Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts
Joanna  Bromley

Charles Dickens’ Use of Caricature and Satire as Agents of Social Change

The History of Golf: a Microcosm of Class Tensions in Scotland and America

Charles  Dickens

Sociologist Allen Guttmann has asserted that sports express a society’s values, and that the evolution of sport in a particular civilization reflects its economic, political, and social development. The history of the economies and geographies of the United States and Scotland, as well as class attitudes towards leisure, contributed to the American public’s perception of golf as an elitist game and the Scottish belief in golf as a game for kings and commoners. The game itself did not discriminate based on class, but when introduced into Scotland’s and America’s complicated class divisions and limited resources, golf assumed the badge of the conservative Victorian elite. In America’s culture of newfound prosperity during the early twentieth century, the traditional founders of American country clubs, the old-fashioned Victorians, established these exclusive social circles to preserve their rapidly diminishing identity. Class tension proved an ever-present force that perpetuated stereotypes between the upper and lower classes, cementing golf’s stigma in the minds of the American public as a pretentious pursuit of the elite.

Charles Dickens criticized nineteenth-century Victorian society, but did not limit his satire, wit, and sarcasm to exploiting class tensions. Rather, he derided religious hypocrisy, corruption of the law, and the dehumanization of children. Dickens understood the key to social change: captivating his readers. He realized that he needed to excite his readers with convoluted plots and emotional cliffhangers before urging them to action. In Great Expectations, Hard Times, and A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens accomplishes two tasks with every stroke of his pen: he both amuses and inspires his socially active Victorian readers to abandon the attitude of passivity and embrace his call to be masters of their individual and communal destinies. He employs the journeys of Pip and Miss Havisham, the foils of Great Expectations; Louisa and Thomas, the failing products of Utilitarianism in Hard Times; and Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay, Lucie Mannette’s battling admirers in A Tale of Two Cities; to convey the delicate balance between personal and societal responsibilities, and the importance of finding humor in the absurdities and eccentricities of daily life.

Major Works Consulted:

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Bantam, 1986.
---. Hard Times. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004.
Guttmann, Allen. Sports: The First Five Millennia. Boston: U of Massachusetts P, 2004.
Moss, Richard J. Golf and the American Country Club. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 2001.
Photo Credit: Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2004.