Black vs. White
How can a writer have a character make the reader feel warm inside when reading about them, or feel anger and disgust towards the character? A way is the use of light and dark imagery. Imagery is a very important aspect of writing used to portray a situation or character as more real or to display their personality. Charles Dickens uses imagery in his book Oliver Twist to display his characters as good, light or bad, dark. This type of imagery makes the reader feel more comfortable when reading about the good characters while feeling discomfort toward the bad characters. Dickens uses light and dark imagery in his book Oliver Twist to make the reader like or dislike the character, make the character’s image more vivid, and too make the reader picture the characters in their minds.
Oliver the main character in the book is displayed as a good, light character. When he is being described the room lightens up there is a lot of brightness portrayed in his image. “Oh! that’s the boy, is it?” said the undertaker: raising the candle above his head, to get a better view of Oliver. “Mrs. Sowerberry, will you have the goodness to come here a moment, my dear?” (Dickens 52). This quote makes the reader picture Oliver glowing from the candlelight. The reader feels that Oliver is a warm character and most people feel solace with him and enjoy reading about him. Another quote that illustrates the young boy’s bright character is “For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude. The candle was burning low in the socket when he rose to his feet. Having gazed cautiously round him, and listened intently, he gently undid the fastenings of the door, and looked abroad.” (77). Dickens makes the reader pity the orphan in this quote. It makes the reader picture a poor boy with a candle barely lighting up his face, it makes the reader feel sorry for Oliver but yet still portray him as good. Dickens with these quotes early in the book has set the tone for Oliver being portrayed as a good character.
On the bad side, Dickens uses darkness and shadow to make the reader quiver at the thought of some characters. The reader will subconsciously feel discomfort when reading about the bad characters and their dark ways. Most of the bad characters are selfish and greedy looking after only themselves. An example of a quote used to make a reader feel not at ease is “With the slice of bread in his hand, and the little brown-cloth parish cap on his head, Oliver was then led away by Mr. Bumble from the wretched home where one kind word or look had never lighted the gloom of his infant years.” (32) The quote makes the reader feel the realization of walking off into the darkness of a lonely unkind childhood. Dickens then uses this quote to portray two characters as bad at the same time “The undertaker, who had just put up the shutters of his shop, was making some entries in his day-book by the light of a most appropriate dismal candle, when Mr. Bumble entered.” (52). The candle burning is very dismal giving the reader an uncomfortable feeling about the room. The undertaker just put up shudders, which means the room is dark because it blocks out the outside light. The candle also gets dismal when Mr. Bumble walks in giving the reader a bad feeling about him too. Dickens enforces the use of dark imagery in this quote by saying “a very appropriate dismal candle” by saying this Dickens is emphasizing the darkness of the room. When reading about these characters the reader will dislike and not feel comfortable with the characters.
Another version of light imagery is the figure of a helping hand. Someone reaching out to help one in need makes a reader feel very warm inside and like the character. A bright face with a warm hand is an image that everyone can picture as good. Mr. Brownlow is that helping hand in this book, he helps Oliver and invites him to stay in his home because he sees that Oliver’s life was going down hill. “He soon fell into a gentle doze, from which he was awakened by the light of a candle: which, being brought near the bed, showed him a gentleman with a very large and loud-ticking gold watch in his hand, who felt his pulse, and said he was a great deal better.” (109) This quote makes the reader makes the reader feel comfortable with Mr. Brownlow by showing him helping Oliver out and being kind at the same time showing a candle lighting up his face making him be seen as bright and good. However, a quote can also make the character seem selfless and like a father “Very good,” replied Mr. Brownlow smiling, “but no doubt they will bring that about for themselves in the fulness of time, and if we step in to forestall them, it seems to me that we shall be performing a very Quixotic act, in direct opposition to our own interest- or at least to Oliver’s, which is the same thing.” (370) The quote makes Mr. Brownlow seem like a loving, selfless parent. Light imagery can be used to make a character seem as a benevolent father figure.
The character that is displayed in the book as the darkest man in the world is Bill Sikes. Dickens uses very dark imagery to describe him. The reader feels extremely uncomfortable and much dislike for this character. All characters in the book dislike him and at the end of the book he is the character that pays the ultimate price. Dickens describes him in very dark gloomy situations, “In the obscure parlour of a low public-house, in the filthiest part of Little Saffron Hill; a dark and gloomy den, where a flaring gas-light burnt all day in the winter-time; and where no ray of sun ever shone in the summer: there sat, brooding over a little pewter measure and a small glass, strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor, a man in a velveteen coat, drab shorts, half boots and stockings, who even by that dim light no experienced agent of police would have hesitated to recognise as Mr. William Sikes.” (138) Just this one exceptionally long quote makes the reader feel much disgust towards Bill Sikes, and makes the reader want something to happen to him to complete the story. A reader can feel hate towards a character from his attitude by being able to relate the character with an animal or someone they know such as this quote “Dogs are not generally apt to revenge injuries inflicted upon them by their masters; but Mr. Sikes’s dog, having faults of temper in common with his owner, and labouring, perhaps at this moment, under a powerful sense of injury, made no more ado but at once fixed his teeth in one of the half-boots.” (138) The quote shows the affects of Bill Sikes attitude in his dog showing an outside example of how awful Bill Sikes really is. The use of dark imagery affects the reader’s emotions to the extent of hating the fictional character.
Dickens did well in using light and dark imagery in his book Oliver Twist to make the reader like or dislike the character, make the character’s image more vivid, and too make the reader picture the characters in their minds. It created the effect that caused the reader to either feel solace or discomfort with each character. The use of the light and dark imagery set the tone for every action the character took in the book thereafter because the imagery left the standing picture in the readers head of either a bright colorful good face or a dark gloomy evil face. Dickens proved that the use of light and dark imagery is a very effective way to write a book and make the characters last forever in the readers mind.