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.
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.
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.
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 modernized 2000 movie, he was potrayed as a murdered African American man, he was portrayed by Ray Fearon.