‘The Lawyer and the Ghost’ by Charles Dickens: Short Story Analysis
The first time I read this short story was in the year 2009. It was one of the shortest of short stories that I had ever read about the paranormal and is an excerpt from Charles Dickens’ early work The Pickwick Papers. ‘The Lawyer and the Ghost’ is a sort of jocular trick Charles Dickens plays on the reader, making us think we are going to read a sort of academician’s horror story when in all plain fact, the story is a humorous piece. We would call it a ‘bad joke’ sort of short story where the indebted and ruined lawyer advises the ghost he encounters, to leave the dreary place it haunts and move to a better quarter. The story is not frightful in the least, is left a bit incomplete, but is part of the early works of one of the greatest novelists of the 19th century.
The lawyer in question in this story is a sort of roughish fellow. He is broke, indebted, and down on his luck. He is a heavy drinker and has a very colloquial way of speaking when he is drunk. He has taken to living in a rotten set of chambers in the most ancient inns which has been rumored to be haunted. Dickens mentions that the lawyer has taken this room forty years ago. The lawyer seems a man beset by hard times but has a cynical sense of humor. We see this very clearly when he converses with the ghost who emerges from a writing wooden press he inherited with the old room. Notice how when drunk and very frightened of the apparition emerging from a wooden press, he brandishes a poker to save himself. After hearing the ghost’s woeful tale, he shoots back at him to go and haunt other better places instead of the place that gave him so much of torture when he was alive. If a regular person saw a ghost in his room, I’m certain being cynical with the personage would be last on our minds. But here is a lawyer completely drunk ready to give good and sound advice to a ghost whose story of sorrow he has heard keenly. The part that makes me smile is the picture of this ghost emerging from the wooden press, something like a study table with cupboards. Dickens by his well-crafted words makes that image of the ghost emerging from the press like a ‘jack in the box’ seem very funny which through another writer’s hand would be frightening. Many of M. R. James’ short stories of the paranormal seem frightening when ghosts are attached to objects that they haunt. Dickens makes the ‘jack in the box’ ghost emerging from the press to look very funny and makes us laugh. The ghost’s immediate positive reaction to the lawyer’s good advice is, even more, a reason to smile. The ghost takes the lawyer’s advice seriously and vows never to haunt the chamber or press ever again. The added comment of the lawyer telling the ghost to communicate this good advice to other ghosts makes the story end very positively and happily. I can picture Charles Dickens narrating this story to his children around the Christmas tree during their storytelling sessions. Dickens loved to see his children’s reactions to stories he created or were in his mind. But I believe this story was penned much before Dicken’s became a well-beloved writer of the 19th century. I always maintain that Dickens was one such writer who grew better with the passing years. Some of the takeaway points from this very simple paranormal story are as follows:
- The wooden press itself which at the beginning of the story appears to be a scary object afterward seems all too funny a place for an intelligent ghost to haunt. For the youth of today, the story with be difficult to imagine if they have not yet seen what a wooden press is like.
- The sarcastic and cynical note in Dickens’ tone where he feels all ghosts believe that their stories of sorrow are worse than others. The ghost in this story tries his best to appeal to the lawyer’s sympathy by speaking about his worldly ruin, his beggared children, his dying from grief, etc.
- The ghost towards the end of the story feels that indeed ghosts were very idiotic and dull-minded people who did not take such advantageous opportunities to haunt or spend their time in better places than places of sorrow. This also is indicative of Dickens trying to tell us through this story always to be happy, of good cheer, and optimistic.
- The part of the story where the lawyer is ready to break the wooden press. His anger towards the press is indicative that something terrible will certainly emerge from the press. It is completely useless to him as he has no papers to put in them, and his required clothes he carried about with himself.
This was a simple but a very early work of Charles Dickens. I shall shortly review more of Charles Dickens’ short stories and novels as soon as possible. It is always fascinating to read anything written by one of my favorite classic writers, Charles Dickens. If you are interested in more book reviews, short story analysis, and author interviews you can visit my blog insaneowl.com. If you are interested in buying my books then you can visit my website fizapathanpublishing.us or fizapathan.com. Happy reading to you this week!
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