Indulge your child in Dickens’ vibrant world

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Taking refuge in the work of Charles Dickens to mitigate the increasing gadgets obsession among teens and children

By: Rifat Raees Khan

There is again a surge in the cases of Corona with the second wave of Covid-19.  It has become quite a challenge to keep the children confined in the premises of one’s own house.

Another menace for the mothers is to lessen the increasing obsession with electronic gadgets. The best way to keep the children at home and yet engaged in something interesting other than Play station is to foster the reading habit.  

I relished countless nights of my childhood wrapped in a handmade quilt while reading books and munching peanuts.  At that time Charles Dickens was my first literary infatuation, to grasp his recherché literary quintessence came later, though.

As children have a short attention span and are easily distracted they usually find it difficult to relate the speech and speaker in a long novel, Dickens’  overtly explicit characterization and their distinctive manners of speaking to one another makes a child’s task easier as a reader to remember who is speaking to whom.

Children play with toys such as stuffed bears, dogs, monkeys, cats and birds. School administrations and parents often take their children to Menageries. If not all some have the fortune to observe animals in their natural habitat especially in villages where people rear cattle in the farms and fields. Cartoon characters are also a great source for a child to foster affinity with animals and thus naturally they become more familiar with animals.  Dickens uses animals to describe his character such as in his novel ‘Great Expectations’ he describes a character named Uncle Pumblechook’s mouth by comparing it to a fish.

In the same novel another character named Magwitch is described to exhibit animal attribute while relishing his food:

I had often watched a large dog of ours eating his food; and I now noticed a decided similarity between the dog’s way of eating, and the man’s. The man took strong sharp sudden bites, just like the dog. He swallowed, or rather snapped up, every mouthful, too soon and too fast; and he looked sideways here and there while he ate, as if he thought there was danger in every direction of somebody’s coming to take the pie away. He was altogether too unsettled in his mind over it, to appreciate it comfortably I thought, or to have anybody to dine with him, without making a chop with his jaws at the visitor. In all of which particulars he was very like the dog.

Dickens has a directness, he does not beat around the bush and leaves almost no room to exposition. Although, he is criticized by many literary critiques for being plain, his directness becomes a gift for the adolescent brain. As the prefrontal cortex- the part of brain responsible for complex cognition- does not develop completely until the age of twenty five according to neuroscientists, a more direct narrative makes more sense to the young readers. The demeanour of his characters and essential background information are often revealed in the course of action that eases the process of unfolding the main story.

Moreover, his plots excel in holding readers attention. He uses suspense, and mystery to craft an intriguing plot.  It is said that something is always happening in his novels, it might be a digression and may not have a direct link to the main plot but it keeps the readers focused and engaged with the novel.  

Teenagers and children both take delight in lively and bright things in comparison with static and opaque. Dickens evokes a world that seems real, fast, and vibrant. He competently plays with words and uses language brilliantly to make his imagined world vivid. Martin Price compares the vibrancy of Dickens’ imagined world to the famous painting tradition, in the following statement:  

Dickens’ world is alive with things that snatch, lurch, teeter, thrust, leer; it is the animate world of Netherlandish genre painting or of Hogarth’s prints, where all space is a field of force, where objects vie or intrigue with each other, where every human event spills over into the things that surround it.

 Such vibrant and colourful world attracts the novice and mature alike.

 Ludwig Feuerbach’s famous proclamation ‘you are what you eat’ makes more sense as ‘you are what you read’.  Reading habits of a person always plays a significant role in his or her life.  Children who read detective novels are often observed to play games in which they investigate some imagined mystery.

 Lessons and morals learned in young age are rooted deep and permeates in the personality forever for instance the following warnings about being indolent and extravagant by Mr. Micawber to Copperfield  in the novel ‘David Copperfield’ reverberate in the minds of many Dickens’ admirers:

‘My advice is, never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time. Collar him.’

My other piece of advice, Copperfield,’ said Mr. Micawber, ‘you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure, nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery.’

 In addition to this, the sentimental depiction of Mr. Micawber’s arrest because of his failure of acting in accordance to his own imparted wisdom, which leads to his imprisonment, induces a hatred and dread for such imprudent deeds in the reader’s mind.

Dickens’ novels offer a great deal of real world practices that shape a child’s thought and instil practical knowledge to cope with the harsh realities of the world. In his novel ‘Little Dorrit’ he pits individual human will against society. In the novel he implies the necessity of a justice system that condemns wickedness as stated by American literary critique Lionel Trilling in his essay:

Blandois is wholly wicked, the embodiment of evil; he is, indeed, a devil. One of the effects of his presence in Little Dorrit is to complicate our response to the theme of the prison, to deprive us of the comfortable, philanthropic thought that prisons are nothing but instruments of injustice. Because Blandois exists, prisons are necessary.

 To sum it up, it is significant to inculcate a habit of reading the classics among youth and children, as habits take time to develop, to start with something easier makes the task stimulating and yield everlasting outcomes.

Author is a freelance writer and teacher of English literature

2 Comments
  1. Batool says

    Dickens is surely a very practical writer! I remember reading a simplified version of Oliver Twist, which turned out to be so depressing in contrast to my other childish vibrant novels. These novels of his must be the same, they will surely force the children to enter and learn the harsh realities of this world! Very smart suggestion to parents! ??

  2. Batool says

    Dickens is surely a very practical writer! I remember reading a simplified version of Oliver Twist, which turned out to be so depressing in contrast to my other childish vibrant novels. These novels of his must be the same, they will surely force the children to enter and learn the harsh realities of this world! Very smart suggestion to parents!

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