Charles Dickens’s last completed novel, Our Mutual Friend, is among his greatest works, containing perhaps the most mature expression of his artistic abilities. The novel, which reflects many of his major concerns as a writer and social critic, is a complicated one, with an intricately constructed and elaborate plot. The first two chapters provide a stark contrast. In the first, Gaffer Hexam, the “bird of prey,” is in a boat on the Thames with his daughter Lizzie, on the lookout for the drowned bodies that are the source of his livelihood; in the second, the newly rich Veneerings are giving a dinner party. The unexpected link between the two worlds is provided in the third chapter.
By revealing the real links between people and classes that would seem to have no connection at all (this culminates in the wedding of Eugene Wrayburn and Lizzie Hexam at the end), Dickens shows that different worlds, though separated from each other in thought, are physically close, each involved with the other. In holding a mirror up to the cumbersome structure of society, Dickens uses the idea of depth and surface to reflect the polite world on top and the seething, half-known world of misery and crime below. Dickens also implies that the sophisticated few are often stupid and easy to understand, while the unlettered many can be complex and intriguing.
This inversion of the expected is one of the book’s dominating features. Other reversions...
(The entire section is 1046 words.)
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