Next to Shakespeare, Dickens has created a world of rich, complex, simple and grotesque characters. His books are like mobs with people running to and fro. His galaxy of characters are individualized, alive and life-like. According to Compton Rickett, Dickens has both normal and abnormal characters.While the normal characters are tenderly portrayed, the abnormal characters are divided into grotesques, caricatures, villains and satirical portraits. The rest are comical and humorous. In general, he focuses on the external characteristics, physical oddities and mental quirks of his characters. He feasts on the face, gestures, clothes, and words of the character. Since he lays greater emphasis on the peculiarity and individuality of the characters, his characters become caricatures. They arc exaggerated versions as they are a result of close observation. His Uriah Heep, Bill Sykes, Oliver Twist, Mr. Micawber etc., all stand out and have stood the passage of time.
Though his characters are symbols and types who do not develop under the stress of circumstances, they are not abstractions but true to life, individuals and real persons of flesh and blood. He is an artist and not a psychologist and as such his characters are generally portrayed from outside. In fact, he is a like painter, (not a photographer) who creates his characters imaginatively.
The Poor, the Rich and the Good
A Tale of Two Cities is an apt illustration of Dickens' greatness in character portrayal. As a socialist and an advocate of the poor and oppressed, he focuses on the lower middle classes of
. In A Tale of Two Cities the focus is on the poor and oppressed lower middle classes of London and England . He satirises the rich and the egoists, like Stryver. His criteria of character is humanity, goodness and love and these qualities are present in Lucie, France , Charles, etc. Sydney
Most of his characters embody ideas or values. While Lucie stands for goodness, Dr. Manette embodies suffering; while Charles Darnay symbolises passive goodness,
embodies action, love, sacrifice and resurrection; while Jarvis Lorry is a symbol of goodness and service, Jerry Cruncher is a symbol of corruption; while Miss Pross is a symbol of love and duty, Madame Defarge is a symbol of evil and hatred. Sydney
Though symbolic, his characters are individualized. Dr. Manette is a victim of insanity who is resurrected by Lucie's sweetness and love. Lucie is a typical Dickensian heroine who is sweet and loving. Lucie in her goodness, stands apart from Madame Defarge who is full of hatred and vengeance. Miss Pross, too, is different. So are Stryverand Jerry Cruncher. Though Charles and Sydney look alike they represent the dark and light aspects of man. One is passively good and the other is actively good.
Dialogue and Action
Each of these characters is presented either through dialogue or action. While Charles is presented mainly through dialogue,
is presented through action. His supreme act of sacrifice and love raises him to a divine plane. While the Defarges are presented mainly through action, Jarvis Lorry is presented through dialogues. Thus, both dialogue and action play important part in character portrayal. Sydney
The characters of Charles, Sydney, Dr. Manette and Jarvis are normal. Charles is noble, good and sacrificing. However, he hardly thinks or takes any initiative. He is too passive, even though he loves Lucie immensely. He is an honest and sincere man. He renounces his lineage, rushes to
to help Gabelle and faces his imprisonment with fortitude. Paris
On the other hand,
is a dynamic man of action. Though he appears as a wastrel and drunkard in the beginning, later he proves himself to be full of zeal instigated by Lucie's faith in him. He is rejuvenated and he sacrifices his life for Charles and humanity. He becomes a martyr and a saint, a symbol of love and sacrifice. Sydney
Jarvis Lorry, too, is a good man who is a normal character. He is a man of business with loyalty and devotion towards Tellson's Bank. He is equally devoted to the Manettes to whom he owes his resurrection from a man of business. He goes out of his .way to help the Manettes.
Dr. Manette, too, is a normal man who has become insane due to his suffering in the Bastille. His sweet daughter resurrects him and he becomes sane again. However, when Charles is imprisoned, he musters up his strength and desperately searches for any way to have him released. Fate keeps, torturing him and his past keeps haunting him. Eventually, he comes out stronger.
Besides these good and conventional characters, Dickens delineates some abnormal and evil characters. The Defarges are leaders of the revolutionaries and they symbolise hatred. While Defarge tosses back the coin at Evremonde, storms the Bastille and digs out Dr. Manette's letter, he has a soft corner for Dr. Manette and Lucie. Madame Defarge is totally inhuman. She speaks less and conveys her attitude by her impassive face, raised eyebrows and her knitting. However, she does act when she beheads the Governor and engages herself in a jostle with Miss Press. She is a symbol of hatred and vengeance.
Vengeance, Jacques, and the mender of roads are also evil characters who are typecast. Their names suggest their characters. While vengeance stands for revenge, Jacques stands for the common man who has no identity of his own. It is a common name and the Jacques are tools in the hands of the Defarges.
The third category of characters are the humorous characters like Miss Pross, Jerry Cruncher and Stryver. Their idiosyncrasies and foibles are portrayed through their eccentric physical appearances and their mannerism. While Miss Pross has red hair, Jerry has spiked hair. Stryver, the lion - is stout and odd looking. The red haired Miss Pross has a habit of exaggerating, but she is devoted to Lucie and calls her "LadybirdThough Jerry Cruncher calls himself an honest tradesman, he is a resurrection man who digs out dead bodies and sells them. His manner of talking is comic. References to his wife's flopping are funny. The tag words attached to these minor characters are an important part of Dickens' characterization.
Stryver, too, has the tag 'lion' attached to him. He is pompous and egoistic like a lion. His proposal to Lucie and his dialogues with
bring out the boorish aspects of his character, and create humour. Sydney
Dickens' women characters, are either sweet and loving like Lucie, or eccentric and comic like Miss Pross or shrewish and tyrannical like Defarge.
His picture gallery of women characters generally consist of foolish, ridiculous, offensive or sweet characters.
To sum up, Dickens is a master artist with a vast picture gallery of portraits. Though his characters are conventionally virtuous or vicious, he cannot draw very complex characters. His characters are characters of melodrama and he does not go into their psyche. According to Baker, he deals with characters and not character, with individuality and not a whirlwind of passions. In fact, his characters generally do not develop. However in spite of all this his characters are fantastic creations of his imagination. They are flesh and blood characters and they leave a deep impact on the minds of the reader.