Dickens' Art of Characterization

Charles Dickens is one of the greatest novelists of England. He is well known for his art of characterization. As a creator of characters Dickens has no rival among Victorian novelists.

Dickens has created numerous characters. His characters can make a city populous enough to send its members to parliament. This novelist does not deal with character but with characters. He does not analyse the individual but he portrays innumerable kinds of human beings. His books are like mob. David Copperfield is also full of numerous characters. It is very difficult to mention all the names here. Among them David, Micawber, Heep, Betsey, Peggotty, James, Edward, Emily, Dora, Agnes, Dick and Rosa are important.

It is said that Dickens' characters lack complexity and psychological depth. Dickens may lack psychological insight but he knows how to draw characters vividly. He vividly describes every detail of manners, appearance, dress and other external details of his characters. He dwells only on the the peculiarities that express themselves externally. He fashions his characters from skin inwards, never getting near the heart of them. The inner reality of characters escapes Dickens. His grip on personality fails. The distinction he makes among characters is purely external. His characters do not react upon each other. They do not act at all. They only behave and show off their unlikeness. According to Rickett, 'Dickens was not a scientific student of character. He was a shrewd observer of certain types of character. 

Charles Dickens deals with various types of characters. Some of Dickens' characters are poor and innocent children. Dickens shows his sympathy with them. Such characters are David, Oliver Twist, Joe and Paul. There are some humorous characters who give us laughter. Dickens is par-excellence in creating humorous characters. Among such characters Mr. Pickwick, Mrs. Gamp, Mr. Micawber and Sam Weller are important. In his novels we find some horrifying characters. Uriah Heep is also one of them. He is a powerful, horrifying figure and is skilfully presented. Among his characters there are some tender characters also.  We can take Lady Deadlock and Sydney Carton as examples.

It is generally said that Dickens' characters are types and not individuals. They are known as flat characters because they represent a single idea or quality. They do not change according to the demand of the situation. Mr. Pecksniff is hypocrisy personified. Mr. Dombey embodies pride. Some of Dickens' characters are oddities personified. The type characters become caricatures when their characteristics are exaggerated. It is his love for drollery that makes his characters caricature, but the creation of caricatures is not a bad art. The capacity to imagine types or caricatures is a genuine gift. We know that Dickens' major concern is social rather than psychological. Thus his treatment of characters as type is suitable for him.

Dickens does not always lack the organic principle. He understands most of his characters. His method of characterization seems realistic. He may not always present the reality of complex characters, but he does present the real way in which we see and know people. Dickens' characters may not be real but they are very much alive. In his great works we find characters which are round and life-like. Some of them possess the solidity of a three dimensional figure. They cease to be Ben Jonsonian and have a life of their own. Rickett also says that Dickens makes his characters live. They live by virtue of humanity.

 On the whole Dickens is a great creator of characters. His David Copperfield is filled with characters of most astonishing variety and vividness. In the field of characterization Dickens is compared to Shakespeare and Ben Jonson. A great tribute is paid to Dickens when Mr. Micawber is compared to Falstaff.  

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