What’s Black and White and Re(a)d all over?

08 Jan

Not a sunburned zebra.

Why, Oliver Twist, of course!

In Oliver we encounter amazing contrast.  This took me by surprise.  I expected the dark, dirty, dingy, gray, even black scenes that come naturally to the portrayal of workhouses, dens of thieves, and murder scenes.  I did not expect the radiance of the good, right, and salutary that shines into those lightless worlds.  Here’s a passage where Dickens seems to illuminate exactly what I’m trying to clumsily say:

The sun, – the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man – burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory.  Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray.

The light is so powerful it reaches rich and poor, righteous and sinful.  And on what morning is this sun dawning?  I’m afraid it’s the morning of Nancy’s death.  Here’s the rest of the paragraph:

It lighted up the room where the murdered woman lay.  It did.  He tried to shut it out, but it would stream in.  If the sight had been a ghastly one in the dull morning, what was it now, in all that brilliant light!

I’m sorry to keep harping on the murder scene. This isn’t really about that.  Well, not exactly.  What it is about is the contrast between good and evil, light and dark, day and night.  It’s just starkest here where even the greatest evil can’t push out the light of truth.  But here are some more examples:

Scene’s with Fagin, Sikes and Monks occur at night.  Scenes with the Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies occur during the day.

Everything in the workhouse and city is gray, cold, dingy, and dirty.  Everything in the countryside is verdant, warm, bright and beautiful.

Good is good.  Evil is evil.

Evil threatens good.

Good wins.

Guess a true story is always worth telling.

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Posted by on January 8, 2012 in Oliver Twist


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