London and Dickens the City Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Dickens took a dim view of London's preoccupation with materialism and commercialism -- even though he greatly empathized with the constraints that Londoners of the lower-classes felt.

Bob Cratchit, the poor but humble clerk in the office of Scrooge, serves as the representative of the impoverished but decent working class, with whom Dickens sympathized in the mid-1800s. However, like many of Dickens' characters, he is more fantastic than realistic. Dickens' idealism often had free reign (at least in his early works). Great Expectations, of course, reveals a London full of Londoners who fail to reach the heights of the humble Cratchit. But that novel also comes later in Dickens' career, and reveals a darker era in Dickens' own life, when the city of London seemed less likely to come to terms with its own corruption and spiritual decay.

In David Copperfield, the city of London is remarkably diverse and eclectic -- but still dominated by a monetary spirit. After all, as Michael Paterson (2011) notes, "During the years that Dickens knew it -- from 1822 to 1870 -- London was the largest city in the world," (p. 2) so it is only appropriate that it be filled with as many different characters as Shakespeare himself could only have devised. Yet, as many different characters as Dickens could find to populate his world of London, there is always that common thread that links them together -- economic slavery vs. spiritual slavery. Dickens' London is often a parlor where good and evil come toe-to-toe; where good must climb over the economic obstacles placed in his way and strive for a higher virtue than mere arithmetic. Schooling does not always count for much in Dickens' London, either. In Hard Times, the schools are filled with teachers who want to teach only "facts," (Dickens, 1854, p. 3) and have nothing but distrust for the imagination. The factories draw workers from the rural areas and enslave them in the machine of commerce. It is a treacherous world in Dickens' London and no one is safe. In fact, most places of business, including schools, are little more than confidence games -- and everyone seems a con man. Schools are one example of the con game that lives on in the city. Whether in the bungling grave robbers of a Tale of Two Cities, or the pickpockets of Oliver Twist, the London underbelly is full of unsavory characters who live in a kind of hand-to-mouth fashion because they can afford themselves no better avenue toward stability.

Part of the reason for such instability is, as seen in a Christmas Carol, the fault of the miserly monopolists -- the Scrooges of the city. Scrooge is saved from the error of his ways by means of three spirits, preceded by the ghost of his former partner Jacob Marley. Marley arrives on the scene weighed down by chains, and if Dickens' London could have any one single appropriate image foisted upon it would be the image of a city in chains -- a city caught in financial slavery in other words.

Such is the reason that men like Dickens sought to prevail upon the English code a new rule, in which decency and morality was given positive reinforcement. The death penalty was viewed as a tragedy (particularly because the London courts were notorious for corruption). Dickens reflects an entire system on the brink of collapse: the city of London is a prison out of which the good must climb. For this reason, all the good characters of David Copperfield leave London and set sail for Australia at the end of the novel. Heaven is not the city -- but a place far away from it, in fact.

In conclusion, the city of London in the novels of Charles Dickens is a murky place, dominated by "fog" (Dickens, 1853, p. 1) as described in Bleak House. In Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and a Christmas Carol, that fog is represented as a kind of financial shackle. In other words, in the novels of Charles Dickens, London is enshrouded by a gloomy spirit of consumerism and financial gain -- and it is a place that is perceived to be bad for the soul. Thus, Dickens has Scrooge convert from miser to charitable philanthropist; David escapes with his friends to another country; and Pip learns a spiritual lesson in the midst of the great battle between good and evil in Dickens' London.

Reference List

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