, Research Paper
The Irony of Dickens
In Charles Dickens Oliver Twist, a boy named Oliver lives his strange life in Fagin s pickpocket street gang, and workhouses. Through his life he has people and groups of people who both help and deceive him. Charles Dickens uses a technique known as ironic reversal of values to make a profound effect in the way the novel is perceived. That is, characters with the responsibility to aid Oliver don t, those expected to treat Oliver harshly do the opposite, and characters in the upper class fall to poverty while those in poverty become the upper class.
Oliver’s life begins in a workhouse, when in less than a year he is transferred to a private workhouse asylum. There he found poor conditions and poor nutrition. Some of the children who lived with Oliver died due to systematic starvation:
Unfortunately for the experimental philosophy of the female to whose protecting care Oliver Twist was delivered over, a similar result usually attended to the operation of her system; for at the very moment when a child had contrived to exist upon the smallest possible portion of the weakest possible food it did perversely happen in eight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident, in any one of which cases the miserable little being was usually summoned into another world, and there gathered to the fathers it had never known in this.
Due to the fact that Oliver lived with the people who were supposed to take care of him he approached the line of starvation. The woman in charge would feed the children only enough food to keep them barely alive. She did this so she could keep the left over money meant for food to herself, while also providing a form of population control for the paupers. If any child asked for more gruel they were punished severely. “For a week after asking for more, Oliver remained a close prisoner to the dark and solitary room.” Oliver s life in the workhouse was far from humane and the people who took care of him wanted it that way.
Soon after Oliver s stint at the workhouse he becomes a member of a pickpocket gang. The gang takes Oliver in rather that taking advantage of him, and for the first time in a long time Oliver gets something more that gruel to eat:
The latter part of this speech was hailed by a boisterous shout from all the hopeful pupils of the merry old gentlemen. In the midst of which they went to supper.
Oliver ate his share, and the Jew then mixed him a glass of hot gin-and-water, telling him that he must drink it off directly because another man wanted the tumbler.
Oliver got to eat more of a better quality of food and he is also treated better when he is with the gang than when he is in the workhouse. He does not have to worry about being punished for innocent crimes. The gang leader, Fagin, who is not charged to take care of Oliver does so.
As the story begins Dickens makes it obvious to the reader the Fagin is in support of capitol punishment:
“Aha!” said the Jew, shrugging up his shoulders, and distorting every feature with his hideous grin. “Clever dogs! Clever dogs! Staunch to the last! Never told the old parson where they were. Never peached upon old Fagin! And why should they? It wouldn t have loosened the knot, or kept the drop up, a minute longer. No, no, no! Fine fellows! Fine fellows!”
“What a fine thing capitol punishment is! Dead men never repent; dead men never bring awkward stories to light.
Fagin thinks that capitol punishment is a good thing because no one can squeal on him if they are dead. In the beginning of the story Fagin favors capitol punishment, but when the novel draws to a close and Fagin is the one facing death he changes his ideas about capitol punishment. Until Fagin meets his death he pleads to not be hung. Fagin s desperateness to get free is vivid in this passage, “Say I ve gone to sleep they ll believe you. You can get me out, if you take me so.” Fagin s position on capitol punishment proved to be temperamental and conditional, depending on how he was involved.
Mr. Bumble the beadle is introduced into the novel as being the tyrant over the workhouse that Oliver belongs to. He is described as being a fat man with a short temper. Mr. Bumble thinks highly of himself as described in the following passage, “Mr. Bumble had a great idea of his oratorical powers and his importance.” Following Dickens theme of ironic reversal of values, Mr. Bumble ends up in the opposite position that he started in:
Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, deprived of their situations, were gradually reduced to great indigence and misery, and finally became paupers in that very same work house in which they had once lorded it over others. Mr. Bumble has been heard to say that in this reverse and degradation, he has not even the spirits to be thankful for being separated from his wife.
Mr. Bumble suffers a complete “reverse” when it is considered that he is now a pauper in the workhouse he once overlooked.
Charles Dickens theme of ironic reversal of values is clearly defined by the preceding information. Things aren t as they should be or once were. Oliver is maltreated by the workhouse charged to care for him, while Fagin s gang gives Oliver a better diet and support despite the fact they are a gang of pickpockets. Fagin starts off the novel by showing great support for capitol punishment, but in the end he is the one being put to death. Mr. Bumble begins as a well off beadle but ends up as a pauper in the workhouse he was in charge of. The use of ironic reversal of values is used to such great perfection that it adds another dimension to the story Oliver Twist.