Now the techniques used in Dickens’ Great Expectations have been analysed, those of Chapter 47 of Oliver Twist, ‘Fatal Consequences’ shall be investigated, and any similarities or variations in the methods used will be observed. The opening paragraph sets the scene for the majority of the chapter, and Dickens uses phrases such as ‘dead of night’ and ‘even sound appears to slumber’ to establish a sinister atmosphere, which creates a sense of tension in the idea that the setting is isolated and mysterious. The reader’s interest is sustained for they become intrigued to know what will happen next, and at the same time suspicious based around the enigmatic surroundings.
The language choice of the first paragraph suggests that as well as a tense atmosphere, it is a time when evil might be dwelling, right as Fagin is introduced to the scene. The setting is ‘nearly two-hours before day-break’, adding a sense of darkness to the scene, which may also give the impression that Fagin possesses a certain evil attribute in suggesting that because he is up at such an hour, he is himself a creature of the night. This implication is contributed to by Dickens’ description of him, in which he is made to sound like a beast, described with adjectives such as ‘distorted’ and ‘hideous’, which give the reader an intended twisted image of what he looks like.
Dickens uses a simile in describing him and says ‘like some hideous phantom, moist from the grave’, which again creates an unpleasant imagery in the reader’s mind, and in comparing him to a phantom again gives the impression that he is inhuman and evil. By giving such a vivid description of Fagin, the author is in way combining him with the setting and in doing so, adding to the uncanny atmosphere through this daunting character.
When Sikes is introduced to the scene, he is carrying a ‘bundle’ which he then gives to Fagin, though the author doesn’t give any intimation on what it is. Fagin then locks it up immediately, again creating suspicion in the reader’s mind as to what it is he feels such a need to hide, as well as a sense of tension in his insecurity that he feels the need to put it away instantaneously, perhaps showing his fear of being caught.
However, this tension is then enhanced when focus is directed at the characters themselves. In his description of Fagin’s actions as he put away the bundle, Dickens conveys a great deal of a more obvious tension between the two, for as Fagin did so he ‘did not take his eyes off the robber’, already suggesting an uneasiness between them. This is then emphasized as Dickens stresses the point and goes on to say ‘… for an instant’, which in turn is also lengthening the sentence. The moment itself is also prolonged, for the author gives a detailed description of Fagin’s movements, such as ‘his lips quivering so violently’. By doing this, Dickens has not only lengthened the sentence itself, already creating a build-up of tension in the delay, but is also allowing the reader to picture more clearly the scene he is creating, and in doing so building up tension in the atmosphere itself.
It soon becomes obvious to the reader that the two have a natural contrast in character, for compared to Fagin’s clever use of language, Sikes is rather dense. Dickens deliberately misspells words Sikes says, such as ‘wot’, allowing the reader to immediately recognise his lack of intelligence. The signals delivered by his actions are intended yet also somewhat obvious, for example when he visibly passes his pistol to a more convenient pocket, as if passing an unspoken threat to Fagin. Fagin, however proves himself more clever and cunning, and it becomes obvious that he is aware of this himself.
This can be seen not only in the way he speaks, but also indirectly through the implications of his words, and the manipulation he is able to impose through this. An example of this can be seen where as Fagin mentions the name ‘Nancy’ in exposing her betrayal, he clutches Sikes by the wrist, ‘as if to prevent his leaving the house before he had heard enough.’ This is a subtle, yet astute action, assuring the reader of Fagin’s sly nature, opposing that of Sikes’, who would generally act on impulse and not feel the need to refrain from using violence. This great contrast in characters creates a sense of tension, for both characters possess a certain attribute giving them a power over the other, which leaves the reader enticed to know how two potent characters will collaborate, or perhaps in the intuition that there will be conflict between the two.
Later on in the chapter, at the time of Nancy’s murder, the scene is set at Sikes’ home, and when he arrives there the author sets the atmosphere in darkness as he says ‘There was a candle burning, but the man hastily drew it from the candlestick,’ signifying he put it out, then later hindered Nancy to undraw the curtain, creating an assured setting of darkness. This dark atmosphere enhances the tension, for it instinctively suggests to the reader that something is about to happen, as well as adding a hostile mood to the setting. However, in this particular part of the chapter Dickens refrains from going into too much depth in his description of setting, and puts more focus onto the characters’ actions and dialogue.
This is perhaps because rather than creating tension in the suspense of long descriptions, the author portrays it in the moment itself – through the rage of Sikes, and the anxiety for Nancy’s fate. The scene moves quite quickly, for much of its context is dialogue, and in the strain of the atmosphere the reader automatically interprets this to be read quickly – in Nancy’s case as a plea for her life, and in that of Sikes’ out of rage.
Any description that has been included is depicting the actions of the characters, which the majority of the time are awkward and impulsive, again conveying how the scene is fast moving. ‘The man struggled violently, to release his arms; but those of the girl were clasped around his,’ shows how both characters were in an awkward position, again portraying tension between them, which the reader is also forced to feel when visualizing the moment.
The final part of the chapter is built upon impulse as Sikes eventually kills Nancy, though as Dickens says ‘the murderer was shutting out the sight with his hand’ as he did so, this is immediately conveying how on a certain level he acted against his will as if he couldn’t watch himself do it, yet felt the need that he had to. By writing this final part as an impulsive act by this character, Dickens is making the scene move more quickly, for the reader is in a way seeing things on Sikes’ terms and reading instinctively quickly. Through this, the atmosphere becomes tenser for time seems to be moving faster, and the reader feels the need to find out the outcome of the scene.