Credit English IV
Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist
Charles Dickens is one of the
greatest writers to ever exist and he has entered into the English language
more than any other writer since William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens is a
writer who is original but also expresses and speaks about humanity as a whole.
Dickens has entered into the art and served as inspiration for writers like
Joyce, T.S. Elliot, Even Waugh, and George Orwell. Charles Dickens as a famous
example of a wounded artist. His own personal pains have been shown throughout his
work over the years. Dickens was born in Land port, Portsea on February 7th
1812. He was the second son of John Dickens. His father, John, was sent to
prison for owing debt (Hardy 41). “While the rest of the family accompanied his
father to the workhouse, Dickens was sent to paste labels on bottles in a
blacking factory. This experience left him with a bitter and passionate
opposition to child labor and inhumane treatment of the poor and is reflected
in the biting sarcasm that animates the early chapters of Oliver Twist” (Bald 1).
“Dickens also dealt with stresses in his personal life while working on the
novel. The many projects he undertook and his unsettled contractual
arrangements with various publishers indicate the financial pressures that
Dickens faced as a young husband and father establishing himself as a
professional writer” (Davis 1). Charles Dickens used the troubles of his life
to give his audience a child hero they could relate to by writing the story of
an orphan named Oliver Twist who lives poverty but doesn’t let that define him.
Oliver Twist draws many parallels to
the Victorian Era. Charles Dickens, was one of the important writers to emerge
from the Victorian Era (Hardy 41). “Dickens inspirations for writing Oliver
Twist were the “Newgate” novels which dealt with criminals, but despite Dickens
own tendency towards melodrama, Oliver Twist breaks new ground in moral purpose
and realism” (47). Oliver Twist is born in a workhouse in 1830s England. His
mother is found on the street and dies after Oliver’s birth. Oliver spends the
first nine years of his life in a badly run orphanage and then he is
transferred to a workhouse. The other boys bully Oliver into asking for more
gruel at the end of a meal. Oliver is eventually apprenticed to a local
undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. When the other apprentice makes bad comments about
Oliver’s mother, Oliver attacks him and then he is punished by Sowerberry. Oliver runs away and travels toward London (Bald
1). Outside London, Oliver meets Fagin. Fagin is a career criminal who trains
orphan boys to pick pockets for him. After training, Oliver is sent on a mission.
When he sees them take the handkerchief from an elderly person, Oliver is sickened
and runs off. He ends up getting caught but escapes being convicted of the
theft thanks to Mr. Brownlow the man whom lost his handkerchief (2). Oliver
lives in Mr. Brownlow’s home, but when he runs an errand, two members of
Fagin’s gang, Bill Sikes and Nancy, capture Oliver and return him to Fagin (Watkin
1). Fagin sends Oliver to help Sikes in a burglary. Oliver is shot by a servant
of the house and is taken in by the women who live there, Mrs. Maylie and her
adopted niece Rose. (Dickens Ch. 23). A man named Monks and Fagin planned on capturing
Oliver Twist again. It is also revealed that Oliver’s mother left behind a gold
locket when she died. Monks destroys the locket (Ch. 38). Nancy meets secretly
with Rose and tells her Oliver is monks younger brother, but a member of
Fagin’s crew overhears the conversation and lets Sikes know, he then brutally
murders Nancy and leaves London. He has a guilty conscience and is chased by an
angry mob, he hangs himself accidently while trying to escape (Bald 2). Mr.
Brownlow reunites with Oliver and confronts Monks. He gets the truth about
Oliver’s parentage from him. It is then revealed that Monks is Oliver’s half-brother.
Their father was Mr. Leeford an unhappy man married to a wealthy woman. Monks has
been pursuing Oliver all along in the hopes of ensuring that his half-brother
is didn’t get his share of the family inheritance. Mr. Brownlow forces Monks to
sign over Oliver’s share to Oliver (Dickens Ch. 51). Then it is discovered that
Rose is Oliver’s aunt. Fagin is hung for his crimes. Mr. Brownlow adopts
Oliver, and they retire to a blissful existence in the countryside (Ch. 52).
There are two main themes in Oliver
Twist. The first theme is Child labor. Charles Dickens himself was a child
working at an early age. In Oliver Twist it is seen how children in the
Victorian age were put to work most of the day in return for little food, crowded
homes and zero education. Dickens shows that the children weren’t being fed
well by having Oliver ask for more food. “When he is chosen by the other
children at dinnertime to be their representative to ask for more rations from
the workhouse authorities, the master responds to the orphan’s piteous request,
“Please, sir, I want some more,” by viciously beating Oliver and
throwing him into solitary confinement” (Chlebek). The other main theme is Purity
in a Corrupt City. Dickens poses the question of whether bad environments have
the power to blacken the soul and change it forever. The question is answered
within the characters of the book. Even Sikes has a conscience after murdering Nancy
and begins to be haunted by her eyes. Nancy also shows purity by sacrificing herself
for a child she barely knew (Watkin 3).
Although Nancy is a criminal she
begins to undergo change through the story. “We see some characters doing
illegal, nasty, and sometimes horrifying things, yet Dickens is careful to give
at least some of these lower-class characters a code of ethics, adding realism
and respectability.” (Watkin 1). When Sikes
and Nancy recapture Oliver and bring him to Fagin, Nancy is the only one
showing any ethics.
The Jew inflicted a smart blow on
Oliver’s shoulders, with the club; and was raising it for a second, when the
girl, rushing forward, wrested it from his hand. She flung it into the fire,
with a force that brought some of the glowing coals whirling out into the room.
“I won’t stand by and see it
done, Fagin,” cried the girl. “You’ve got the boy, and what more
would you have?—Let him be—let him be—or I shall put that mark on some of you,
that will bring me to the gallows before my time. (Dickens 149).
the end we see she evolved from the person she was at the beginning because she
sacrifices herself for Oliver by telling Rose about Oliver’s Parentage.
In conclusion, Oliver Twist did not
let his bad environment as a child define the type of person he was. Oliver was
a pure soul in a corrupt city who accomplished to change the lives of those
around him. For Example, Nancy changed because of Oliver. She realized she was
doing wrong and began to do right. Dickens uses the themes of Oliver Twist to
expose child labor and to show that everyone can decide the type of person they
want to be no matter how rich or how poor one is. Charles Dickens used his own experiences
to create a story that has become a piece of Classic Literature.