Dickens As A Motivator Of Social Reform

Essay, Research Paper

Charles Dickens wrote a masterpiece in Oliver Twist. He wrote a book that sold more than 4 million copies in the decade after his death in England alone. Oliver Twist continues to be one of the most famous books around. His novel is a delight to read because of his clever writing style, and important messages. It is true that Dickens panders to the audience with Oliver Twist, but he wrote Oliver Twist more to foster social reform than to entertain.

One thing that misleads the reading into thinking that Oliver Twist is no more than entertaining fiction is the deceptively simple plot: action, suspense, obvious “good guys” and “bad guys” and a happy ending.

Oliver himself provides a great deal of the action. He fights Noah Claypole, a bullish adopted boy, after Noah makes disparaging comments about his mother (48). As a result of this, Oliver himself is beaten by every member of this household and the local beadle as well (53). This treatment causes him to flee to a place where he is framed by thieves for stealing and then chased by an angry mob (73). When caught, he is beaten again and thrown into a jail cell (75). Later on in the story, the same group of thieves forces him to rob a house at gunpoint (165). This encounter erupts when the tenants of the house find them, and Oliver ends up getting shot and thrown into a ditch (166). When he awakens, he staggers around half-dead, eventually reaching this same house that he was forced to rob and then abused by the tenants a second time. This is certainly plenty of action.

Suspense begins to build when Oliver comes near to starvation in the workhouse that he is born in, rises when he is kicked out for asking for food (9) and then rises more when Noah Claypole relentlessly bullies Oliver (46). Right from the beginning, the reader is wondering if Oliver is going to crack under the pressure of this cruel life. When Oliver is thrown into jail after the mob incident, he becomes very ill and comes close to dying (81). Oliver takes several days to recover from this illness (82). The suspense builds again when Nancy is sent to kidnap Oliver at the same time that Oliver leaves his safe haven with the Brownlows to return some books (He gets kidnapped, of course) (111). When Nancy later is caught between the urge to help Oliver or be a thief, the suspense again rises and keeps rising as this subplot thickens, eventually climaxing with Nancy’s death at another thief’s hands (189). If that isn’t enough to satisfy one’s thirst for suspense, there is another subplot in which Rose Maylie, a friend of Oliver’s, is afflicted with a life-threatening disease from which she is not expected to survive (but does) (222).

The “good guys” in “Oliver Twist” are very clearly defined and separated from the “bad guys,” for the most part. As ___________ says [Dickens] cannot create complex, educated, or aristocratic types. He can only make two-dimensional good or bad guys. The Brownlows take Oliver into their home and revive him even after he is framed for stealing from Mr. Brownlow. Similarly, the Maylies take Oliver into their home even after he is forced to break into it, despite the fact that Oliver had no evidence that he was forced to break in (168). Oliver himself is fed dog food, kidnapped, lied to, used, beaten, starved, kidnapped, and even shot, yet remains an innocent, almost saintly character.

The “bad guys” are completely different. The “bad guys” are all ugly looking and commit heinous and vile acts. The workhouse owner is a mean old crone who takes pleasure in starving all the children that she “takes care of.”

[The workhouse owner] appropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own use, and consigned the rising parochial generation to even a shorter allowance than was originally provided for [the children]. (10)

Fagin is a desiccated old man who takes delight in stealing even from other thieves. He is described by Dickens as ” a very old shriveled Jew… villainous-looking and repulsive (62).

Bill Sikes is an aggressive jerk that takes a similar delight in bullying other thieves. Monks is a character that is a combination of both of these; he bullies Mr. Bumble, the former Beadle, and his wife at one point, but also cleverly negotiates with Fagin for the upper hand. Mr. Bumble, before losing his position as the local beadle, beats Oliver and bullies all those below him. Mrs. Mann, his wife, nearly starves the children she is pledged to take care of in her workhouse, marries Mr. Bumble for his power, and then abuses him after their marriage on many occasions. All of these characters represent extremes of behavior. The caricaturist drawing a man with a big nose, makes it as big as his foot; that is the convention of his art; and it is the convention of Dickens art. – __________________ . Each of these characters is simple too. nearly every one can be summed up in one sentence. Eventually, there is a happy ending to the story, because the “good guys” all live happily ever after with Oliver, while the “bad guys” end up in jail. 5+6

In addition to creating a stark difference between good and evil, Dickens also uses hyperbole in other ways. Dickens exaggerates coincidence wherever it suits his purposes. His writing is full of glorious absurdities of speech. One such example is Oliver being taken in by the Maylies and the Brownlows, whom he happens to find out he is related to in the end. Even in Hadley this kind of thing would be quite unlikely. In London it would be very nearly impossible. Dickens uses the gross exaggerations of facts and the big contrast between good and evil to make it much easier for the reader to see what he is saying about the evils that exist in society.

12Dickens’ novel is crafted to appear as a simple story but is actually a very powerful tool for motivating the reader to do good deeds. Dickens used his writing to influence the people of England Oliver Twist is a tale that tells us of the good that is in all humans along with the bad in society like child abuse, poverty, and hate. 3 Dickens alternates between a 8910happy, nimble style of writing and an emotion-filled style of writing, depending on how he wishes to affect the reader. He also uses bad weather and changing seasons as subtle cues in certain scenes.

Oliver Twist shows himself to be completely incorruptible. Despite the brutality he endures, he remains an innocent little boy. This ability to remain completely innocent in a cruel world is symbolic of what people of any station are capable of. If this one boy can go through such a cruel life and come out as noble as he did, then there is hope for all people. Dickens shows that there is no punishment too great to keep the human spirit down. This message makes the reader more ready to see Dickens other messages about social evils.

It is reasonable to assume that during Dickens life there was a large amount of poverty and child abuse. Dickens begins his story with a child being born into a workhouse. A child in this workhouse named Oliver is beaten and starved. In the next house he lives in he is fed dog scraps and beaten by the entire family. Then he is taken in by thieves who frame him, kidnap him, and put his life in danger. This is definitely child abuse. Also, Oliver is not the only child who is abused. The other children of the workhouse are also starved and abused and forced to work in order to receive the diminutive amount of food that they survive off. Nancy and the Dodger, both thieves, were abused even before the story began; they were driven to steal in order to live. Fagin also beats them both regularly when they fail to steal enough (63).

Dickens uses many subtle techniques for communicating his messages. During the evil actions of Fagin, the sun is never shining. Also, when Mr. Bumble goes to the bad part of town to make a deal with Monks, there is a gloomy storm. When Oliver and Rose survive their illnesses, it is sunny and nice outside. During the summer and spring, the plot is cheerful and pleasant, and during the fall the thieves do most of their nefarious work.

Oliver Twist may appear to be a simple story, but this is only an illusion. Oliver Twist covers very controversial topics, including child abuse, classism, and poverty. The issues that Dickens covers in Oliver Twist have survived for generations and will continue to exist because there will always be people will never all be equal.


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