Character Making Art of Dickens in David Copperfield

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      Introduction. Caricature is a comically grotesque representation of people. It involves a lot of exaggeration of the various individual traits of characters of persons known to the author whether the acquaintance is only superficial or intimate. Many people whom Dickens took special interest to study, had excited his scorn and dislike. He did not love them at all but wanted to make use of them as tools in his literary factory. He closely observed their mannerisms and eccentricities, but at the time of writing, he used to exaggerate these tilings for the literary effect on the readers. In the main story, these minor characters may not have an important role to play. Still, they have to maintain their individuality. Dickens sees to it. They are flat and static without any opportunity to develop and grow despite the fact that the author's labor in the creation of the characters of more important features. These minor characters, therefore, are bereft of any salient attribute worth mentioning. But Dickens will not rest before overwhelming them with the wildest absurdities which human life is supposed to be capable of.

      Somerset Maugham's Explanation of Dickens's Popularity; Somerset Maugham has ranked David Copperfield as one of the ten greatest novels in the world. In his critical appraisal entitled "Novels and their Authors" he has underscored the fact that this novel is filled with numerous characters of the most astonishing variety; vividness and originality. All these are the fantastic inventions of Dickens's exultant imagination. We may not agree with some of the opinions of Maugham in his amateurish attempt to approach Dickens in a Freudian fashion bringing in the author's love affair with a young actress. Probably Maugham had overlooked the fact that Dickens met the said actress only several years after the publication of David Copperfield. It was actually out of the depths of his imagination supplemented by his personal experiences that Dickens created befitting characters for inclusion in a coherent fictional piece in David Copperfield. As such it has survived and it will survive for many more years too. The characters have much vigor. They are consistent. The verisimilitude with which they are presented may carry conviction though you may not believe them. They are not real but they are alive in the psychological sense.

      Variety of Characters. Uniformity brings in monotony and monotony cannot sustain readership appeal. Variety of characters presented with adequate skill ensures the success of an author in regard to popularity among the reading public. The greatest number of interesting characters who will never be forgotten have been the creations of Dickens who has excelled even Shakespeare in providing us with an immense variety of characters representing every aspect of human life in any organized society of any civilization worth its name. If you expect a psychological analysis or a probing penetration into the inner life of these characters you are sure to be disappointed. A pageant of diversified humanity portrayed suitably without even the pretense of a psychological analysis is what Dickens attempted and in which he achieved immense success. His genius was for the extensive and he precluded the intensive in depth probing analysis.

     Dickens's novels were serially published in monthly installments originally. His success depended upon the fact that the subscribers to the Journal increased in number month by month. Starting from four hundred and reaching forty thousand in a few months in those days, was a splendid achievement. All the characters he had presented were living ones yet the exaggeration of the mannerisms and idiosyncrasies made it difficult for people to recognize the originals. Uriah Heep and his mother with their "humble" attitude are inordinately exaggerated characters. So also is the eccentric, old woman Betsey Trotwood, Micawber etc.

      No Development or Growth. The foibles and obsessions, the peculiarities and oddities of people in the use of some phrase or strings of phrases are reproduced by Dickens with great skill, stamping the quintessence of everyone in the minds of his readers. Hence we can safely assert that his characters are flat and can be summed up in a simple sentence. But the redeeming feature is that there is a feeling of human depth in them. The characters do not develop or grow. They remain static without apparent growth.

      Fantastic Genius Rooted in Reality. If the characters of the novelists Fielding, Smollett or Scott were only slightly caricatured, we must say that Dickens's creations are startlingly caricatured. Dickens did not care to look at his own characters from the intellectual point of view because his concentration was on their outward characteristics at the cost of the inner being. Dickens's success therefore must be attributed to the fact that his fantastic genius had its roots in reality. Different aspects of real human nature instill 'life' into the characters whose individuality is readily revealed.

      Lay People Form His Characters. Dickens's characters are not exceptionally significant persons of society, neither geniuses nor saints but people belonging to the lower rungs of the social ladder, tramps workers, artisans etc. Throughout the works of Dickens, we find a mob of them; a mob in which you cannot pick two similar faces, voices or oddities.

      A Child's Vision and Recollection. David Copperfield is a novel of retrospect. The hero recollects and records the reminiscences of his childhood and later life. A child sees the outside features and dwells on them alone ignoring or unable to see the inner life. The intense sensitivity so a boy who is affected by every brutal utterance or activity is truthfully portrayed by Dickens. The boy's memories of the griefs and disasters of childhood are reflected exactly and aptly in all their acuteness and sharpness. A boy is carried away by anyone who sympathizes with him in his grief. Steerforth is admired by David without knowing the wolf within him. A boy’s world is a dream world where logic nor its laws can penetrate or even modify what happens. It is this world that Dickens, literally descending to the level of a child, portrays and that too very successfully. The character and experiences of David are one with those of the author to a certain extent.

      Symbolic Significance. Knowingly or unknowingly Dickens has introduced symbolic significance in some of his characters. The introduced symbolic significance in some of his characters. The villain Uriah Heep represents the vice of hypocrisy and aunt Bestey represents the virtue of philanthropy Similarly symbolism can be felt in the portrayal of Wickfield, Agnes, Dora, Dr. Strong etc. in regard to various aspects of workings of the human mind.

      Faults in Characterization. Dickens studiously avoids the portrayal of the people higher up the social order such as aristocrats etc. Serious characters are more or less melodramatic. Complex, educated aristocratic type of people with adequate description of their psychological set-up never find a place in his works. Dickens fails to portray female characters successfully. Agnes, Dora, Emily etc. are simply described from the layman's point of view and not from that of a learned author. In spite of all these things Dickens's success in creating unforgettable characters is superb.

University Questions

Q. "Dickens's people are nearly all flat. Nearly everyone can be summed up in a sentence." Do you agree? Discuss Dickens method of drawing characters in David Copperfield.
"Dickens is memorable and to be loved (if loved at all) for his character rather than for his plots." Justify the statement with reference to David Copperfield.
"Dickensian characters are all flat and yet there is a feeling of human depth in them." Discuss with special reference to the characters in David Copperfield.
Discuss the view that the strength of Dickens's artistry lies in the creation of characters rather than in the manipulation of plot.
David Copperfield's characters are "living human beings with all the strong points and weaknesses." Discuss.
Are Dickens's characters in David Copperfield only caricatures? If not, why?
Consider Charles Dickens as a master of caricature with special reference to David Copperfield.
"The characters of Dickens are my personal friends," said Tolstoy. Comment on the meaning of this remark.

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