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Sketches by Boz - Charles Dickens

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Sketches by Boz
“The Streets - Morning”

The Victorian London streets is a familiar setting of Dicken's works with “Oliver Twist” and “A Christmas Carol” being some his most memorable works. In this passage Dickens offers the reader an alternative London, one without the energetic crowds but instead a much more disquieting place where the streets are dull and lifeless. We are met with a silent neighbourhood before the sun has risen and through the use of characters, setting and comparisons the reader receives a rich picture of the sunless streets.

The passage begins with the introduction of the Victorian London scene on a summer morning. The reader is taken by surprise by the opening sentence where “The streets of London on a summer's morning” are described to be “most striking”. Dickens' interesting choice of words places the pre-dawn London scene in the summer, a time of warmth and sun, however we are offered a nineteenth century London that is typically portrayed with a bleak, grey backdrop. Few people roam this neighbourhood apart from those “whose unfortunate pursuits of pleasure, or scarcely less unfortunate pursuits of business, cause them to be well acquainted with the scene.” This leads to the belief that each summer's morning starts off like this, colourless and melancholy; the people who happen to be awake at this dreary hour are the rogues who remain. Each just as depressed as the other, and both's search for something more than the blind acceptance of a morose existence the cause of their endurance of this sad atmosphere. It is quiet with “an air of cold solitary, desolation about the noiseless streets” and the buildings are “quiet” and “closely-shut”. It is empty and through the buildings it is shown how lifeless the location is with everything closed off from the outside world, preventing any chance of exposure to the dismal air. Throughout the day the roads are “swarming with life and bustle” the comparison of their appearance early in the morning is “very impressive”. The impression that they leave is one of sadness, something that one who has observed the area at each time will remember due to the vast differences. Dickens shows that this time of day is for the most unruly of people with the impoverished clearing out of the neighbourhood and “the more sober and orderly part of the population” not yet awakened. Emphasis is put on how miserable the roads are at predawn to the point they are practically uninhabitable, except by those with nowhere else to go. Dickens draws attention to the places where there would typically be masses of people; “The coach-stands in the larger thoroughfares are deserted; the night-houses are closed; and the chosen promenades of profligate misery are empty.” This creates an image of ghostlike platforms and buildings, usually brimming with life and movement during the day, now empty with even the degenerates tucked away. Despite the forbidding, dead mood that permeates throughout the area, the weather is still warm and humid; “a partially opened bedroom-window here and there, bespeaks the heat of the weather”. Through the hot weather, the atmosphere becomes tense and heavy, and with this tension there is “sickness” and the “uneasy” which contributes a feeling of claustrophobia to the passage, making the reader feel the discomfort of the scene. The Victorian London presented to the reader by Dickens is a grim and deserted place where few dare to walk the streets. The rich description of the scene places great emphasis on the lack on habitation and the grey city, and the depression within it before the sun rises.

Dickens' use of language in this piece is memorable for his emphasis on several words and phrases, his literary techniques convey the dreariness of the passage and the street scene. The oxymoron of the words “unfortunate” and “pleasure” indicates the futility of trying to find happiness on a predawn London street through with the pursuit of pleasure still unpromising. Tautology places extra stress on words with the same meaning such as “cold, solitary, desolation” conveying to the reader the lonely frigidity of this area of London before sunrise. The awkward juxtaposition at the end of the first paragraph signifies the unease of one in the streets; “and over the quiet, closely-shut buildings, which throughout the day are swarming with life and bustle, that is very impressive”. With the unusual order of words the reader feels the discomfort that is present in the neighbourhood at this unpleasant time. A play on words with the drunken man who “staggers heavily along” with “the burden of the drinking song.” This can translate to the heavy burden of being drunk and having to find one's way home in such state. Dickens' clever phraseology is highly effective, managing to send the message to the reader with out being too overt, allowing for the text to flow. Alliteration is ever present in the narrative with “the drunken, the dissipated and the wretched have disappeared” serving as a notable example. The harsh “D” sounds gives way to the austerity of the streets and slows down the reading of the sentence. Through the placement of “wretched” in between “drunken”, “dissipated” and “disappeared” focus falls on wretched, thus becoming the strongest word in the sentence to describe the usual patrons within this neighbourhood. Sibilance in the sentence “the stillness of death is over the streets” evokes the sensation of the silence in the London scene, with the central word “death” giving it an air of eeriness. The overall colour of the passage is sunless. It begins at predawn before the sun has risen, creating imagery of darkness and changes very little as it progresses eventually leading to the “grey, sombre light of daybreak” and death is gives it's shade to the streets with “it's very hue” imparted to them. The colourlessness of the extract links back to the mood of the time, and it's solemn tone with the typical image of nineteenth century London easily visualised. Dickens' style and techniques build up the depression and add discomfort through repetition and the use of sounds and sentence structures, these subtle additions manage to express the solitude on this particular London summer's morning.

Recurring themes of loneliness, poverty and vapidity carry the tone of this piece, through these Dickens' communicates the melancholy and dejection faced an hour before sunrise. The loneliness of the streets is continuously referred to with mention of it's situation during the day where it is “thronged at other times by a busy, eager, crowd”. By contrasting alternative times Dickens shows the differences between dawn and the day, this relates back to the torpor felt before the sun has risen. When introducing the drunk and the homeless man, they are referred to as “the last”. The finality of the statement shows that these men are the final remnants of life on the street and when they retire to their hollows then there shall be nothing left but the cold misery. Destitution is conveyed through the “drunken man” and the “houseless vagrant”; one who's sorrows has made him look for pleasure in “the drinking song” and the other whom “penury and police have left in the streets”. The consonance in “penury and police” uses the sharp “P” to place significance on the two things that the beggar would fear the most. There is a pang of sympathy felt for him having to coil “up his chilly limbs in some paved corner, to dream of food and warmth” and one pities him even more to be left in the dreadful neighbourhood only finding peace when the sun is about to rise. However it further adds to the scene as he has become a part of it. Pre-dawn's remaining occupants are compared with the “more sober and orderly part of the population” confirming that they are on the lower end of the population, unfit to be seen by the light of day. A lack of life is evident in the location that Dickens illustrates. The “occasional policeman” is the last man standing, yet he is “listlessly gazing on the deserted prospect before him” unable to muster up energy to do his duty as he has been so swamped by depression, with no expectations for the rest of the day. “A rakish-looking cat runs stealthily across the road”, changing the setting adding a brief flash of excitement. The cat is lively and cunning, he has retained his sense even in this dismal place. When compared with the lethargic police man and the uncoordinated drunk his wile is impressive and full of life amongst the somber scene. “The houses of habitation” present “no signs of life” another contradiction with even the place where people are living are inanimate. All is silent on this sad poverty stricken street and Dickens makes use of these features to bring out the crippling depression.

“The Streets – Morning” by Charles Dickens presents us with a bleak London scene before dawn overwhelmed with wretchedness and misery. The cold tone and bleak setting described provides the reader with the image of an unhappy place void of any hope for it's inhabitants. Through comparisons and contrast of the lively crowd of the day and the grave souls before the sunrise the reader feels the melancholy of the Victorian street.

Ilyana Bell…...

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