The Romantic emphasis on individual feelings posited the heroic figure as a person who attempts to make the world adapt itself to his sense of interior identity. An examination of Charles Dickens' life and art suggests that he distrusted the Romantic hero. Dickens gives his villains strong wills and rigid identities. He creates other characters who, while not truly villains, are in error because they want to limit relationships to shared identity with one other who is viewed as an extension of the self. His virtuous characters see all identity as relational; passive and affectless, they have little sense of self as inner being.
Dickens' three basic character types are splits of their creator's own personality. The author was at his best when he could achieve loss of self identity in work, in the theater, or in relationships with groups of people. When most of his identity was shared with one other who became an alter-ego, Dickens was manipulative and autocratic. In his roles as husband, father, and businessman where maintaining a rigid self image was of paramount importance, his behavior was tyrannical, insensitive, even unethical.
Four Dickens novels contain normative figures who have little sense of self as interior. Tom Pinch of Martin Chuzzlewit is a prime example of a virtuous, other-directed character. Both Young and Old Martin go through a series of misadventures until they learn, partially from Tom's example, that relationships are more important than self image. In David Copperfield, David is influenced to shift identity to meet the needs of others by the examples of Agnes and Traddles, both passive characters. He also loses some sense of consistent identity in the process of narrating his life story. Outerdirected, affectless characters in the world of Little Dorrit must engage in productive work in order to be happy and escape the clutches of a Society which demands an unyielding image of identity and position from everyone. Pip of Great Expectations, more than any other character, comes to conscious rejection of the Romantic idea that identity emanates from an inner self rather than being acquired through relationships with others.