It is is a real question in Barnaby Rudge
is humanity the ability to hold a memory?
Or is it the ability to be convivial?
or is it faith?
Or merely manner.
Well it is clearly all of these, including the last. and yet the last in normal Dickens style illustrates the problem. one might it is true be polite and yet under the venneer of that politeness all kinds of poisons lie. The polite might have a human front and a monsterous interior.
At which point of course the entire enterprise of defining a human reveals its oddity. almost many definition will be localized. it s always easy to define then a human or a self as a something somewhere. The problem is that this somewhere is always a limited space: Around then the go sit many of dark desires and thoughts fencing it in or expanding it: Around reason sits all the motivation all the base thoughts reason justifies. Around morality are all the gut instincts that oppose a humanity the face of their morality. Around a definition such as a laughing animal sits all the other affects we are.
The problem si then not merely that each definition is partial, but also that in giving a rubric for humanity, it gives a lie t that rubric. humans take up that definition and are inhuman around it. That is they use it or fit it into a life beyond that definition ? (where not everything can be human), and musing it then modify their life in the face of it, and to differing advantages.
A definition of humanity cannot be torn apart form life, and as is a myriad and monstrous as that life surely is. Or at ;east as it ought to be.
The end point then of humanity as a definition ought to be a monster: That is the individual who cares nothing about anyone else, and cannot conceive of their individuality or does not worry about this effect upon them. The pure form of humanity s then Chester- the monster of manners.
Perhaps then Dickens wonders one out not to define humanity so much as a create an axis to define where the monsterous is given.If one cannot easily define humanity, perhaps one can create a bestiality of monsters in its place.
Dickens gives you three more options.
On the darkside a man might be a beast. As a beast, the dark figure of Dennis the hangman, who wears his victims clothes and gloats over their deaths is the ultimate figure of inhumanity. he is the nightmare that humanity fears. The 'what will happen' if we abandon the quest for the human.
but Dennis the beast is not the only possible.
The idiot is also their. The idiot, Barnaby, might not in himself have wit, and cannot hold down a steady occupation. And yet. and yet, he gives off a spirit of freedom, and a power to trust. This power, this ability to enter into all lives with the same pride is then the whirl that sets the book going. The power to trans-locate and yet be yourself whatever the context, the power to respond in a space beyond any one self, or any one fixed being, becomes revealed as a potent force.
Finally their is hugh a dark faced, bright hearted centaur.The ultimate victim of a society that condemns his 'type' as already inhuman. he reveals himself none the less capable of sefless love (for Barnaby), a love that redeems him of the verge of the grave- a love beyond himself. But also he is the master of the riot, the lord of chaos and revolution. Wherever the is destruction he is their, monitoring it, 'leading' not by plan but by occasion, and through his own bravery.
In Baraby Rudge three beyond human states appear live and real; in all their creativity and all their folly the beast , the innocent, and the centuar. Marx problem si that he need a fourth The communists, who has al the virtues of their three, without their vices, and does not merely slip for one to the other....