Background.

A Christmas Carol.
  • Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?” is a quotation from A Christmas Carol (Stave 4).
  • A Christmas Carol is a novella, or short story, written by Charles Dickens and first published in the Christmas of 1843. The allegorical tale tells the story of the transformation of the mean-spirited Ebenezer Scrooge through the visits of the spirit of his former business partner and three ghosts over the course of a Christma Eve night. It remains a much-loved traditional Christmas tale.

Context.

This quotation is said by Ebenezer Scrooge to the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. Scrooge has been transported to the graveyard of a Church by the Ghost, who points at a tombstone. Scrooge see’s that it is his own grave.

In this quotation, Scrooge asks the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come if the visions he witnesses will happen or may happen, suggesting that he can yet redeem himself by changing his ways.



Illustration from Stave 4 of the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge tormented by the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (often referred to as The Ghost Of Christmas Future) is a darker phantom than the other two ghosts and the spirit that Scrooge finds the most fearsome. It appears to him as a figure entirely muffled in a black hooded cloak, except for a single hand with which it points. Although the character never speaks in the story, Scrooge understands it, usually through assumptions from his previous experiences and rhetorical questions. It looks the way it does because it represents what the future holds for Scrooge if he does not change his ways. The Ghost shows Scrooge visions including one of the Cratchit house without Tiny Tim and of Scrooge’s death, his body picked upon by thieves.

Source.

Taken from the following passage in Stave 4 (The Last Of The Three Spirits) of A Christmas Carol:

A churchyard. Here, then; the wretched man whose name he had now to learn, lay underneath the ground. It was a worthy place. Walled in by houses; overrun by grass and weeds, the growth of vegetation’s death, not life; choked up with too much burying; fat with repleted appetite. A worthy place!

The Spirit stood among the graves, and pointed down to One. He advanced towards it trembling. The Phantom was exactly as it had been, but he dreaded that he saw new meaning in its solemn shape.

“Before I draw nearer to that stone to which you point,” said Scrooge, “answer me one question. Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of things that May be, only?

Still the Ghost pointed downward to the grave by which it stood.

Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!”

The Spirit was immovable as ever.

Scrooge crept towards it, trembling as he went; and following the finger, read upon the stone of the neglected grave his own name, Ebenezer Scrooge.

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Are these the shadows of the things that Will be, or are they shadows of the things that May be only?
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