Modern Dickens at Work in Film and Media Culture

When Dickens wrote “A Walk in a Workhouse,” he was attempting a behind-the-scenes view at a life that many people in his age did not live. He provided a depiction of “the other side”—a look at “the dropped child [that] seemed too … poor … for death” and “the groves of lunatics; jungles of men.” In essence, Dickens was asserting an emotional plea at its highest level—in an attempt to sicken and anger his reader, and to instill within them a sense of action. People cannot fix what they cannot understand and have not seen, and thus his social commentary was generated as a realistically visual impetus for change. A documentary-style writing that actually reads as if a film.

In a modern context, these documentaries, films and tv shows are all around us. We watch 60-minutes and Dateline, Bridezillas and Cat Fish, and even prison and racial reform documentaries. This media exists out of a desire to understand—a desire to see the world through the eyes of the other, to sympathize and and question society. We are angered, saddened, annoyed and even amused at the sights that we see, by the social norms and institutions that lie on the other side of the gate, but the fact remains that these films exist because artists and producers know they will be watched. We, as humans, maintain an innate desire to understand ourselves from all angles, even those angles that we don’t have personal experience in.

In this way, Dickens was actually quite ahead of his time. He understood the fluidity of his medium and the power of his pen—he could create vivid visual experiences out of mere scratches on paper, and these visuals had the power to capture and to shape the minds of those who dared to see. We are all shaped by the people we meet and the experiences that we have—writing and film are just another means to an end of understanding.

“A Walk in a Workhouse” (1850). Web. 11 Dec. 2015. .

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