Friday, November 13, 2015

Literary Studies: The Chimes by Charles Dickens

by M. J. Joachim

Set in a distinct time period, during the 1840’s when the Great Potato Famine was looming large in Europe, Charles Dickens addresses the considerable elements of suffering in his time. The Chimes was published after A Christmas Carol, and though it speaks of ghosts delineating necessary changes in society at the time, it also shares a vision of modifying social classes, that all may contemplate the needs of each other, as opposed to staying in their social classes, where higher social classes look down with disdain on those of lower stature.

Rather than focusing on Christmas in The Chimes, Dickens makes a point to set his piece in the New Year, declaring boldly, “Out with the old; in with the new,” throughout his manuscript. Many such characters make a point to illustrate their desire to shed the pains and suffering of the present year, in favor of the welcome promises the new year might bring. The Chimes is the second Christmas book in a series of five Christmas books Dickens penned, the first being A Christmas Carol. Both have a ghostly theme, however The Chimes theme focuses more on a dream brought on by the ringing of the bells, the ringing in the soul of Trotty Veck, a struggling lower middle class citizen, who delivers papers and parcels for a living.

His was the tale of hardship, dueling with tormented winter weather, raising a daughter on his own, because her mother had passed on, and settling with the upper class, of whom he served. None-the-less, he adheres to his task to support his daughter, taking every effort to provide as best he can for her. His only solace is the ringing of the bells, as he hears them plainly speaking to him, delivering personal messages, providing him with great peace and happiness. Until his dream, that is, when things seem to disturb him greatly.

Trotty doesn’t care much for his fellow man, having seen the worst of some of them in his occupation. He’s not thrilled at all with many of their conversations he overhears, nor their demeanor to him and anyone they seem to think beneath them. A prodigious political statement begins to reveal itself, as Dickens challenges the status quo, daring them to take notice of the poor and care for them as they would their very own, through the various characters developed in this story.

Veck is a kind soul, but he is fairly discouraged as the new year approaches, which sends him into the dream state, where ghosts appear to him within the realms of the chimes, some of which have the audacity to speak with him, even going so far as to accuse him of his depression. Upon waking from his dream, Trotty Veck realizes it was only a dream and is thoroughly happy with the joyous occasion to celebrate the new year with his daughter, neighbors and friends.

There’s so much more to this story. According to the Victorian Web, “Dickens directs readers' sympathies by making the working-class characters three-dimensional and central to the narrative whereas the middle- and upper-class characters remain flat or undeveloped. His characterization is perfectly consistent with his intention to use the second Christmas Book to strike a blow for the poor.” It’s undeniably true that one can’t help sympathize and be inclined to respond more charitably toward the poor after reading this story, which is why it is a perfect story to read prior to the Christmas season, when so many living without, could easily benefit from the generosity of those who have more than enough to share.

In the spirit of Christmas and with every kind blessing, I wish you and yours well on this delightful Friday evening,

M. J.

©2015 All Rights Reserved Photo credit: Trotty Veck by Kid (Joseph Clayton Clarke) Public Domain