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How is the picture of childhood portrayed in Oliver Twist?

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Introduction

How is the picture of childhood portrayed in Oliver Twist? Oliver Twist (or the Parish Boy's Progress,) is an episodic story, published between 1837 and 1839 in the popular publication; 'Bentley's Miscellany'. Through popular culture the character of Oliver Twist has become an iconic image of childhood and synonymous with the appalling conditions faced by Victorian children. Oliver Twist is the novel's protagonist, which is notable in itself, as Oliver Twist is the first novel in the English language to have a child at its centre throughout. It is interesting that the perception that children should be seen and not heard was challenged by Dickens here by his very placing of a child in the centre of his novel. Unlike Dickens' other novels, however, this protagonist is not the narrator, as in Great Expectations and David Copperfield, instead a third person, adult narrator is used. By filtering Oliver's vicissitudes through the perspective of an adult third-person narrator, Oliver's plight is contextualised and Dickens compels the reader to read his tale as one that is emblematic of the fate of similar children in an unjust society. Oliver "was all alone in a strange place; and we all know how chilled and desolate the best of us will feel in such a situation". ...read more.

Middle

As was usual for such babies orphaned at birth, Oliver was farmed out to Mrs Mann. Mrs Mann was an elderly lady who had been doing this job for many years, and Dickens highlights the possibility for corruption within the provision for children in the parish, as Mrs Mann uses far more of the money apportioned for the children on herself than on feeding the children. He exposes the hypocrisy with which inspections of Oliver's farm were carried out, as Mrs Mann was always forewarned, enabling her to ensure that "the children were neat and clean to behold". Mrs Mann's name suggests the lack of feminine nurturing skills, her name being an aptonym like many other characters in the novel. Dickens' characters are often two-dimensional, cartoonish archetypes which allowed his Victorian audience to read them as representative figures, rather than merely fictional constructs. ] By surrounding Dickens lists examples of the numerous ways that children were killed through neglect at the hands of Mrs Mann, and makes casual reference to a mortality rate of 85%: "It did so perversely happen in eight and half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident" The connotations of the word smothered are suggestive of society's smothering of children by oppression. ...read more.

Conclusion

Dickens spells words phonetically, characterising these urban street children colourfully. Their dialect and 'flash' contrasts markedly with the standard English of the narrative voice. Throughout the entire novel, Oliver is portrayed as an innocent child, who needs to be rescued from the society that, on the whole, exploits him. Dickens shows society treats children appallingly, but that good will always triumph over evil. The problem is that the reader may find this conclusion trite. After a scathing attack on the evils of Victorian capitalism on children the only resolution Dickens has to offer us is a fairytale ending. Dickens' idealized vision of childhood is not that far away from the Lionel Bart adaptation with Oliver's life as a pick pocketing cabaret of song and dance Mr Brownlow rescues Oliver and restores his fortunes. Oliver lives as "the most blessed and favoured of mortals." Dickens waves his narratorial magic wand and all is well in the world. This unconvincing resolution, coupled with a clich�d depiction of Oliver as the quintessence of innocence and goodness produces a model of childhood that is eventually demolished by later writers such as William Golding in Lord of the Flies where children are depicted as selfish and feral. Golding shows us the darkness in children's hearts, Dickens only a sanitised and sentimentalised portrayal. Word Count : 2,081 ...read more.

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