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To what extent does the novel Oliver Twist reflect the conditions that prevailed in Victorian Society?

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Introduction

Oliver Twist To what extent does the novel Oliver Twist reflect the conditions that prevailed in Victorian Society? Charles John Huffam Dickens was born on the 7th February 1812, in Portsmouth and spent most of his childhood in London and Kent, both of which appear frequently in his novels. Charles Dickens was the son of John and Elizabeth Dickens. John Dickens worked as a clerk at the Navy pay office in Portsmouth. Charles, the second of seven children, went to the local school. John Dickens found it difficult to provide for his growing family on his small pay. In 1822 the family moved to Camden Town in London. John Dickens' debts had become so severe that all the household goods were sold. Still unable to satisfy his creditors, John Dickens was arrested and sent to Marshalsea Prison. At age twelve, Charles found work at Warren's Blacking Factory, where he was paid six shillings a week wrapping shoeblack bottles. The brief time that he worked at the Blacking Factory haunted him all of his life. In the extremely stratified English class structure, the highest social class belonged to the "old rich". These where aristocrats who did not have to work for their money, they inherited it. There were also the "noveau riche". ...read more.

Middle

of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it." Because of the conditions inside the workhouse many people chose to die in the streets faster, rather than to die slowly inside the workhouse. In order to gain public assistance the poor had to pay through misery and suffering. We could therefore come to the conclusion that workhouses were institutional abuse and put poor people through unnecessary suffering many times over. "Hunger and recent ill-usage are great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried very naturally indeed." The old, the sick and the very young suffered more than the able bodied benefited from the laws. Dickens attempted to demonstrate this incongruity through the figure of Oliver Twist, an orphan born and raised in a workhouse for the first ten years of his life. His story illustrates the hypocrisy of the petty middle-class bureaucrats, who treat a small child cruelly while voicing their belief in the Christian virtue of giving charity to less fortunate. Dickens is hugely sarcastic when he writes- "No, no, Sir', sobbed Oliver, clinging to the hand which held the well known cane;" The legal system in the nineteenth century was very unfair and was exposed as a sham by Dickens. ...read more.

Conclusion

Dickens vision of the lower classes is not without hope in that there are characters like Nancy who show generosity of spirit which Dickens obviously admired. He appears to maintain that given the right circumstances, as Oliver is by his new guardians, the poor of London can allow their better nature to flower. The author in no way condones criminal activity as can be seen by the fates of Sikes and Fagin. He does however give us hope in his description of Oliver when Mr Brownlow visits the sisters- "The boy stirred and smiled in his sleep, as though these marks of pity and compassion had awakened some pleasant dream of a love and affection he had never known." Dickens appears to give us hope for the future while at the same time launching a withering attack upon social injustice. In the novel therefore we see Dickens highlighting and commenting upon the society which his novel takes place. He attacks the legal and judicial system, the poor laws and the inadequacy of poor relief as a whole. His critical views of a morality, which underscored the framing and administration of the poor laws is evident throughout the novel. Conditions for the poor are harshly exposed and therefore held up to ridicule. Perhaps the author's most bitter resentment was saved for those who were employed to administer the system. Dickens clearly despised them and focused his most scathing remarks upon them. ...read more.

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