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Two chapters of "Oliver Twist" examine how Charles Dickens criticises Victorian society for its hypocrisy and the way in which it allowed poverty-stricken children, like Oliver, to be the victims of adult cruelty, neglect and exploitation.

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Introduction

"Oliver Twist" by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was originally called "the Parish Boy's Progress" and is the earliest English novel to have a child as it's main character. In this novel I have found several examples of Oliver being mistreated, neglected and exploited, by the adults around him. The way, in which Dickens makes Oliver look like the victim on numerous occasions throughout the book, makes it clear that Dickens is emphasising the cruelty and callousness of the Victorians, towards paupers. Dickens uses irony and makes acidic authorial comments throughout the novel, to highlight the hypocrisy and pomposity of the adult characters. With particular reference to Chapter Two and Chapter Four of the novel, I am going to explore how Dickens criticises Victorian society for its hypocrisy and ill treatment of children, such as Oliver. For parts of my exploration of the question, I will comment upon Dickens's skilful character descriptions, his use of irony, his use of emotive language and his open criticisms of the cruelties inflicted upon young Oliver, by the adults in his life. The first extract from "Oliver Twist" which I am going to explore, is entitled "Chapter II. Treats of Oliver Twist's growth, education and board." It tells us of Oliver's life from just after his birth to his ninth birthday. At which point, he is taken from the orphanage, to the parish workhouse. At this age Dickens describes Oliver as "a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature and decidedly small in circumference." ...read more.

Middle

He is showing Oliver to be half-starved and exploited, yet still pure at heart, to get across the point that poor people aren't born with the will to be criminals, but the environments, and adverse situations, are what cause criminal behaviour. He is continually criticising these characters because he has very strong views about the neglect and exploitation of children in the society of the Victorian period. The second extract which I am going to explore, with reference to the question, is Chapter Four, entitled - "Chapter IV. Oliver, being offered another place, makes his first entry into public life." This chapter tells us of how Oliver is dispatched to Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker, and how he is greeted there. The arrangements made to dispose of Oliver were that, if a tradesman, approved by the Board, was to request Oliver as an apprentice, then he should receive the boy and a sum of five pounds. At the onset of the chapter, when the Board are discussing whether or not to send Oliver to sea or not, they make a very interesting conclusion - "The probability being, that the skipper would flog him to death, in a playful mood...or would knock his brains out with an iron bar; both pastimes being as is pretty generally known, very favourite and common recreations among gentlemen of that class." This shows us their ignorance and misunderstanding of human nature. ...read more.

Conclusion

Secondly, the names of the characters portray their characters and their lives. Regarding "Oliver Twist". Twist implies that Oliver's life takes many twists and turns, which, by reading the novel, I can say that it does. "Mr. Bumble". Bumble implies a certain bumbling ignorance to all that is going on around him, such as in Chapter 38. Mrs. Bumble is trying to sell the gold locket stolen from Oliver's mother at her death and he seems oblivious to all that is going on around him. In the instance of "Mrs. Mann", the word "Mann" seems to imply a certain lack of maternal, feminine feeling. As in Chapter Two, when it is said, "the fist had been too often impressed upon his body". This tells us that she physically abuses the children in her care. Charles Dickens uses various techniques to criticise the aspects of Victorian society of which he disapproves. Such as the hypocritical nature of society, which allows children to be subjected to cruelty, neglect and exploitation. He uses ironic, authorial comments, character descriptions (which he is renowned for), emotive language and open criticisms of what he disapproves of. He is very inventive, and in my mind, insightful writer, as he writes of how things should be, as they are now. His aim in "Oliver Twist" was to convey his opinions on hypocrisy, child neglect, cruelty and exploitation. I think he has achieved this goal, and with it he has created an enthralling story, which is still widely read over one hundred and sixty years after it was written. 2 ...read more.

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