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Oliver Twist is a novel by Charles Dickens, published in 1837 and was concerned 1834 Poor Law. The Poor Law was introduced by the Prime Minister, Earl Grey. The Poor Law should have been introduced to help the poor but instead it made their life a living hell. The poor were put into workhouses and little children were put into a baby farm until the age of 9. Dickens motive for writing this novel was to make people understand the full horrors of the Poor Law. Dickens showed his dislike of the 1834 Poor Law through his characterisation.
Mrs Mann runs the baby farm which is where the young Oliver lives. She is a very greedy, callous and corrupt woman, “she appropriated the weakly stipend to her own use” which means that she steals from the little children that she was “supposed” to look after and starves them. She is a lying hypocrite, she tells the world that she “cares” and “loves” the children, this is because she says “Ah, bless’em, that I do, dear as it is “replied Mrs Mann. ” I couldn’t see ‘em suffer before my very eyes, you know, sir. Mrs Mann is lying so that she can keep her job and so she can continue to steal from the children. Mrs Mann neglects and abuses the children because “either it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident. ” Many children died and their deaths covered up. She has no womanly feelings, Dickens gives her the name, Mrs Mann. Mr Bumble employs Mrs Mann to run the baby farm. He is very pompous and very vain “to keep the Parish Officers a waiting at your garden-gate, when they come here upon parochial business connected with the parochial orphans? He’s saying that he’s important and shouldn’t be treated like this. Mr Bumble boasts “we name our foundlings in alphabetical order. The last was a S-swubble, I named him” which means that he names the children through alphabetical order. Dickens shows that Mr Bumble is a stupid character because naming people isn’t that hard to do, but he’s very proud of it. Dickens names him Mr Bumble clearly he is stupid and incompetent. It’s very easy to flatter Mr Bumble, because he thinks he’s very important, he likes it when people compliment him. Well, well said the beadle, evidently gratified with the compliment, perhaps I may be” which means he is easy to deceive and Mrs Mann can hide the truth from him. The Board is a group of gentlemen who makes decisions about the running of the workhouse and the baby farm. The Board members are full of self-dignity and self-importance because they are rich and powerful. The Board only think about themselves and not the people they are meant to care for. “What are you crying for? Inquired the gentlemen in the white waistcoat and to be sure it was very extraordinary.
What could the boy be crying for? ” which meant that they cannot sympathise with Oliver. Dickens uses irony “He is a fool, which was a capital way of raising his spirits and putting him quite at ease” which shows how callous they are and totally insensitive to Oliver’s feelings. Oliver is the main character in the novel. The only adult Oliver has known for most his life is Mrs Mann, who didn’t care about him at all. His whole life was a prison, at birth till the age of 9 he stayed in the baby farm and from the age of 9 and onwards he stayed in the workhouse. He’s had life imprisonment.
Oliver is a very innocent, vulnerable, a victim, “Oliver was frightened at the sight of so many gentlemen, which made him tremble: and the beadle gave him another tap behind, which made him cry. ” He’s very small and because he is surrounded by powerful men who decide how he lives. He is terrified of them. Dickens used emotive language describing Oliver as he was leaving the baby farm to go to the workhouse “wretched as were the little companions in misery he was leaving behind, they were the only friends he had ever known; and a sense of his loneliness in the great wide world, sank into the child’s heart for the first time. This makes the reader feel emotional and sorry for Oliver. Mr Bumble is really stupid. Mr Bumble doesn’t care about Oliver, “he walked with long strides while little Oliver trotted beside him” which means that Mr Bumble didn’t even wait for Oliver to catch up with him. He doesn’t care that Oliver is small and weak. Mr Bumble only thought that it was his job to take Oliver to the workhouse and he didn’t consider Oliver’s feelings at all. The Board treat Oliver callously. Dickens uses irony “what a noble illustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupers go to sleep! He really means that the Board treats the children as inhumanly everyday but it’s like a miracle for the board to let Oliver and all the other children’s to sleep! This is not caring or generous! Dickens says that “For the combination of both these blessings in the one simple process of picking oakum. ” Dickens suggests it’s a blessing for Oliver because now Oliver has something to do. But instead the only thing you’ll learn is how to pick oakum, not a useful trade. Dickens tone changes. Dickens describes how young children live in the workhouse which sounds shocking.
The Board established a rule that all poor people should be starved by gradual process in the workhouse. Dickens uses a serious tone of voice here because he is angry and accusing, “Unlimited supply of water to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal”. The Board knew that people couldn’t survive on a watery thin gruel for long, that‘s why they kept supplying it to the poor. The members of the Board try hard to keep the workhouse a disciplined place. They thought it was “entertainment” for the poor “It was a regular place of public entertainment for the poorer classes. The Board members, feeling this, decide to make changes to the workhouse and they decided to make conditions ever harsher. Dickens shows that the living conditions in the workhouse are horrible and inhumane. “The room in which the boys were fed was a large stone hall” which makes the room sound cold and impersonal, more like a prison. Dickens highlights the lack of food and extreme hunger. “Sucking their fingers most assiduously” which suggests that the boys are so hungry they are making sure they have eaten every last bit of the gruel.
Dickens uses dialogue to build tension in this scene. “Mr Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more! ” His tone of voice suggests his shock and horror. Dickens shows the way people react to a simple request from the starving poor child. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder. ” The workhouse authorities are not used to being challenged in any way. Dickens shows the shock at Oliver’s request for food. The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle. ” Oliver’s request is seen as so awful it causes panic, he should be grateful to the board (they think! ) It is pretty clear that Dickens was shocked and horrified by the treatment of the poor. After reading this book, people did try to bring change into the system, it went slowly but the system did change. The message was to let the audience know that the Poor Law system was wrong and evil. Dickens wanted to change attitude.
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Oliver was sweet and innocent but he was treated badly and improperly because he was poor. The Board members are rude and callous even though they are rich and powerful. Reading this book gives us a strong image of the effects of the Poor Law. It showed how the higher classes treated lower classes. I think it did help because it was focused on the treatment of the poor and it helped to improve the conditions of the poor. Charles Dickens is a great author, without “Oliver Twist” and other protest novels being published the Poor Law would have lasted a lot longer. 1,413 Words….. By: Zohra Kaji 10. 3
Author: Brandon Johnson
Oliver Twist Essay
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“There was the little church, in the morning, with the green leaves fluttering at the windows: the birds singing without: filling the homely building with its fragrance. The poor people were so neat and clean, and knelt so reverently in assembling there together; and though the singing might be rude, it was real, and sounded more musical (to Oliver’s ears at least) than any he had ever heard in church before.”Chapter 32, page 293
This passage exemplifies the idealism with which the novel sees the countryside. Whereas descriptions of the city, and especially the slums, are always negative and bleak, here even the poor are desirable and healthy. This passage also gives the country a genuineness that is lacking in the city: discussion of religion there is usually about the hypocrisy of those who consider themselves Christian, while in this passage, the singing is the best Oliver has heard, not because it is done well—it isn’t—but because it comes from true Christians, not hypocritical ones.
"'Stop thief! Stop thief!' The cry is taken up by a hundred voices, and the crowd accumulate at every turning. Away they fly, splashing through the mud, and rattling along the pavements: up go the windows, out run the people, onward bear the mob, a whole audience desert Punch in the very thickest of the plot, and, joining the rushing throng, swell the shout, and lend fresh vigour to the cry, 'Stop thief! Stop thief!'"Chapter 10, pages 83-84
This passage provides a central example of the danger of mob mentality, a concept so important to the book as a whole. When the cry is first taken up against Oliver, it is carried by individuals - Mr. Brownlow, the Dodger and Charley Bates, the butcher, the baker. Once enough people are participating, however, the individuals are lost. People are only described in the communal, and the only body individually described is an entire audience. The mob dominates completely, and with the loss of any individualism comes the loss of any individual culpability: no one considers it his/her responsibility to be sure that Oliver is really a thief; no one asks for evidence or details of the situation. Dickens' repetition of the cry at the beginning and end of the paragraph emphasizes the feeling of the inevitability of the cry, once enough voices have joined in.
“The shop-boys in the neighbourhood had long been in the habit of branding Noah, in the public streets, with the ignominious epithets of ‘leathers,’ ‘charity,’ and the like; and Noah had borne them without reply. But, now that fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, at whom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him with interest. This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature may be made to be; and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy.”Chapter 52, pages 38-39
This passage is significant for a few reasons. First, it exemplifies a theme that often comes up in the novel—that of the passing on of mistreatment. Noah, who has been looked down upon and mistreated for being a charity boy, rather than exhibiting empathy towards Oliver because of this, only takes advantage of the fact that he is now higher than somebody and so can mistreat him. Those who are badly off just look for those who are worse off to mistreat. This passage is also important in that it is a great example of the deep sarcasm the narrator often uses when discussing the more hypocritical or immoral characters, who society often either rewards for or allows to get away with such hypocrisy and immorality.
“Although Oliver had enough to occupy his attention in keeping sight of his leader, he could not help bestowing a few hasty glances on either side of the way, as he passed along. A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen. The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours. There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main.”Chapter 8, pages 68-69
This passage exemplifies Dickens’s perspective of London in Oliver Twist. It is bleak, seedy, poor, and filled with immoral people. These scenes of urban description throughout the novel are often set at night, or in the rain—the weather is rarely kind to the slums of London. Here the problem of children without caring parents is exemplified, too, for there are children everywhere, yet no sign of any adults taking care of them. Instead, all of the adults seem to be busy drinking in the pubs. In the city, the poor gather in the pubs, while in the country they gather in the church, and this seems to symbolize the great difference between the two communities - why in one setting people can be picturesque and in another they are repulsive.
“She staggered and fell: nearly blinded with the blood that rained down from a deep gash in her forehead; but raising herself, with difficulty, on her knees, drew from her bosom a white handkerchief—Rose Maylie’s own—and holding it up, in her folded hands, as high towards Heaven as her feeble strength would allow, breathed one prayer for mercy to her Maker.”Chapter 47, page 444
This passage, describing Nancy’s death, does not allow the reader to forget how completely society has failed Nancy. Because she had no one but Fagin to care for her as a child, she has not been able to live morally or comfortably, as Rose has - even though she exhibits the same core of kind-heartedness as Rose. (The reference to Rose’s handkerchief reminds us of this explicitly.) Similarly, the description of Nancy’s “feeble strength" underscores her powerlessness in society because of her gender; her agency is so limited that she is barely able to pray. This passage is also striking in the violence it depicts, which is meant to, and does, disturb greatly. It is to this brutality that Dickens’s society has left Nancy.
"Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter."Chapter 1, page 1
The opening sentence of Oliver Twist displays Dickens' slyly satirical style at full tilt. The extensive verbiage, the florid diction, the sheer length of the sentence all conspire to lend a sense of authority to the proceedings. Ironically, it is that very sense of authority that Dickens will proceed to lambast (and, in more openly emotional and earnest terms, condemn) throughout the book. Here, Dickens opens with a touch of humor, a sense of the storyteller as wit, while hinting - via the reference to the workhouse - the darker vision that lies ahead.
"Day was dawning when they again emerged. A great multitude had already assembled; the windows were filled with people, smoking and playing cards to beguile the time; the crowd were pushing, quarreling, joking. Everything told of life and animation but one dark cluster of objects in the centre of all the black stage, the cross-beam, the rope, and all the hideous apparatus of death."Chapter 52, page 504
This passage seems to express an ambivalence about the death penalty. Fagin is certainly guilty of many crimes, but Dickens here makes it clear that death is always ugly, and that there is something deeply disturbing in the way people turn it into a spectacle. This passage highlights just how profound Fagin's punishment is by positioning the looming specter of his death next to a scene that is full of life. This makes it hard to forget that although Fagin's actions contributed to Nancy's death, he did not in fact kill anyone, and yet he has to pay with his life. And the ease and excitement of the people in the scene around him raises the worry that he is not paying his life for justice, but for the enjoyment of the masses.