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Analysis of Charles Dickens’ – Sketches by Boz Essay

‘The Streets-Morning’ by Charles Dickens is an extract taken from ‘Sketches by Boz.’ It is a descriptive piece and follows prominent features of the literary sketch technique, as it contains no prominent plot. The speaker narrates the “appearance presented by the streets of London an hour before sunrise on a summer’s morning.”

The extract is in the first person narrative. This feature adds intensity and supports the use of details. First person narrative is generally considered unreliable due to lack of witnesses and external verification; however, the detached and objective narration by the speaker prompts readers to think otherwise – “now and then a rakish looking cat runs stealthily…bounding first on the water-butt then on the dust hole…” The sentence structures used support the use of detail and imagery. The speaker uses complex-compound sentences that are long with two or more sub-clauses. The use of these help create the atmosphere and heavy early morning slumber –

“There is an air of cold, solitary desolation about the noiseless streets which we are accustomed to see thronged at other times by a busy, eager crowd, and over the quiet, closely shut buildings…”

Through this narrative, readers are made aware of the close attention to detail the speaker employs. The mood of the extract is established through the sentence structure and setting. A relaxed and comfortably detached perspective is evident. In many ways it is similar to the morning itself, gently unfolding as the darkness fades.

The narrative time and context is established through the subjects described in the setting. “Coach-stands” lying deserted in the larger thoroughfares remind readers of the 19th century. This is supported by the fact that they are described as ‘coach stands’ and not bus stands.

Imagery plays an essential role in a literary sketch and is seen widely in this extract. The speaker uses concrete and abstract imagery. The use of metaphors lends a sense of what the speaker is feeling or trying to describe to the reader. Such metaphors are: “The days are swarming with life and bustle” the reference to honeybees shows a restlessness which was similarly used by John Keats in ‘Ode to Autumn” – And still more, later flowers for the bees, 
Until they think warm days will never cease.” The bee metaphor is used to show activity that contrasts with the early morning street. The second metaphor is – “stillness of death is over the streets,” perhaps the most foreboding of lines in the extract, this metaphor could serve as a possible foreshadowing for impending events.

The street itself becomes an important motif. It represents a path that leads somewhere, however, readers could question whether this could be leading to activity or stagnation. This theory is supported with the images of the “drunken, the dissipated, and the wretched.” The policeman similarly, is also preoccupied with his “deserted prospect.”

The description of the street is similarly presented in Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire”–

“The houses mostly white frame, weathered grey with rickety outside stairs and galleries and quaintly ornamented gables to the entrances of both. It is the first dark of an evening in early May.”

The houses become symbols of who their inhabitants are in the extract. They give readers insights to where they live, how they live and who they are. The “quiet, closely-shut buildings” are perhaps the only privacy the residents have. The speaker brings in social context through this description and the tone shifts to one of fragmentation and futility with the description of – “The last houseless vagrant whom penury and police have left in the streets, has coiled up his chilly limbs in some paved corner, to dream of food and warmth.”

The social context and strata becomes ironic when the last drunken man is home before sunlight, while the “orderly” part of the population are still asleep.” The opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s ‘Preludes’ also refers to an early morning scene similar to the one in the extract, using personification –

“The morning comes to consciousness
Of faint stale smells of beer
From the sawdust-trampled street
With all its muddy feet that press
To early coffee-stands.”

Human qualities are given to the cat who is – “rakish looking.” The character of whose develops as the speaker gives him gender and infers that “his character depended on his gallantry.” The use of personification adds further detail to the narrative with – “A partially opened bedroom-window here and there, bespeaks the heat of the weather, and the uneasy slumbers of its occupant.”

The extract uses language in distinct and deliberate ways to shape meaning. The vocabulary used helps infer that the speaker is mature; this is seen with use of words such as “penury,” “profligate” and “dissipated.” A sentence of importance in shaping such meaning is –

“The drunken, the dissipated and the wretched have disappeared.”

The trochaic features at the end of each word, helps to reveal the distant and condescending manner in which the speaker is viewing these people. The order in which these words are presented form a climatic effect. Also seen is the use of the adverb “then” in describing the cat’s actions, which gives dramatic effect –

“Bounding first on the water-butt, then on the dust-hole, and then alighting on the flag-stones.”

The use of inversion by the speaker helps readers to concentrate on certain parts of the narrative. This is done in deliberation to gain readers’ attention, particularly in – “An occasional policeman may alone be seen at the street corners,” as opposed to the conventional ‘may be seen alone.’ Such emphasis is also used in – “cold, solitary desolation.” The speaker employs onomatopoeia to describe a drunken man’s inebriation with – “roaring out the burden of the drinking song of the previous night.”

The speaker has a noted tone of detached indifference. This mood could be due to the futility of the modern age and monotony of these peoples lives in the eyes of a keen observer. The historical, social context comes back to the forefront and the void between the country and the urban life is seen. This effect of the 19th century and industrial revolution is addressed in –

“The few whose unfortunate pursuits of pleasure, or scarcely less unfortunate pursuits of business cause them to be less acquainted with the scene.”

Grammar and punctuation support meaning. The use of dashes shows a flow of thought or in the case of describing the cat, shows action and continuity. The use of the color grey in the “somber light of daybreak” supports the mood and futile atmosphere, seen also in O’ Henry’s ‘Gift of the Magi’ –

“Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard.”

The extract concludes with a reference to the figures in the early morning streets as “exceptions” other than which the “streets presents no signs of life, nor the houses of habitation.”


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