Background.

A Christmas Carol.

Context.

This quote is said by Ebenezer Scrooge to the ghost of Jacob Marley. While he is preparing to go to bed on Christmas Eve, Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by the ghost of his business partner, Jacob Marley, who had died seven years earlier on the same day.

Scroooge is clearly frightened by the visit as Marley’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bonesHowever, Scrooge, in his characteristic hard attitude, dismisses the sight of the ghost with this light-hearted response, although Scrooge is described as not much in the habit of cracking jokes.

By commenting to Marley that you may be an undigested bit of beef, Scrooge is assuming that the vision he is witnessing may be as a result of the food he has eaten. This follows the belief that eating certain foods prior to bedtime may lead to a person getting nightmares or having vivid dreams during the night.

Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley.
Illustration from the original publication of A Christmas Carol showing Ebenezer Scrooge (left), here being visited by the ghost of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, bound by the chains he forged in life.

Character Profile: Ebenezer Scrooge.

Ebenezer Scrooge is one of the most famous characters created by Charles Dickens and arguably one of the most famous in English literature. The protagonist of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is the cold-hearted and mean-spirited accountant. His business partner, the equally mean Jacob Marley, died seven years previous and he lives alone, having never married. Through a visit on Christmas Eve of the ghost of Marley and the three subsequent spirits, Scrooge is awakened to his meaness and the impact it has on others.

Source.

Taken from the following passage of Stave 1 (Marley’s Ghost) of A Christmas Carol:

“You don’t believe in me,” observed the Ghost.

“I don’t,” said Scrooge.

“What evidence would you have of my reality beyond that of your senses?”

“I don’t know,” said Scrooge.

“Why do you doubt your senses?”

“Because,” said Scrooge, “a little thing affects them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheats. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!”

Scrooge was not much in the habit of cracking jokes, nor did he feel, in his heart, by any means waggish then. The truth is, that he tried to be smart, as a means of distracting his own attention, and keeping down his terror; for the spectre’s voice disturbed the very marrow in his bones.

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You may be an undigested bit of beef.
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