Dickens’ Ghosts: Malevolent or Benevolent Essay Example
Dickens’ Ghosts: Malevolent or Benevolent Essay Example

Dickens’ Ghosts: Malevolent or Benevolent Essay Example

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In analyzing four works by Charles Dickens, specifically the Queer Chair, Goblins who stole a Sexton, The Signalman, and The Baron of Grogzwig, I have observed that the author portrays ghosts in different manners throughout each story. I will assess whether Dickens presents these specters as malevolent or benevolent and attempt to ascertain the reasons behind his choices. Personally, I believe the Queer Chair features the most benevolent ghost. At the story's outset, when the ghost first materializes, Dickens describes him as an elderly individual adorned in an "antique flapped waistcoat," symbolizing the damask cushion on the chair, and "red cloth slippers," actually made of red cloth material tied around the legs' knobs.

Slippers and waistcoats create a sense of comfort and relaxation often associated with luxurious old age and grandfathers, conveying


a benevolent atmosphere. The Queer Chair is also described as having an "old shrivelled human face," which frightens Tom Smart, leading him to express his desire to avoid seeing the haunting apparition in the hopes that it will disappear. This initial portrayal may lead readers to assume the ghost has malevolent characteristics. However, as Tom's understanding of the spirit evolves, he begins to develop a companionship with the phantom. Tom refers to both the "Chair or the old gentleman" as an "old nutcracker face," which could be seen as an insult but is likely meant as a witty remark, indicating a sense of benevolence towards the spirit. In response, the 'Queer Chair' jokingly says, "Come, come, Tom, that's not the way to address solid Spanish mahogany. Dam' me, you couldn't treat me with less respect if I was veneered."

When the chair made this statement

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his fierce expression petrified Tom. In response, Tom hastily uttered, "I apologize if I have shown any disrespect, sir," delivering his words in a much more submissive manner. The Queer Chair then declared, "I possess extensive knowledge about you, Tom—everything!" The presentation of this revelation was malicious, aggressive, and somewhat terrifying. Moreover, the chair was aware of Tom Smart's impoverished state and excessive fondness for punch. As the story progresses, Tom becomes increasingly taken aback by the old gentleman's behavior, particularly when discussing the widow. "Isn't the widow an exceptional woman—truly exceptional, don't you agree, Tom?" the chair asked.

The aforementioned passage reveals that the Queer Chair impresses the widow and desires for Tom to feel similarly. When the ghost conveys this to Tom, he raises his small, wasted legs. This supports my initial belief of the chair resembling an elderly man. Dickens proceeds to recount the spectre's encounters with women, and as he begins to share more youthful exploits, his age becomes evident when "the old gentle man was proceeding to recount some other exploits of his youth, when he was seized with such a violent fit of creaking that he was unable to proceed". Tom silently thinks to himself "Just serves you right old boy," although he refrains from voicing this sentiment to the Queer Chair. As the story progresses, Tom continues to harbor ill feelings towards the Chair but refrains from direct confrontation with the "creaking Queer Chair," subtly allowing the phantom to maintain its belief in being correct.

The Chair advises Tom to marry the widow. Tom tells the phantom about a dark man at the bar who rejected him and remarks that

there is someone else interested in her. The old gentleman responds that she will not be with that man. Later, the old gentleman tells Tom about his family and their experiences. The old gentleman declares that if the tall dark man marries the widow, he will sell everything and leave, causing ruin for her and leaving the old gentleman in a difficult situation. In summary, the old chair presents these negative aspects to ensure his own future, convincing Tom to marry the widow and "settle in the public-house".

"Sir," said Tom gratefully, "I appreciate your favorable opinion." This indicates Tom's agreement in a kind-hearted manner. The old man instructed, "You shall have her, she shall not." He then informed Tom that there is a letter from his sad wife and six young children, pleading for his return, located in the right-hand pocket of a pair of trousers in that press. After sharing this information and completing his task, "the old man appeared to blend gradually into the chair, the damask waistcoat transforming into a cushion, and the red slippers shrinking into small red cloth bags." The old man's features became less distinct and his figure more vague. "The light faded gently away, and Tom Smart fell back on his pillow, falling asleep."

The next morning, Tom woke up and remembered the mysterious events of the previous night. He wondered if it was all just a dream caused by the amount of alcohol he had consumed. Attempting to clear his confusion, he tried speaking to the chair, asking it how it was doing. However, the chair remained silent and motionless, refusing to engage in conversation. Tom thought

that maybe the chair was simply more bold and talkative during the day, as many men are. Since the chair was unresponsive, Tom vividly recalled the letter that had been shown to him the night before.

"Approaching one of the presses, he inserted his hand into the pocket of his trousers." To his astonishment, he extracted the "exact letter described by the elderly gentleman." Tom made the decision to dress himself and venture downstairs, carefully observing each room he passed in anticipation of becoming the future proprietor. "The tall individual was comfortably positioned in the cozy little bar" and "grinned foolishly at Tom," confident in the knowledge that he would soon become both the husband and owner of the establishment in which they stood. Little did he know, "Tom burst into laughter and summoned the landlady." This exhibits a subtle hint of malice in Tom's character, subtly conveyed to the reader.

Tom then slowly presented the letter, unfolding it, and handed it to the widow. "Oh, the deception and villainy of man!" exclaimed the widow. "In any case, Tom forcefully ejected the very tall man from the front entrance." Afterward, Tom and his wife relocated to France. I believe that the 'Queer Chair' is most benevolent, thanks to the sage advice it provided Tom. This advice ultimately revealed the true nature of the tall dark man, preventing the widow from marrying him. As a result, Tom followed the chair's wise counsel and married the widow. He courted and married the daughter of Baron Von Swillenhausen and embraced the joys of family life. However, when he reached forty-eight years of age, the Baron found himself burdened with an

unhappy wife, thirteen children, and no wealth, feasting, revelry, or hunting! Overwhelmed by despair, the Baron resolved to end his life.

As he reflects on his life, the protagonist encounters the Genius of Despair and Suicide. The benevolent ghost from "The Baron of Grogzwig" reappears, ultimately saving the Baron from taking his own life. The ghost initially appears to assist the Baron in ending his life, but the Baron delays by saying he needs to finish his pipe. The ghost impatiently urges him to hurry, mentioning that he has important matters to attend to in England and France.

The title of the next story, "The Goblins who stole a sexton", immediately presents a malevolent tone to the reader, as stealing is considered bad and a gravedigger is typically seen in a negative light. Dickens begins the story with this negative atmosphere, showing his delight in negativity. He is a pessimistic character who always assumes the worst of people and dislikes children. This reinforces the reader's judgment that the "sexton and grave-digger in the churchyard" is also malevolent. The writer further adds to this negativity by describing Gabriel Grub as an "ill-conditioned, cross-grained, surly fellow - a morose and lonely man, who consorted with nobody but himself". This suggests that Grub is in need of help and leads a sad, miserable life. The character is also portrayed as peculiar and strange, since he is uninterested in Christmas and would rather spend his time digging graves. "A little before twilight, one Christmas Eve, Gabriel shouldered his spade, lighted his lantern, and headed towards the old churchyard."

"He thought it might raise his spirits," signifying Grub's sour disposition. "Gabriel walked confidently

down the dim lane that took him to the cemetery." On his journey, he came across the sound of a young boy singing.

Gabriel waited until the boy approached, then swiftly maneuvered him into a corner. He struck the boy's head with his lantern multiple times, aiming to teach him a lesson in voice modulation. Gabriel chuckled to himself with great satisfaction after inflicting pain on the boy, who quickly scurried away. Subsequently, he entered the churchyard and securely locked the gate behind him. Engaging in his task, Gabriel found it challenging to break up and shovel the hardened, frost-covered earth. Despite the presence of a young moon that offered minimal illumination to the shadowed grave, these hindrances didn't trouble Gabriel much. He was content with having silenced the boy's singing and paid little attention to his limited progress, peering into the grave instead. Dickens included this narrative detail to illustrate Gabriel's strong aversion towards children and instill fear in the story. As the Sexton's words echoed, a ghostly presence was introduced into the story, startling Gabriel like a goblin impostor. Gabriel paused, holding a wicker bottle close to his lips and anxiously scanned his surroundings.

The tombstones were adorned with glistening cold hoarfrost, resembling sparkling gems amidst the stone carvings of the old church. The ground was covered in hard and crisp snow, forming a smooth and white blanket over the numerous mounds of earth. It appeared as if corpses were hidden there, only covered by their winding sheets, creating an eerie and unsettling image. This description allows the reader to vividly imagine the scene where Grub and the Goblins are observing, further enhancing the

unpleasant and horrifying illusion. There was complete silence, broken only by the echoes, adding to the profound tranquillity of the solemn setting. Gabriel Grub raised the bottle to his lips once more, remarking that it was the echoes. However, a deep voice disagreed, stating that it was not.

"Gabriel was startled and stood motionless, filled with both astonishment and fear. His gaze fixated on a figure that sent a chill down his spine, emphasizing the possibility of Grub having a hidden side to his vicious nature. Previous quotes led us to believe that nothing could intimidate Grub and that he possessed great strength. However, this perception might shift as the Goblins enter the 'cold, quiet churchyard'. 'Sitting on a vertical tombstone, near him, was an odd otherworldly entity'."

This suggests that there is some kind of apparition present. "The goblin appeared to have been sitting comfortably on the same tombstone for a couple of centuries or so." This implies that the Goblin has been observing Grub for a significant amount of time and is aware of the terrible deeds he has committed in his lifetime. The Goblins then interrogate Grub, asking him "Why are you here on Christmas Eve... Who roams around graveyards and churchyards on a night like this?"

"What have you got in that bottle? Who drinks Holland's alone, and in a churchyard, on such a night like this?" I believe the writer uses these questions to provide answers and clarify the situation. A wild chorus of voices screamed, "Gabriel Grub! Gabriel Grub!" They then proceed to ask Gabriel his thoughts on the matter and question his motives for making graves on Christmas Eve when others

are celebrating. While the Goblin Kings' questions may come across as intimidating, they could also be seen as an attempt to change Gabriel. The Goblin Kings inform Gabriel, "I'm afraid my friends want you Gabriel." Gabriel responds, "I don't think they can, sir; they don't know me, sir; I don't think the gentlemen have ever seen me, sir." The Goblin Kings refute his statement and claim that they do know him. They describe him as a man with a sulky face and grim scowl who walked down the street that night, giving evil looks to children and tightly gripping his burying spade. They further mention how he struck a boy out of envy because the boy could be merry while he could not. Clearly, they are familiar with Gabriel's actions.

This conversation creates a sense of sympathy for the child and allows the reader to feel the appropriate emotions alongside Gabriel. The irony in this story lies in the fact that the gravedigger, Gabriel, shares a name with the angel Gabriel, who is typically associated with protection. This contrast is evident in the beginning of the story. Additionally, the Goblins in the story play tricks on Gabriel, highlighting his misfortune. One particular incident involves one goblin holding him while another pours a scorching liquid down his throat. The entire group of ghosts bursts into laughter as Gabriel coughs, chokes, and wipes away tears from his burning eyes. This cruel act is aimed at making Gabriel realize the extent of his own faults and the hurt he has inflicted on others. Thus, the ghosts seek revenge by inflicting pain upon him.

Throughout 'The Goblins who stole

a sexton', the apparitions demonstrate various haunting actions to Gabriel Grub, each showing the consequences of Grub's past behavior. For instance, one scene shows a small bedroom where the youngest and most beautiful child is dying. The purpose of this was to observe Grub's reaction and hope that he would change for the better, portraying the ghost as benevolent. The spirits keep altering the scenery and presenting new images for Gabriel to witness, asking him for his thoughts on each. The Goblin King then questions Gabriel about what he has just witnessed.

The Goblin, filled with contempt, called Gabriel Grub a miserable man. The Goblin King then delivered a strong kick to Gabriel Grub, prompting the other goblins to join in and mercilessly kick him. The Goblin King demanded that his other ghostly helpers show him more. As the cloud dissipated, a beautiful landscape appeared, still existing near the old abbey town. The Goblin King pointed out the shining sun, clear blue sky, sparkling water, lush trees, and vibrant flowers to Gabriel Grub. This was an attempt to convince Gabriel to see the goodness in the world and change his ways. Gabriel concluded that, when comparing good and evil, the world was actually quite decent and respectable.

After Gabriel had this thought to himself, "one by one, the goblins faded from his sight; and as the last one disappeared, he fell asleep". The following morning, when Gabriel Grub woke up, he found himself lying in the churchyard with his empty wicker bottle beside him. Initially, he began to question the reality of his experiences, but the sharp pain he felt when trying to get up assured him

that the kicking from the goblins was definitely not imaginary". "However, he was a changed man! " He brushed off the frost from his coat, put it on, and turned to face his town. "The idea of going back to a place where his remorse would be ridiculed and his transformation not believed was unbearable to him.

"At length, all of this was ardently believed. And the new sexton would proudly display it to the curious, for a small sum of money. Several years later, a decrepit yet contented, rheumatic elderly man emerged. He recounted his tale to the clergyman and the mayor and eventually, it started being regarded as a timeless piece of history. It has remained in this form up until today. He had gained worldly experience and become more wise. This ultimately demonstrates that the story portrays a clear act of kindness, where the Goblins and Goblin King have transformed a sickly, wretched, and pessimistic individual into a reformed gentleman."

The final story we analyzed as part of our study on Charles Dickens was The Signalman. Out of the four stories we examined, I found this one to be the least kind-hearted. It starts with the signalman standing at the door of his box, which is located at the bottom of a steep cutting. Initially, the reader may have a negative perception of the story, but surprisingly, The Signalman follows the same pattern as the other three stories in transitioning from malevolence to benevolence.

Despite initially being portrayed in a negative light and having evil intentions, the ghosts in these stories ultimately end up benefiting their victims. In "The Signalman," for example, the apparition appears

to warn the signalman of impending danger, ultimately saving his life. As a result, Dickens depicts the ghosts as benevolent characters in "The Queer Chair," "The Baron of Grogzwig," "The Goblins who Stole a Sexton," and "The Signalman." However, it is important to note that readers may still interpret them as malevolent figures.

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