This essay will explore the experience of justice through Charles’Dickens Oliver Twist and ToniMorrison’s Beloved. Contextualised inthe 19th Century, Dickens’ Oliver Twist focuses on the strains andstruggles of an adolescent, one of many that faced issues such as poverty in anunequal society. However, the depiction of an unjust society is also focused onin Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Morrison presents unjust circumstances in the formof racial inequality as opposed to Dicken’s as he centres the novel oncapitalism and social marginalisation.
The chronology of both novels heightensthe development of justice and the experiences individuals have to face inorder to reach fair justice. The two texts Beloved and Oliver Twist both havereoccurring themes of justice or the lack of. It is evident from both texts that justice is ironically unjust. Injusticein Oliver Twist is presented in a form of mistreatment as for the next eight or ten months, Oliver was the victim of a systematiccourse of treachery and deception. Oliver’s innocence is used to expressthat his fate is beyond his control and therefore is unaware of the happenings.Dickens victim-like imagery presents the orphanage to be a microcosm of societyduring the 19th century. Hence why Dickens may have first-handexperience as he too had a similar upbringing of hard labour.
Dickens is portrayingthat justice as just to an extent and that even Oliver’s innocence and puritycannot save him of this as justice is blind. Similarly, in Toni Morrison’s Beloved, it is clear that Sethe andthe workers have very little justice or equality for that matter, Morrison’sabsence of justice is presented in the form of Schoolteacher, a whitesupremacist who prevents the character from their rights. “And don’t forget to line them up.” Morrison is referring to theworkers abiding by the rules and therefore the animalistic imagery connotes adehumanising tone and a barrier to the worker’s justice, preventing Halle andthe group from achieving their peace.
The use of ‘line up’ heightens a possibledaily system that the workers had to partake in as Schoolteacher mentions it ina nonchalant way, emphasising that the mistreatment that the workers areexposed to is constant and ongoing. Morrison has described such harshconditions to emphasise the raw reality of the occurrences of slavery that tookplaces after the civil war. Black citizens were constantly attacked and abusedfor their ‘characteristic’s’ as Schoolteacher mentions “I told you to put her human characteristics on the left; her animalones on the right.” Schoolteacher’s reference to a double identity suggestthey are only half human and that they are less than any other person due totheir skin colour. Also, pretending that the workers were savaged animalsallowed the slave owners to justify their inhumane actions without anyconsequences. In Oliver Twist the outcomes that Oliver faces are not as just,they are presented as inevitable.
However, some may argue that Oliver’scircumstances of class inequality are based on the exploitation of the workingclass by the ruling class. From a Marxists perspective, the presentation ofjustice and the mistreatment of Oliver and his peers are a result ofinequality, therefore pushing the individual to pursue criminal activities thatare against the law. Therefore, Dicken’s portrayal of Fagin in this novelrepresents a capitalist society, enforcing that certain actions and choicesthat Oliver makes are a result of this strain.
“Oliver remained a closeprisoner in the dark and solitary room to which he had been consigned by thewisdom and mercy of the board.” The imagery of ‘dark’ and ‘solitary’connotes that of a miserable and lonesome life. Oliver’s solitary of beingalone in a room suggest that his individualism is inevitable. Dickens alsoforeshadows his isolation in future as he was born an orphan and will lead asingular lifestyle. The adjective ‘dark’ also suggests the current setting ofLondon, as the weather is also presented to be rainy and miserable. “The weather being dark, and piercingcold.” The gloomy portrayal of the weather adds to the constant negativefeel to the novel as it enforces an ongoing evil and harm. London in the 19thCentury was very industrialised and full of pollution; therefore, the use ofdark may connote that he can only hide from the conditions around him, however,not escape.
The two descriptions may have been used to heighten that he cannotescape from the solitary and the darkness. The mention of ‘prisoner’foreshadows Oliver’s miserable future and his lack of justice when he isconvicted of a theft he did not partake in, yet due to his working-classbackground he is left disadvantaged. Dickens felt highly opinionated about theway the working class were presented and treated. Therefore, after the New PoorLaw, Charles Dickens began to write Oliver Twist as a form of protest againstparliament and the limitation of the working class accessibilities. In comparison to Dickens’ presentation of injustice of socialclass and disadvantages, Morrison presents the injustice in Beloved as a racialissue. If I hadn’t killed her she wouldhave died and that is something I could not bear to happen to her. Sethe justifies why she killed herdaughter, she would rather carry that particular burden than let her die at thehands of the slave owner as a slave.
As a mother, Morrison presented Sethe’ssacrifice as an act of love. Morrison has incorporated this as Sethe had givenher life, it is only fair if she is the one who takes it away. Thejustification for Sethe’s action could solely be that being alive and a slaveis far worse than death. Morrison has based this tragedy on real life occurrencesto educate those who were unaware of what conditions people were put in. “Theytook anything I had or dreamed’ suggests that Baby sugg’s outcome was thatof an unjust one, she had been stripped off her identity as well as becomepurposeless. Morrison’s use of ‘dreamed’ presents the white supremacists asmanipulators as not only are the workers prisoners of the body but also themind.
Similarly, the theme of dreams is alsoexplored in Oliver Twist when mentioninga kind of sleep that steals upon us sometimes, which, while it holds the bodyprisoner, does not free the mind. The use of physical and mentalimprisonment depicts the lifestyle of a slave as one is unable to be free, evenin thought. When someone is sleeping they lose control of their thoughts andactions, in this case Oliver gives up the ability to choose for himselfentirely, making him a prisoner of his own mind. Mr Bumble is a clear symbol of imprisonment as he had no empathy forOliver and his peers. “But, tears were not the things to find their way to MrBumble’s soul; his heart was waterproof.” Mr Bumble is presented as a sadistic man withpower, who mistreats the orphans out of his own will, similarly to Schoolteacherin Beloved.
Imagery of water connotes purity and cleanliness; however, MrBumble is far from this as he is immune to anything that is kind and innocent.In terms out outcomes, Mr Bumble faces his own karma when he is humiliated andbeaten by his wife. Although there is a sense of pity and empathy, it was alsowell deserved and inevitable. In terms of outcomes and choices, thecharacters in the novel are faced with little to none, but Schoolteacher beat him anyway. It is clear that Schoolteacher is a sadist whomistreats the workers out of his free will and for pleasure purposes. Thenonchalant tone heightens that it isn’t out of the ordinary nor uncommon forthis to happen without any claim for justice. However, similar to Mr Bumble, Schoolteacherisn’t a developed persona in the novel but a symbol of negativity and evil.
Although Schoolteacher isn’t a wise nor decent person, Paul D mentions that Schoolteacher had changed him. Paul Dwas brought up to believe in free will and choice, however, through theconstant manipulation, controlling and exposure, whether it be good or bad,Schoolteacher allowed Paul D and his acquaintances to realise that their ‘freewill’ was not as free as they thought it was. It is evident that Paul D’srealisation altered any justice or just outcomes that could have been in hisfavour.As an embodiment of evil and negativity, Schoolteacher has thepower and authority to dictate and decide the character’s outcome. “Alive.
Alive. I want him alive.” Morrisonhas depicted Schoolteacher as a cynical depiction when referring to keeping hisworkers alive as he also knows that being alive as a slave is far worse thanbeing killed. In Beloved, it is clear that white people were supreme incomparison to the black population as Beloved’s historical context was basedaround the Fugitive Slave Law which consisted of the escaping slaves who werecaptured and returned to their ‘owners’.
However, through all the controversyand wrongful occurrences that Sethe has encountered, the epitome of pure andinnocent had come in the form of a white girl, Amy Denver, who had helped Sethedeliver her baby after she was abused by Schoolteacher. “A white girl helped me.” In the novel it is constantly emphasisedand enforced that white people are the embodiment of wrongness. Therefore,Morrison’s use of juxtaposition emphasises that stigmas that come with raceand appearances are just prejudices. Morrison’s use of irony justifies Sethesjustice to be in the hands of a white person, which she herself was alsosurprised and had allowed her to understand that everyone had differentintentions.
As an epitome of evil Morrison’s’ usesymbolism “Schoolteacher left town,” connotesthat the evil and dark figure of the novel that prevented the characters fromtheir justice had fulfilled its inhumane decisions to its fullest and canfinally leave the characters. Morrison had incorporated this into the novel toemphasise that the injustice in the novel had reached its peak, as everythingis temporary. It is clear that the injustice that characters had faced in thenovel were only temporary and that after the riddance of Schoolteacher; thecharacters were finally able to face just outcomes. Paul D, a significantcharacter which symbolises reoccurrence of strength and willpower mentions I will no longer run from nothing. I willnever run from another thing on this Earth. Thecharacters in Beloved have had their fair amount of injustice throughout thenovel therefore Morrison has incorporated a sense of relief and road to newbeginnings.
Alongside Paul D, overlooking the past is most beneficial in orderto have a hopeful destiny; Sethe mentions “The future was a matter of keeping the past at bay. The ‘better life’.” Morrison’s message presents thecharacters as eager to let go of the past and embrace new comings. Similarly, Oliver too has been given his fair justice through the characterof Rose. The flower rose connotes hope and new beginnings as from this point on,Oliver is finally facing the justice he deserves. Rose empathises with Oliverand is in fact the reason that Mr Maylie takes Oliver under her wing andprotects him. It is evident that in both of these texts those unjust and justoutcomes come in the form of characters. Nancy is juxtaposed against Rose whenmentioning if there were more like you,there would be fewer like me.
Emphasising that Rose is the representationof good deed and characters such as Sykes and Fagin are the embodiment ofselfishness and greed. It is clear that although Oliver and Nancy hadencountered many unethical encounters, their just outcomes had finallyoccurred. Through personification such as “The sun, the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life,and hope, and freshness to man,” It is clear that the mood of the novel has changed into thatof a positive and hopeful one. Throughout the novel the imagery of the weathercreated a gloomy essence of what was to come for Oliver, yet now that he isunder good care, the forecast has brightened.
The use of the noun hopesymbolises a new beginning, allowing Oliver to reach his fair justice afterfacing characters that manipulated and took advantage of his fate. Whenreferring to the sun, it connotes overcoming with power and strength, which iswhat Oliver has managed to do. To conclude this, it is evident that justice and just outcomesthroughout these novels were to an extent in both of the texts. In Morrison’sBeloved, the reoccurrence of injustice was in the form of a wrongful characterwith the motive of hurting individuals due to the stigma and prejudiceassociated with black individuals and their race.
Similarly, Oliver’s injusticewas solely based around social class, Oliver’s innocence and purity was takenadvantage of. Characters in both of texts do experience justice at variousparts of the novels, for example the riddance of Sykes and Schoolteacher. However,as an overall concept the theme of justice is presented to be a form ofchallenges and raw reality of the occurrences that took place from a contextualpoint of view, which may have had a great deal of influence on both texts.