes upstairs to... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...with tiles that illustrate stories from scripture but over all of these famous figures comes Marley’s ghostly face again. Scrooge dismisses the vision with a “Humbug!” but suddenly a bell in... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
The ghost appears just as Scrooge remembers Jacob Marley, except that he is totally transparent and carries a huge chain about him. But even... (full context)
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Scrooge asks Marley to sit. He wonders, because of his transparency, if he is able to sit, but... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws Theme Icon
At this, Marley shakes his chain and makes a terrifying sound. Scrooge admits that he believes now but... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws Theme Icon
Marley cannot stay long, with many journeys ahead of him. Scrooge jokes that he must have... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Scrooge is now terrified and vows to listen. Marley tells Scrooge that he will soon be visited by three spirits, and he has the... (full context)
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
Then, Marley’s ghost beckons Scrooge over. Scrooge begins to hear a chorus of wailing sounds, which Marley’s... (full context)
Stave 2
Past, Present and Future – The Threat of Time Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...goes back to bed and thinks, but the more he thinks that the episode with Marley was all in his head, the more the visions spring up in his mind and... (full context)
Stave 5
Family Theme Icon
Greed, Generosity and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Christmas and Tradition Theme Icon
Social Dissatisfaction and the Poor Laws Theme Icon
...door knocker again, and exclaims how thankful he is to it for showing him Jacob Marley’s face. (full context)