Recasting the social critic : social commentary in selected novels of Charles Dickens and Terry Pratchett
Breytenbach, Ria Mariza
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This dissertation investigates the progression in portrayal of key themes that relate to social commentary in selected novels by Charles Dickens and Terry Pratchett. Charles Dickens has been considered a social commentator and critic by modern critics as much as his contemporaries. His novels aided in exposing several social problems present in Victorian England, which include the treatment of London’s poor and the corruption of London’s courts. As these social problems evolve with time, this dissertation argues that the presentation of social commentary in novels also change. Terry Pratchett’s fantasy writing has been noted by various reviewers and critics to also contain similar elements of social criticism, with some going as far as to call him a “Dickens of the 20th century”. This dissertation critically explores the claim that Pratchett is a modern-day Dickens and investigates the nature of Pratchett’s social commentary by comparing it to the criticism voiced by Dickens. The study is guided by both textual and discourse analysis, using Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory of dialogism for its focus on the social aspect of language. Three themes, namely corrupted governing structures, race and social class and the individual in a growing technological society are analysed in two novels by each author: Bleak House and Hard Times by Dickens and Going Postal and Snuff by Pratchett. Analysing these novels according to Bakhtin’s theory of polyphony and heteroglossia reveal that character voices in the works of both novels become stratified, turning into representatives of oppressive and rebelling voices. An analysis based on Bakhtin’s theory of the carnival also reveals that both authors emphasise the importance of imagination and fancy in a time of social change. Dickens sets out to deliberately focus on and expose social problems with the aim to inspire reform. Pratchett’s social commentary, on the other hand appears more subtle, with a focus on humorous portrayals that subjectively inspire reform and investigates methods by which such reform can be achieved. In this sense Pratchett’s social commentary acts as both a recast, and a progressed version of that which Dickens did for the Victorians. Finally, a measure of responsiveness is noticed between the novels of Dickens and Pratchett, albeit unintentional. This bears resemblance to Bakhtin’s theory of an open-ended dialogue, constantly forming and reforming meaning. Here different meanings are attributed specifically to the nature of the social commentary present in the novels. Dickens criticises possible industrialised futures while Pratchett looks back in his novels to satirise Victorian ideals and critically inspect the technological era that the industrial future has become and adds to this conversation by contemplating a future beyond this.
- Humanities