What techniques does Dickens use to bring characters to life in A Christmas Carol?

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parkerlee eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Dickens uses a lot of interrupted quotes interspersed with body language indicators (as stage directions interwoven into a play script). One can visualize the characters' reactions as well as dialogue, making them come to life on a virtual stage:

"I wish," Scrooge muttered, putting his hand to his pocket, and looking about him, after drying his eyes with his cuff: "but it's too late now."

Also, characters often invoke each other by direct address:

"Dreadful apparition, why do you trouble me?"

"Man of the worldly mind!" replied the Ghost, do you believe in me or not?"

Parenthetical expressions personalize speech and at the same time typify it. Who on earth, for example, cannot identify the author of the "Bah, humbug" one-liner?

Dickens is less adroit than Shakespeare, however, at establishing characterization through colloquial speech; social caste, sex, and age are not that identifiable. Indeed, his characters at times seem cut from one cloth. For instance, his children do not speak as children would, but seem to be mini-adults. One critic observes:

To say the least of it, his child characters were more than a little smug. They were angels. We all know very well that children are most decidedly not angels. I have not any children, but if I had and they started speaking and acting like Little Nell, or Little Paul, or Tiny Tim—even if they were cripples—I should have a doctor in right away, and suggest a good hearty blood-letting.

One must not forget that Dickens was a product of his age and bore the stamp of his time. Long, drawn-out sentences with innumerable enumerations and clauses were "in style." Despite this, Dickens' characters and their rich portrayal remain the chief hallmark of his genius.