Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist is a narrative of a young orphan who has managed to maintain his unique human kindness despite the circumstances forced upon him. Within the excerpt, Dickens allows the reader insight into the chaotic chase brought upon by Twist’s presumed thievery. Dickens’ employs imagery, mimesis, and fragmented syntax to successfully achieve a fast-paced and tumultuous tone; through the tone, Dickens successfully communicates the thrill and sheer exhaustion of the chase.
Dickens extensive use of hurried diction and informative descriptions work together to compose a piece in which the character’s heighten emotions have become palpable. Dickens creates a catalogue of all the participants, citing them by their profession. Through inclusion of “the tradesman…the carman…the butcher…,”, Dickens provides the piece with a sense of tangibility that would otherwise be absent. As Dicken describes the constant motion of the throng as “tearing, yelling, screaming…”, the degree of carelessness peaks as well. As the mob increases in size, “fresh vigor” is added to the cry. They emphasize the animalistic tendency of these people. Furthermore, the comment on the “passion for hunting” is understood to be Dickens’ social commentary, which serves to further reinforce the primitive quality of the working class. Throughout this game of survival, Twist, the prey, is “panting with exhaustion,” with “agony” and “perspiration” evident in his appearance. This tiresome diction creates a sense of exhaustion as well the crowd’s perverted enjoyment.
Dickens achieves mimesis through his repetitive use of the two-syllable accented phrase “Stop Thief!” which is consistent throughout the entirety of the excerpt. The opening phrase “Stop Thief!”possesses an exclamatory effect, introducing the reader to the fast pace of the excerpt. The sheer brevity of the phrase serves to emphasize the guttural cry ringing out throughout the town, all directed towards Twist. Mimicking the rhythmic heartbeat, as well as the pounding of feet on the pavement, the cries of “Stop thief” act as background accompaniment to the chase. Choosing to open three separate paragraphs with this mantra, Dickens dominates the passage with the mentality of predator versus prey, as well as the excitement of the possibility of capture. Through this literary concept, Dickens ensures that the reader will be reminded of the sole purpose of this excerpt.
Dickens’ varied sentence structure serves to reinforce the overall nervous excitement found in the tone. Continuing throughout the passage, Dickens varies between elongated clauses and abnormally short statements. The contrast between the two emphasize the chaotic nature of this situation; it allows the tone to reflect within. After his initial brief two-syllable exclamation, Dickens follows with elliptical clauses, as a means to overwhelms the reader’s senses. Stating, “The tradesman leaves his counter, and the carman his wagon…; the milkman his pail, the errand boy his parcels….”, Dickens emphasizes the sense of urgency by dropping the verb “leaves”. This syntax serves to augment the sense of anticipation and anxiety resulting from the pursual of Twist. Furthermore, Dickens creates sentences composed almost entirely of action verbs, such as “tearing, yelling, screaming…”, allowing the hurried pace of the piece to become all the more evident. The sheer amount of action verbs overwhelms the reader’s senses. The concluding sentence, which is one elongated clause, serves to make concrete the anticipation felt throughout the entirety of the passage. The variation between syntax emphasizes the intended tone of excitement and thrill.
Throughout the excerpt from Oliver Twist, Dickens employs several literary terms in order to manipulate the tone to it’s intended purpose. The culmination of mimesis, imagery, and varied syntax reinforce the tone of haste as well as the thrill of the chase.
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