Roy’s characters are too young to have this world-wise sharp edged tongue, and their lack of perceptiveness often leaves them even more lost in an event filled situation: “mesmerised by something they sensed but didn’t understand”. By denying Esthahappen and Rahel of this deeper comprehension of life she shows the reader what is a more stereotypical image of childhood. While Dickens’s characters are matured by their severe entrance to the world Arundhati Roy prefers to show children in their innocent stages before they are influenced by the realities of life. The vulnerability of the young characters is another idea shared by both authors in their pieces.
The ability to be physically and psychologically wounded, appears in both novels as the condition almost all the characters, whether likeable or un-likeable, share. It was perhaps best demonstrated in God of Small Things with the incident between Rahel and Ammu on leaving the cinema (“So why don’t you marry him then?”), but many example can also be found in Hard Times, with every character seeming to have at least one encounter where they are hurt, confused or just saddened by the other characters around them or even by actions they have done themselves.
Tom, who is throughout Hard Times portrayed as a hardened, sometimes even thoughtless character, is suddenly brought down to a far more humble level as he confesses his money problems to Harthouse ‘He was almost crying’. Although we find out later in the novel that he soon regains his deceitful position, even using Mr Harthouse to help in his crimes. In some way each character is somehow damaged, although the damage is not always as evident as it is in the case of Estha whose trauma results in his ceasing to speak.
The advantage Roy gives her characters however, is that they usually have someone more mature or experienced than them to run to if ever they do get completely out of their depth. In Hard Times Dickens leaves the young characters almost entirely to their own devices in growing up, with very little parental support in any area except education. In fact he even adds to their troubles by adding adult interaction to the social lives, with Louisa’s marriage and Toms relationship with Harthouse and Mrs Sparsit. Roy shows far more sympathy with her youths and sets out to portray the empathy that passes between her characters, for example, the fierce bond between mother and child: “Ammu said: ‘Okay, Esthahappen?’
Estha said ‘Okay’, and shook his head carefully to preserve his puff. Okay? Okay. He put the comb back into her handbag. Ammu felt a sudden clutch of love for her reserved and dignified little son in his beige pointy shoes, who had just completed his first adult assignment”. This plain and uncomplicated sentence is one of the strongest examples of positive emotion in the book. Dickens has fewer of these open emotions preferring to keep the characters emotions visible through actions rather than insights into their mind.
The above quote also shows Roy’s incredible detail in her work. Dickens’ descriptions are often quite like his overdone characters (“A lawn and a garden and an infant avenue, all ruled straight like a botanical account book”) with similes used to create a comic picture in the readers mind, but Arundhati Roy chooses to use far more realism in her placements, even if she is also trying to put a smile on the audiences face. Picking out small insignificant details like Esthahappen’s ‘pointy’ shoes in this situation is a great way to lift the mood whilst still putting enough weight in her statement about Ammu’s love for her child. I think Roy’s skill with language is more evident in passages like the above than in the much more flashy word play of phrases like “a viable die-able age”, or her use of children’s ‘lingo’ which makes the novel sparkle delightfully, but, in my opinion, becomes somewhat overdone towards the end.
It is more than just the choice of words and sentences structure that differs from Dickens’ writing compared to Roy’s. Dickens portrays a world where children are not encouraged, sometimes even allowed to act like children. They must behave maturely, have mature relationships, and must learn to cope with the adult world from a very early age. While clearly a sarcastic play on many stereotypically characters of Dickens’ time it is essential to remember that at this time in history children were working and moving on in life far earlier than they do in modern times, with most youths working by their early teens. While this does little to weaken the criticism that Hard Times makes it must be taken into account that when Dickens wrote it, it probably didn’t seem quite as absurd as it does to us today. Roy presents the case of modern children of a younger age than Hard Times’ characters so they are in most ways less hardened to life’s cruelties.
Instead Roy presents them coping with the troubles that young children have to overcome, and more importantly she tries to consider the thoughts that Estha and Rahel would be having whilst in these situations. This is where her memory and understanding of children really seem to come into their own. She manages to provoke feelings in her readers from their background that enables them to form a strong bond with her young characters, on a peer level rather than that on her seniors as Dickens tends to do.
It is hard to say one author does a better job at presenting childhood than the other because they both focus on different areas of the maturing mind, but I feel Roy has done a very thought-provoking and insightful study of childhood in a fast paced page-turning style, where Dickens has instead attempted, and succeeded in making a lighter, and perhaps more fun, family targeted story book that aims to entertain and occupy the reader, rather than forcing them to take a hard look children and their lives.