A dialogue is a literary technique in which writers employ two or more characters to be engaged in conversation with each other. In literature, it is a conversational passage or a spoken or written exchange of conversation in a group or between two persons directed towards a particular subject. The use of dialogues can be seen back in classical literature, especially in Plato’s Republic. Several other philosophers also used this technique for rhetorical and argumentative purposes. Generally, it makes a literary work enjoyable and lively.
Types of Dialogue
There are two types of dialogues in literature:
- Inner Dialogue – In inner dialogue, the characters speak to themselves and reveal their personalities. To use inner dialogue, writers employ literary techniques like stream of consciousness or dramatic monologue. We often find such dialogues in the works of James Joyce, Virginia Wolf and William Faulkner.
- Outer Dialogue – It is a simple conversation between two characters used in almost all types of fictional works.
Examples of Dialogue in Literature
Let us see how famous writers have used dialogues for resonance and meaning in their works:
“Now he is here,” I exclaimed. “For Heaven’s sake, hurry down! Do be quick; and stay among the trees till he is fairly in.”
I must go, Cathy,” said Heathcliff, seeking to extricate himself from his companion’s arms. I won’t stray five yards from your window…
“For one hour,” he pleaded earnestly.
“Not for one minute,” she replied.
“I must–Linton will be up immediately,” persisted the intruder.”
(Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte)
Miss Bronte has employed surprises, opposition and reversals in this dialogue like will-it-happen? when he says, “But, if I live, I’ll see you . . .” She has inserted these expressions in order to develop conflict in the plot.
“But who did he tell it to? You and me?”
“What does it matter?”
“And, by the way, do you have any influence over them, his mother and sister? Tell them to be more careful with him today . . .”
“They’ll get on all right!” Razumikhin answered reluctantly.
“Why is he so set against this Luzhin? A man with money and she doesn’t dislike him . . .
“But what business is it of yours?” Razumikhin cried with annoyance.
(Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky)
In this excerpt, notice the use of conflict, emotions, information, conflict, reversal and opposition flowing by. The ideas and information are expressed with perfect timing, but here an important point is that the characters are not responding with a definite answer. This is a beautiful piece of dialogue.
Cal. Have you no visions that you cannot name?
Ar. A picture should extend beyond its frame,
There being no limitation
To bright reality:
For all their declaration
Words cannot see.
(A Dialogue between Caliban and Ariel by John Fuller)
Fuller has written this poem in the dialogue form. Two characters, Caliban and Ariel are conversing, revealing the conflict, as Caliban asks questions, and Ariel gives answers that make the poem alive and interesting.
“Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!”
“How so? How can it affect them?”
“My dear Mr. Bennet, “replied his wife, “how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them…
My dear, you flatter me. I certainly have had my share of beauty, but I do not pretend to be anything extraordinary now…she ought to give over thinking of her own beauty.”
(Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
Austen explores the characters in her novels through dialogue. Likewise, in the following conversation, the author unfolds Mrs. Bennet’s character as stupid and worthless. Mr. Bennet makes fun of her wife, and this dialogue sums up their relationship and gives hints about their personalities.
Function of Dialogue
The use of dialogues is prevalent in fiction, but this technique can also be found in poetry, non-fiction, films and drama. The dialogue has several purposes, such as advances the plot of a narrative, and reveals the characters that cannot be understood otherwise. Further, it presents an exposition of the background or the past events and creates the tone of a narrative. Its usage can also be seen in the modern literary works, where it colors the personalities of the characters, creates a conflict, highlights the vernacular and moves the storyline forward. Moreover, dialogue makes a literary piece interesting and alive, and gives enjoyable experience to the readers.