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Was Charles Dickens a social justice seeker? Share your views.
Charles Dickens, one of the greatest novelists of all time, is often considered as a social activist who was active with his pen. How do you see this assumption? Was he really a changemaker? Critics like Eagleton have slammed him - neither a novelist of repute nor a social justice fighter. What are your views?
I think some of his novels do highlight the problems which plagued England in the period in which Dickens was writing. For example, the plight of Blackpool in Hard Times, the problems of the lead character in Oliver Twist and then many other novels of Dickens raise the concerns of the poor, children, working class and also a divide which was being widened in the growing rage of industrialisation. So, I can assume that he had genuine social concerns. And I don't think Eagleton as a serious critic. He is, most of the times, out of context!
I have read some of the literary historians recalling Dickens as a mere pamphleteer rather than calling him a novelist. Moreover, I do agree with this statement to an extent. Dickens emphasized more on pathos and focused, often, more on an extravaganza of emotions. His novels do evoke the emotions of social justice, social reforms and a propaganda to bring changes into the society. However, what does a novelist need to do? He has to focus on his story and delivery of the story as well. I think Dickens seldom displayed his skills on this front except for the occasional flash of brilliance.
Dickens however highlighted many of the social problems and situations in the victorian society. However it is a fact that he failed to suggest solutions to these social issues. Though these events came to the highlight and people came to know about them, we must say Dickens was"less Marxist" in dealing with the problems that usurped. However we cannot expect solutions for the problems to come up from the literature arena...
Undoubtedly, Sumie! Charles Dickens did highlight the problems of his time and a few eternal social problems like class divide - rich and poor. If we take his works like the social satire, he certainly becomes the social activist with a pen. However, the points highlighted that Dickens was not very successful if we remove the social element (pathos, emotions and forcing the catharsis) from his works, they become looney and isolated or mere works of fiction which can seldom be termed as 'perfect' or even, for that sake, balanced. In his time, Dickens was justified as a social satirist. However, to remain relevant and artistically eternal, a literary artist has to do something more than social satire - even Pope and Dryden were satirists. Wink
Dickens, Best seller of his time can be compared to Chetan Bhagat who is one of the best seller of literary world. Both championed the taste of their readers. They never taken care about the purpose of literature. Literature help us in many ways through it's adventure, aesthetic pleasure, puzzles, etc that upgrade our mental ability. But their works are shallow in my opinion.
I partially agree with the views of Ishant. Chetan Bhagat cannot be compared to Dickens. And literature of Chetan does not upgrade our mental ability. Whereas, Dickens, agreed that he was a person who wrote for a different cause - just to sell his art to the masses and that's why he offered the readers what was lacking at that time - pathos.
From whatever I've read about Dickens, it is safe to say that he was not a critics' favourite. I, personally, feel that Dickens addressed the social issues on a very surface level. His work lacked the depth that is required in critiquing the practices of a society. Calling Dickens a social justice messiah will be stretching it a little too much.

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