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I wear the chain I forged in life. I made it link by link and yard by yard. Is its pattern strange to you or would you know the length of the strong coils you bear yourself? It was as full, as heavy, as long as this seven Christmas Eves ago, you have labored on it since, it is a ponderous chain!
~ Jacob Marley.

Jacob Marley is a mayor character in A Christmas Carol. He acts as a harbinger to Ebenezer Scrooge and a striking warning of the inevitable price that a life of evil can have on a man's very soul.

History

In life, Jacob was the business partner of Ebenezer Scrooge and both men became successful bankers, stockholders and directors of at least one major association: however, much of their wealth came from unfair taxing of the poor and vulnerable. Jacob Marley had died seven years prior to the beginning of the story and was so disliked by his fellow men that his sole mourner was said to be Scrooge himself and even Scrooge was more concerned with business that day.

However come one fateful Christmas Eve the ghost of Jacob Marley returns to haunt Scrooge and warn him of the horrors that await him in the afterlife due to his wicked ways. 

Jacob Marley's own punishment is depicted vividly as having to carry the chains of his own sin for all eternity while being tormented forevermore in an afterlife heavily implied to be either Purgatory or Hell. Part of Marley's torment included seeing the poor and destitute that he took advantage of in life, suffer, but being powerless to help them in anyway.

At first Scrooge refuses to believe Marley is real but this simply causes Jacob to emit a terrible howl that puts Scrooge on his knees, begging forgiveness - however, Jacob simply tells him that he will be visited by three ghosts before the night is done.

Then, the tormented spirit of Jacob Marley flies out of the window, accompanied by several other spirits, all chained in eternal torment as they vanish back into the abyss. In the end, however, Marley's warning came true that same night and Scrooge was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present and the Ghost of Christmas Future, who showed him his past, his present and what could possibly be his future if he refused to redeem himself. The next day, on Christmas, a totally changed Ebenezer brings joy and happiness to the poor and from that moment on resolves to not commit the same mistakes Marley did by using his fortune to help others and live the rest of his life truly happy.

Other Versions

Due to his importance in the story Jacob Marley has appeared in almost every single adaptation of the story to date, with varying levels of faithfulness to the original tale.

  • In the Disney version he was portrayed by Goofy and was said to be a ruthless criminal who robbed widows, among other misdeeds - this criminal side of Jacob Marley was never explored in the original tale but would not be seen as outwith his character as he was a greedy and ruthless individual.
  • In the Muppet's Christmas Carol the character was divided into two in the form of Marley and Marley so that he could be portrayed by the famous duo of Statler and Waldorf.
  • In the 2000 modernized movie, he was potrayed as a murdered African American man, he was portrayed by Ray Fearon.

Notes

  • Whilst remorseful for his actions in life, the original novel operated off the victorian idea of Hell in which once someone dies in their sins they are sentenced to eternal damnation, with Marley himself referring to his punishment as never-ending; thus most versions of Jacob Marley should do not go under the redeemed category.

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