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Refer the extract by Mayhew, taken from his novel paved with gold, published in 1855.
A student having read the text said: “The writer brings the different characters to life for the reader. It is as if you are standing on the street with them”
To what extent do you agree?
Mayhew uses the oxymoron “beggar babes” in the 5th paragraph, which emphasises the harsh reality that even the youngest members of this group have to beg in order to survive. The alliteration links the adjective to the noun which again further emphasises the harsh reality of the life of the lower classes within the extract. This powerful description of how the characters have to beg in order to scrape a meagre living enables the reader to better imagine the squalid conditions that these people live in.
In the fourth paragraph, Mayhew uses structure to his advantage by asyndetically listing individual descriptions of characters which creates unique identities for the characters, which helps bring the characters to life in the reader’s mind. This is further enhanced by the descriptions of the clothing of the characters; for example, “greasy garments”. Again, the use of alliteration here helps link the adjective and the very general noun which further emphasises the bad condition the character’s possessions are in currently in.
“Garments” is a very general noun, which has connotations of ragged and worn clothing that would not be considered desirable. “Greasy” has connotations of poor quality food, which could be interpreted as suggesting that the only type of food these people can afford is of low quality due to their socioeconomic class within society. The lexis of the passage enables the reader to better imagine the character’s physical descriptions. However, this physical description does not extend to the personality of the characters which is not mentioned in the passage, hindering the character’s description as the reader cannot understand their mentalities.
One of the ways in which one could argue that Mayhew does not bring the characters to life is the phrase “the crowd is like a hedge to the roadway”. The collective pronoun “Crowd” shows that the narrator does not view the characters as individual people with individual identities but rather as collective group of people. The simile within the phrase directly compares the people with a hedge, which dehumanizes them by comparing them to such as simple organisms such as a plant.
The plant within the context is used as a decoration to make a roadway more appealing, whereas in strong contrast the homeless make a street less appealing, which is a strong oxymoron that again brings emphasises upon the fact that they are just an unappealing dehumanised decoration. The dehumanisation has a significant effect on the reader as it highlights the idea that the vagrants are not even seen as individual people with individual emotions and personalities.
Another way Mayhew does not bring the characters to a vivid level of detail is phrase “flock of sheep”. This is a colloquial phrase commonly used to describe people whom follow others. The word “flock” is a collective pronoun which again reinforces the idea that the narrator does not view the characters as individual people with individual identities but rather as a collective group of people. The word “sheep” has negative connotations of an animal which just follows others and has no individual personality. An alternative interpretation is that sheep have no socioeconomic status, because they are sheep, rather like the poor character’s talked about within this passage. The phrase is also deeply dehumanising which again makes the reader view the character’s as non-humans without any personality.
In conclusion, I believe that Mayhew can effectively create vivid descriptions of character’s when he wishes to, as we saw from the vivid and insightful descriptions in the asyndetic list in paragraph 4. However, throughout the rest of the extract he is deliberately vague and often refers to the characters via collective pronouns, and dehumanises them on multiple occasions. I believe that Mayhew has done this deliberately in order to allow the reader to have a perceptive understanding of the details of the character’s personalities and the way the characters are seen from the outside world.