A Comparison of the Stories, A Christmas Carol and Through the Tunnel
The two stories, ‘A Christmas Carol,’ and ‘Through the Tunnel,’ contrast each other in different ways but are surprisingly similar in others. The fact that Dickens wrote in the Victorian times and Lessing produced a post 19th Century novel is reflected in their style of writing.
Dickens’s father was constantly in debt, which caused the family to escape from people who they owed money. As a result, Dickens’s father was sent to a debtors’ prison when Dickens was at the age of twelve. What Dickens saw and heard during these terrible time remained a vivid memory that influenced Dickens to use in his writing. Dickens lived through the Industrial Revolution and attacked the economic system that was causing hardship and poverty. His concern for the poor, the orphaned and the unfortunate led him to write of certain situations in his books both didactically and for entertainment for the festive season.
Dickens’s main techniques are using figurative language, complex sentences and polysyllabic words. For example, ‘it was not in impenetrable shadow as the other objects in the yard were, but had a dismal light about it, like a bad lobster in a dark cellar.’ From this quotation the adjective ‘bad’ links in with the adjective ‘dark’ that gives a sense of enchantment. In this case, Dickens is describing a ‘bad lobster’ (which is normally black) being locked away in a ‘dark cellar’ so that no one can find it. However, typically, the simile is so outlandish that is brings a smile to the reader.
‘A Christmas Carol,’ tells a story of Scrooge who is transported through Christmases of his past, present and those yet to come. Dickens creates a cold, dreary and to an extent frightening atmosphere by the use of pathetic fallacy, similes and metaphors in the first few chapters, for example, ‘The fog and frost so hung about the black old gateway of the house, that it seemed as if the Genius of the weather sat in mournful meditation on the threshold.’ In this particular quotation, the adjective ‘mournful’ emphasises the initial aura being miserable and sad that also links in with the adjectives, ‘black’ and ‘old.’ Dickens does not mention the word Christmas but instead uses nouns i.e. ‘fog’ and ‘frost’ to symbolise winter and therefore Christmas.
Dickens also uses a device where there is an immediate change from a long sentence to a short one to create a dramatic effect. For example, the long sentence, ‘and then let any man explain to me, if he can, how it happened that Scrooge, having his key in the lock of the door, say in the knocker, without its undergoing any intermediate process of change – not a knocker but Marley’s face,’ to a short quotation, ‘Marley’s face.’ He uses omniscient narrator here to let the reader know that he himself is confused and astonished about sudden things happening, which creates an even more frightening atmosphere.
The writer also emphasises the coldness by using similes and pathetic fallacy to create the initial atmosphere, for example, ‘…struck the hours and quarters in the clouds, with tremulous vibrations afterwards as if its teeth were chattering in its frozen head…..’ This simile implies that the clouds are also feeling cold. However, the ambience and the use of pathetic fallacy changes to a happy atmosphere when Scrooge meets the Ghost of Christmas present. For example, ‘The walls and ceiling were so hung with green……every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened.’ From this quotation, the adjectives, ‘bright’ and ‘green’ give connotations of nature, vegetation and sunshine and therefore emphasises the new atmosphere when compared to the earlier chapters.
The first character to be mentioned is Marley and Dickens emphasises his death by using repetition in the quotation, ‘Marley was dead.’ Although this is a short, simple sentence, there are many implications that arise from it. For example, the adjective ‘dead’ gives connotations of sadness, which also suggests a cold, dreary atmosphere. The description of Marley’s ghost is greatly concentrated to stress the amount of suffering the ghost is having. It has ‘no rest. No peace. Incessant torture of remorse.’ As a result these short sentences emphasise a place where there is extreme suffering due to the ‘torture’ the ghost is having. Another technique Dickens uses to delineate the ghost’s distress is creating noises by the objects the ghost is wearing that also highlight the initial atmosphere. For example, ‘…..made of cash boxes, keys, padlocks, ledgers, deeds, and heavy purses wrought in steel.’ It implies that part of the mourning and discomfort the ghost is having is the entrapment the objects’ surrounding it creates.
The main character, Scrooge, is described as a moody, temperamental and petulant man and Dickens uses hyperbole to emphasise how rotten he is. For example, ‘…..A squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!’ There are many powerful adjectives that have onomatopoeia in them that emphasises how vicious Scrooge is. Scrooge is not only disliked by the people living near him but also animals. For example, ‘…even the blind men’s dogs appeared to know him; and when they saw him coming on, would tug their owners into doorways and up courts, and then would way their tails as though they said ‘No eye at all is better than an evil eye, dark master!” There is also use of hyperbole in this quotation to stress how much Scrooge is disliked by everyone, including dogs. It could be argued that Dickens is contradicting the well known phrase, ‘dogs are a man’s best friend,’ for emphasis on how much people and dogs despise him.
Dogs are also said to have a “sixth sense” and to know what people are really like. The adjectives ‘evil’ and ‘dark’ gives connotations of night, the colour red and to an extent the devil, which implies the similarity of Scrooge and the devil to the reader. However, the quotation, ‘the cold within him froze his old features,’ symbolises the bitter weather, which has replaced his old appearance or to an extent personality.
Dickens describes Scrooge’s office in the metaphor of the ‘tank,’ that gives an effect of a confined area. As Scrooge is said to be a selfish man, Dickens emphasises this by telling the readers that Scrooge does not offer warmth or benefits to his clerk, fellow workers and the homeless, for example, ‘if they would rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population.’ This quotation, suggests that Scrooge does not care about anyone apart from himself and other “important” issues, such as the ‘surplus population.’
At this point in the novel, the weather becomes even colder to build up the tension on the arrival of the ghost of Christmas Past and also to create a dreary atmosphere. For example, ‘piercing, searching, biting cold.’ There is personification here and it could be argued that this suggests that the majority of people are suffering because of it i.e. the homeless, the unfortunate and the needy.
On the arrival of the ghost of Christmas past, our expectations are contradicted by the description Dickens writes. For example, it ‘…was a strange figure-like a child,’ and it was dressed in ‘summer flowers.’ Not only does this particular quotation contradict how ghosts are thought of as a child, therefore there is no reason to be frightened of it, but also it contrasts the initial atmosphere as the word ‘summer’ gives connotations of the sun, the colour red and happiness. Dickens plays with our expectations here and reserves true horror for the final apparition.
However, the atmosphere changes once Scrooge visits his old school that contrasts to the beginning. For example, ‘…..so full of merry music that he crisp air laughed to hear it.’ There is alliteration in ‘merry music’ that gives connotations of joy and happiness to give an effect of the Christmas spirit. The mood changes when Scrooge gets reminded of the failed relationship because of his obsession with money and because Scrooge has changed and developed, the readers begin to feel pity for him. As a result, Scrooge feels emotional and angry towards to ghost i.e. ‘No more. Conduct me home. Why do you delight to torture me?’ It could be argued that from this quotation, there is a reminder of the suffering towards Marley.
The weather and Scrooge’s character and loathing of Christmas progressively develops into liking Christmas on the arrival of the next two ghosts. His lack of concern for the Cratchit household changes when seeing Tiny Tim’s health problems. Due to this, Scrooge feels guilty and apologetic towards the family and as a result, he asks the ghost, ‘oh no, kind spirit! Say he will be spared.’ Here we see a change in character as there is real anguish in his voice.
As Scrooge and the ghost arrive to his nephew’s place, he listens to a conversation that relates to him. For example, ‘he is a ridiculous fellow,’ and ‘I am sorry for him; I couldn’t be angry with him if I tried. Who suffers by his ill whims! Himself, always.’ His own relatives say this of him, which makes Scrooge feel upset and in some ways guilty as it could be argued that if his own relatives do not think kindly of him then who will? During the ghost of Christmas present’s departure, two children, boy names ‘ignorance,’ and a girl called ‘want,’ are found hiding in the ghost’s robes. It could be argued that this not only conveys Scrooge’s character but also portrays the hard times children go through in the Victorian times at this time of year. Dickens stresses the power and importance of these symbols to emphasise his didactic purpose of the increase in poverty in children as the boy symbolises lack of parenting in which he ignores the facts of life and the girl symbolises the need of certain things such as parents, food, warmth and shelter.
When the final ghost arrives, Scrooge is taken to his own grave and as a result, he begins to realise his mistakes. As a result, his attitude from ‘bah, humbug!’ to ‘I am as light as a feather. I am as happy as an angel. I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man,’ is a dramatic contrast. These short similes, contrast the ones in the beginning few chapters. For example, ‘I am as happy as an angel,’ contrasts his similarity to the devil. Hence, Scrooge is the complete opposite to his character before.
Doris Lessing began writing whilst living on her parents’ farm before taking up jobs in Salisbury as a telephone operator and office clerk. Lessing’s later work included a series of experimental novels and science fiction whereas her other novels contained her emotions. Consequently, it led her to be established as a serious writer. With a couple of failed relationships behind her and her son, it was time of great change and personal loss, which she gave expression to these feelings and experiences in her books. Her writing was aimed at people who enjoyed reading about personal and psychological issues.
Doris Lessing’s story, ‘Through the Tunnel,’ is about a boy, Jerry going through a dangerous underwater tunnel and the relationship between his mother and himself. The main purpose of the short novel was to express her personal thoughts about a mother and son relationship, both in a mother’s and son’s point of view. Lessing sets the story on a safe beach at first but then completely contrasts the surrounding by describing a ‘wild bay.’ For example, ‘…. rough, sharp rocks and the crisping, lapping surface showed strains of purple and darker blue.’ From this quotation, the adjectives, ‘blue’ and ‘purple’ give connotations of darkness and to an extent pain and the verb ‘strains’ emphasises this effect.
A dangerous atmosphere is also created by the use of repetition of the ‘naked arm.’ It symbolises Jerry’s mother’s arm and it shows Jerry childlike nature. There is also the bleeding of Jerry’s nose and the passage of time, which conveys a tense mood in the story. The beach is described as ‘safe’ and ‘usual’ that gives an impression of security and no danger. On the other hand, the ‘wild bay’ gives connotations of roughness and hazardous.
Lessing uses many short, dramatic sentences and monosyllabic words for example, ‘his chest was hurting. He let go of the rock and went up into air. He saw that the sun was low.’ Lessing uses this technique to quicken the pace and consequently it creates a tense atmosphere in the story. Her sentences are constructed simply and she therefore appeals to a range of audiences. There is by contrast a great deal of striking figurative language, for example the metaphor ‘…and then the darkness cracked with an explosion of green light.’ From this quotation, there is a tense effect on the atmosphere. The writer is putting across to the reader that there is a bright light that is seen through the darkness for Jerry to escape in a metaphorical sense.
Jerry reacts very childishly around his mother but changes his attitude when approaching the other boys and as a result, there is a sense of his desire for maturity. However, the child within him reappears when he is rejected. Jerry is at the stage where he is trying to be independent although he finds it difficult to achieve this. Jerry does become even more childish when discovering the tunnel. For example, he uses typical childish tricks as he ‘nagged,’ ‘pestered,’ and ‘grabbed,’ for the goggles he wanted. As there is no father, it is difficult for Jerry’s mother to decide whether to be overprotective or free in handling Jerry. As a result, she asks rhetorical questions, for example, ‘have I been keeping him too close? He mustn’t feel he ought to be with me. I must be careful.’ From these short, dramatic questions, an impression of anguish is given. The goggles suddenly give a clear picture of the new adult world, which is dangerous but also beautiful.
Time is a major factor in ‘Through the Tunnel,’ used by Lessing to depict a lot of things, for example tension in the atmosphere, ‘he counted one, two, three,’ ‘at fifty he was terrified, ‘ ‘at hundred…’ In this case, seconds are used instead of minutes or hours to emphasise that seconds are faster to quicken the pace and to achieve a tense, dramatic atmosphere. Time symbolises Jerry’s maturity as each time he counted, the number of seconds increases in which he seems to develop. Time also is signifies by the amount of nosebleeds Jerry has, for example, ‘….thick red blood flow on the rock and trickle slowly down to the sea.’ Consequently, the adjectives ‘thick,’ and ‘trickle’ gives an impression of a lot of blood being lost and therefore time.
The tunnel itself is written very descriptively to emphasise how important it is in the story and also how it creates great tension, for example, ‘….in a small rock-bound hole filed with yellowish-grey.’ This contains an oxymoron in which the colour yellow gives connotations of brightness whereas the other colour ‘grey’ depicts dullness. Hence, a gloomy atmosphere is created. The adjective ‘sharp’ is repeated several times, which portrays the tunnel being in some ways threatening and possibly lethal, like the process of growing up.
In conclusion, both the novels are very similar, for example, the writers both use figurative language, a great amount of description, short sentences and a similar structure. However, Dickens uses more pathetic fallacy, polysyllabic words and omniscient narrator that build up Dickens’s main atmosphere. On the other hand, Lessing uses monosyllabic words and a more realistic story of a mother and son relationship. Therefore, both these authors write differently mainly because they want a different atmosphere and also because they are writing to a different audience. It could be argued that as they are writing from different times, language has developed and therefore has changed, which possibly suggests why the style of writing is different. I personally enjoy reading Dickens works because they grab the reader’s attention with the great imagination and a vast amount of description used.