The Spirit of Christmas Present: “Beware Ignorance and Want”

In A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is visited by three spirits. Towards the end of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present, Scrooge observes a strange foot or claw protruding from the Spirit’s skirt. He asks what it is.

“‘It might be a claw, for the flesh there is upon it,’ was the Spirit’s sorrowful reply. ‘Look here.’

From the folds of its robe, it brought two children; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. (. . .) They were a boy and girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. (. . .) No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

(. . .)

‘Spirit! are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘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. Deny it!’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye! Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse! And bide the end.’ 

‘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?’

The bell struck twelve.”

–Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Ignorance. Want. Two things our culture has in ample abundance today, though we’d prefer not to admit it. Or, if we do admit ignorance, we might do so out of wrong motives: creating division, deflecting personal responsibility, finding a scapegoat to blame for all that troubles society. Then, as the Spirit says, we make it worse.

It makes me wonder. If I admit to “knowing” ignorance and want, am I trying to alleviate the problems of ignorance and want? Or am I using these problems–exploiting those who suffer–as a way of slandering those whom I see as the reason for the problems?


6 thoughts on “The Spirit of Christmas Present: “Beware Ignorance and Want”

  1. Just last night I was reading Proverbs 24:11-12, and I think it goes to your reflection on A Christmas Carol, Laura:

    Rescue those being led away to death;
    hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
    If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”
    does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?

    When someone is in need of rescue and we do nothing, can we realty claim ignorance as our excuse? Apparently not.


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