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Contrasting Character Development by Dickens and Doerr

Charles Dickens and Anthony Doerr lived centuries apart, but they wrote stories of trials, love, and desire through a France torn apart in different times of world history. Their styles are different yet both created characters who drew the reader in with their passion and voice. Characters in A Tale of Two Cities and All the Light We Cannot See become real to the reader and share emotions each reader can relate to.

Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities has multiple characters who develop and grow within the story from page one to the very last word. Oddly enough, the most growth does not occur with the main characters, Lucy Manette and Charles Darney. The greatest developments are shown within several other characters, especially in Jarvis Lorry. Mr. Lorry is the banker who had been in the heart of the story since most of them were ever born. He was the one who knew Dr. Manette before it all began and was the one who took Lucy Manette as a babe and rushed her to safety in England. He was the one to take the young woman Lucy becomes to rescue her father from the Bastile and from his mind.

In the beginning of the book, Lorry is an uptight banker unable to create empathy with others. His own dialogue reflects it as he addresses Lucy after nearly two decades after rescuing her:

“Miss Manette, I am a man of business. I have a business charge to acquit myself of. In your reception of it, don’t heed me any more than if I was a speaking machine — truly. I am not much else. I will, with your leave, relate to you, miss, the story of one of our customers” (Dickens, 16).

Lorry lacks emotion when a young woman needs it the most. His desire is only to get the job done which goes beyond what the usual role of a banker is. By the end of the book, he grows into someone who is willing to risk all for those he has come to love.

“Twenty years back, yes; at this time of my life, no. For as I draw closer and closer to the end, I travel in the circle, nearer and nearer to the beginning. It seems to be one of the kind smoothings and preparings of the way. My heart is touched now, by many remembrances that had long fallen asleep, of my pretty young mother (and I so old!), and by many associations of the days when what we call the World was not so real with me, and my faults were not confirmed in me” (Dickens, 241).

Lorry’s heart is now involved. He has become more than an instrument of the dramatic events. He had become embroiled in them.

Dickens using an omniscient narrator to give the reader insight into the development of each character. Various characters were brought in and given access to. If the story had been presented through the view of just one character, too much would have been withheld from the reader that was vital to know and understand.

Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See is a dramatic story of two main characters, leading up to their paths crossing. Both characters are seen from childhood into young adulthood, but the most developed character that cried out was Etienne LeBlanc.

Etienne was the great-uncle of the main character, Marie-Laure. It is to him that she and her father run to when Paris is overrun. The small, blind child is warned of how unusual her ‘crazy’ uncle is. He had not gone out of his house in years and did not like people. He is introduced as a mentally disturbed recluse who did not like anyone except his housekeeper. He is described as “lost. A mouse in a trap. He saw dead people passing through the walls. Terrible things in the corners of the street. Now your great-uncle does not go outdoors” (Doerr, 127). Expecting a relationship with anyone, including his great-niece is not to be expected, but the unique determination and character of the young girl breaks through the old man’s mental walls.

The reader watches as the young girl breaks through the walls, and the old man brings her into his world as he enters her. When the housekeeper dies and Marie-Laure’s father is arrested, these two handicapped people find themselves binding together to survive. When the young girl who is now a young woman is late coming home from her clandestine walk to the bakery, her great-uncle is so worried that he takes a massive step forward in his development: “When he last went out, almost twenty-four years ago….His heart beats icily in a faraway cage….Twenty heartbeats. Thirty-five minutes. He twists the latch, opens the gate. Steps outside” (Doerr, 418). He overcomes his fear to be the protector she needs through the rest of his life that he can be for her.

After the fear of losing his blind niece, Etienne refuses to let her continue with the dangerous mission of delivering messages. He tells her “I will go. I should have been going all along” (Doerr, 425). His courage has moved to action and words. Doerr let’s the character struggle with his fear and overcome them.

To allow the reader to fully experience the feelings of each character, Doerr switches points of view throughout the story. The majority of the book is presented by vacillating between Werner and Marie-Laure’s point of views. Through Marie-Laure’s view, the reader is introduced to Etienne and watches his development. Only when the young girl is not present does Doerr move to the viewpoint of other characters, in this case Etienne’s. He uses more action to reveal the character development with the dialogue more as a supporting role.

Dickens uses dialogue more to show the development of the characters. He is heavy on narrative, but when dialogue is presented, he uses it to reveal the heart of the character instead of letting the narrator show it. The narrator takes a backseat and lets the characters tell how they feel and where they are at that moment in the lives. Doerr is heavy on narrative and uses to reflect the souls of the characters of the dialogue. The reader hears the changes in Dickens’ work but can see the character development in Doerr’s. Both take a different approach to “exploit the space and tension between character voices and the narrative voices to great creative effect” (Scott).



Works Cited

Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1999. Print

Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See. New York: Scribner, 2014. Print.

Scott, Jeremy. Creative Writing and Stylistics: Creative and Critical Approaches. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2013. Kindle.

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