Lireture Analysis: Charles Dickens Research Paper
Updated: Dec 20th, 2019
Dickens is regarded as the master of style because he has the ability to describe scenes in colorful detail thus making the scenes being described to come alive. The two pieces of work that will be the main area of concern in this analysis are ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Oliver Twist’.
Charles Dickens’ writing reflects his extraordinary gift of observance. Not many novelists can accomplish what this author has managed to achieve in his books. He has the capacity to lay out images of things and people in a manner that the ordinary human being would not envisage.
Dickens’ writings integrate what he observes with what he remembers and imagines. Seldom does one miss even the most trivial of details in his work. It is these trivialities that bring out his most critical strength in literature (Gissing 63). In ‘Oliver Twist’, the following passage exemplifies this feature:
“his gaze encountered the terrified face of Oliver Twist, who, despite all the admonitory looks and pinches of Bumble, was regarding the repulsive countenance of his future master with a mingled expression of horror and fear too palpable to be mistaken even by a half-blind magistrate” (Dickens Oliver 18).
The capacity to describe vividly probably stemmed from Dickens’ attention to detail even in his real life. In letters that he wrote to his colleagues, Charles often noticed the most peculiar things about people. One particular letter was written to Wilkie on the 17th of January 1858. He describes an incident in which he had gone to visit a mental asylum and found a man who was dumb and deaf.
It was only during the late stages of his illness that others began to notice his insanity. Dickens asked about his occupation and found that he had worked as a telegraph operator.
He speculated about the nature of messages that he sent to different parts of the world in his mental state. Charles did not think about the obvious things; he looked as the mentally-ill patient’s perspective from a totally unexpected angle. It was this talent that he transmitted to his novels.
Something else that comes to mind when reading this author’s classic tales is his propensity to find romance in unpleasant or routine scenarios. Dickens can find something valuable out of even the most wretched of places. He takes a seemingly insignificant and disagreeable occurrence and then relates it with the story in a manner that enriches it.
For instance in ‘A Tale of Two Cities’, he describes a battle scene in Bastille as a “vast dusky mass of scarecrows to and fro, with frequent gleams of light above the billowy heads, where steel blades and bayonets shone in the sun” (Dickens A Tale 244). Through this description, he brings out the tense and belligerent atmosphere so effectively, and thus enriches the story.
In ‘Oliver Twist’ several descriptions of drudgery and filth fill the chapters. In one scenario, he describes the tenements as “fast closed and molding away… houses had become insecure from age and decay and were prevented from falling into the street by huge beams of wood reared against the walls” (Dickens Oliver 5).
It is clear from this description that the state of poverty in that tenement was excessive. The author emphasizes this state of affairs by adding the description of the beams. Such creativity makes one feel like one is in those establishments, and thus enhances the narrative.
It is easy to find unforgettable scenes in Dickens’ work. The reason behind their impressiveness is his ability to paint them rather than merely narrate them. For instance in “A Tale of Two Cities”, the author refers to France for the first time in chapter five. At this moment, he talks about a broken wine cask. He then backs up the picture of wine casks with some descriptions of the surrounding noise.
In another instance, the author paints a picture of the grindstone scene. He talks about the men who sharpen their swords and knives elaborately. Such scenes make the work appear as though it is an actual painting rather than mere prose. The author thus manages to affect the audience’s responses through these spatial representations (Stange 384).
Like any other great writer, Dickens drew inspiration from a number of historical occurrences or figures. However, he was not interested in recapturing these crucial moments of history in every detail possible. Charles simply wanted to draw lessons from them.
For instance, he often told his biographer how he had read the book “French Revolution” by Thomas Carlyle hundreds of times; most structural elements of “A Tale of Two Cities” come from this book. Instead of reconstructing the past, Dickens chooses to tell the story of his characters through these historical patterns.
When describing ancient practices, such as the whipping post, Charles reminds the reader that he is talking about an extinct practice. As such, one does not feel lost in a bygone era. Everything that takes place in the lives of his characters resonates with the social order of the time (Hutter 448).
Therefore, the suffering and death that took place gains a lot of relevance in the mind of reader. This serves to keep all scenes highly relevant and thus captivating. It is these sorts of tactics that make Dickens’ work exceptional.
On must realize that it is not just the great description of these scenes that makes Charles Dickens novels so remarkable. He also has an instinctive skill of integrating disorderly events into one remarkable and united tale. The story of ‘Oliver Twist’ exemplifies this strategy; throughout the narration, there is a mystery that must be solved by the protagonist.
He needs to find his true identity, and when he achieves this, then he will find his true position in society. All of the adventures in the book are tied to this goal, even though the ambition does not seem to be so obvious in the beginning.
It is these overarching themes that make the words and descriptions in the book so meaningful. Charles Dickens does not just write ‘Oliver Twist’ for the sake of writing; each description is filled with meaning. The scenes have a huge impact on the outcome of the story. For instance
“Mr. Brownlow went on from day to day, filling the mind of his adopted child with stores of knowledge, and becoming attached to him, more and more,. And his nature developed itself and showed the thriving seeds of all he wished him to become” (Dickens Oliver 53).
This passage captures the very essence of the book. Oliver always wanted to be independent; having grown up in the streets, he had to adopt a certain degree of self determination. On the other hand, Oliver still wanted someone else to make choices for him since the latter option would cause him to be accepted by the middle class or other respectable members of society.
Therefore, when Brownlow fills him with knowledge, he is allowing the boy to reconcile these two needs. It takes a stroke of genius to capture such conflicting goals in small passages such as the one quoted above. Charles Dickens was able to combine verbal prowess with meaning-making perfectly in this excerpt (Miller 83).
Charles Dickens’ style also elicits emotions from its audiences owing to its directness. ‘Oliver Twist’ is quite a poignant tale, but only the author’s descriptions create these effects. For instance when Dickens talks about Oliver’s imprisonment, one fully identifies the plight of this young boy. He is in an underground prison, which could fall at any time owing to its weak foundations and decaying structures (Dickens Oliver 3).
Furthermore, the room is absolutely dark so that Oliver cannot see his surroundings. If one cannot see the walls, then it is almost as if one is covered by nothingness. A picture of gloom and hopelessness may take over one’s life. It is no wonder Oliver went to the corner so that he could at least touch something real.
Dickens then contrasts the coldness of the walls with the gloom in the room, and asserted that the protagonist preferred the cold. The loneliness and isolation that this boy feels is unmistakable; Charles cleverly uses two highly undesirable elements to bring out the magnitude of Oliver’s troubles.
If the boy was in such as state as to prefer a cold, hard surface over the nothingness, then it must have been completely unbearable for him. The witty choice of words draws out audiences’ emotions.
It is only when an author is able to wear the characters’ shoes that he can think about his reactions to them. If Dickens had not imagined himself to be Oliver in that dark room, he would not have thought about the temporary comfort that the walls accorded the protagonist. Such vividness and capacity to draw out people’s emotions is what causes many readers to admire Dickens’ work.
Any novelist should aim at pleasing his audience. ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘Oliver Twist’ are some of the most pleasant novels in English literature (Baysal 14). Therefore, in this realm, Dickens has succeeded as an artist. However, it should be noted that not everyone admired this style of writing during Dickens’ lifetime.
Some critics such as James Stephen thought that appealing to audiences’ emotions rather than their sense of reason was crude and corny. These critics classified ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ as historical fiction, so they presumed that it should be philosophical in nature. Other critics of his time such as Aldous Haxley claimed that it was vulgar to fake emotions as Dickens had done because sincerity was a talent in literature.
While these criticisms may be valid to a certain extent, they do not address the root-cause of Dickens’ stylistic preferences. Dickens wanted to write ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ in a manner that would educate the masses about an important historical event.
He was not writing for the historians or the scholars, so it should come as no surprise that these audiences found his work unsatisfactory. The dates and events were accurately stated in his book and that is what mattered. Fictional writers must prioritize the needs of their readers as it is not possible to satisfy everyone.
Many readers were drawn to Dickens’ work because he used characters that they were already familiar with. For those who did not about such characters, Dickens always made a point of introducing them ever so carefully.
It was this element that constantly won them over. In doing so, Dickens would use habits that are common to all in order to achieve this aim. By drawing on common humanity, Charles was able to make his scenes come alive (Forster 125).
“Now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes… he was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once – a parish child-the orphan of a half-starved drudge.. to be despised by all and pitied by none” (Dickens Oliver 8).
Dickens was aware that all human beings have experienced indifference or disdain. Using phrases that captured these sentiments ensured that even the middle class could understand Oliver’s status.
Dickens was a master of style because he had a talent of observance, which manifested itself in the form of intricate details. Furthermore, he would find romance in the most unexpected places. As if these were not enough, Dickens often painted images of his scenes rather than just describing them.
Perhaps the most important aspect of his work was his emotional appeal. He achieved this by putting himself in the shoes of his characters. He also introduced unfamiliar audiences to the world of his books using common humanity. It was these stylistic strategies that made him a literary genius.
Baysal, Alev. Caryle’s Influence upon A Tale of Two Cities. 8 Jun. 2007. Web.
Dickens, Charles. The Adventures of Oliver Twist. Boston: Ticknor and Fields, 1867. Googlebooks. Web.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. NY: Bentham, 1859. Googlebooks. Web.
Forster, John. The Life of Charles Dickens. Cambridge: John Wilson and Son, 1872. Googlebooks. Web.
Gissing, George. Charles Dickens: A critical study. 2001. Web.
Hutter, Albert. Nation and Generation in A Tale of Two Cities. PMLA 93.3(1978): 448-462. Web.
Miller, Joseph. Charles Dickens: the world of his novels. Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1958. Googlebooks. Web.
Stange, Robert. Dickens and Fiery past: A Tale of Tow Cities Reconsidered. English Journal 2009: 381-390. Web.
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