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Oliver Twist

Updated July 8, 2019
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Oliver Twist essay

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Have you ever thought about how it would be to live in a time of poverty? How would life be if you were poor and did not know from where you would be getting your next meal? What would it be like to be forced to live in a workhouse? These are some of the questions you might ask yourself if you were living in early nineteenth century England. Dickens addresses these issues in his timeless masterpiece Oliver Twist.

In the story of Oliver Twist, Dickens uses past experiences from his childhood and targets the Poor Law of 1834 which renewed the importance of the workhouse as a means of relief Dickens’ age was a period of industrial development marked by the rise of the middle class (Wagenknecht 219). In the elections brought about by the accession of William IV in 1830, the Tories lost control of the government. Assumption of power by the Whigs opened the way to an era of accelerated progress (Kaste 8). In this time period children worked just as much, if not more, than some of the adults. After 1833, an increased amount of legislation was enacted to control the hours of labor and working conditions for children and women in manufacturing plants. The Poor Law of 1834 provided that all able bodied paupers must reside in a workhouse (8).

Widespread hostility was felt to the new law; many believed that life was harder in a workhouse than in prison (Rooke 22). The plan was successful from one standpoint, for within three years the cost of poor relief was reduced by more than one-third. However, this system was sharply censured. The increased prevalence of crime was attributed towards it.

Inmates of the workhouses became objects of public stigma, and to further heighten the unpopularity of the institutions, living conditions were deliberately made harsh (Kaste 8). Poverty was at it’s peak around this time in England. Houses were overcrowded, packed together in narrow streets and courts which were often piled deep in rotting refuse (Rooke 33). New problems of food and public health were faced by a parliamentary and economic system which was better suited to the eighteenth century. On June 20, 1837, Queen Victoria came to the throne of England as the long period of middle class ascendancy was gaining momentum (Kaste 8). The Victorian age, which this time period is often referred, comes from “Queen Victoria.” In 1840, it was thought that only twenty percent of the children of London had any form of schooling.

The 1840s were years of crises. The character on English life was being transformed by industrial expansion and by great movements of population towards urban life. Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsea, on February 7, 1812. He was the second son of John Dickens. John Dickens was a clerk in the Navy pay office. His improvidence would eventually lead to imprisonment in the Marshalsea, a debtor’s prison for debt (Hardy 41).

As a child Charles Dickens explored London and the fascination that he felt for this booming city remained with him throughout his life (Rooke 15). Dickens received his first instruction from his mother and later attended regular schools in Chatham. When John Dickens, his wife, and their four children went to the debtor’s prison, Charles Dickens didn’t go. He soon became intimate with his father’s small collection of literary classics. He also revealed early signs of genius.

Dickens’ recollections of early life were centered in Kent and he often regarded himself as a member of that region (Kaste 9). Dickens was sent to work at the age of twelve in Worren’s Blacking Warehouse. After his father’s release he went back to school.. When school was complete he went to work in an attorney’s office.

He spent much of his time exploring the busy and varied life of London and decided to become a journalist. He mastered a difficult system of shorthand and by March 1832, at the age of twenty, he was a general and parliamentary reporter. In 1829 he met and soon fell in love with Maria Bendnell, but her parents found him socially inferior (Hardy 41). Not long after, in 1836, he fell in love with and married Catherine Hogarth.

They had ten children together. In 1858 Dickens fell in love with Ellen Terron, an actress. This was soon after Dickens and his wife Catherine separated, ending a long stream of marital difficulties. In1842, Dickens traveled to the United States hoping to find an embodiment of his liberal political ideals.

However, he returned to England deeply disappointed. He was dismayed by America’s lack of support for an international copyright law, acceptance of the inhumane practice of slavery, and the basic vulgarity of the American people (“Charles Dickens”). Dickens became distinguished by furious energy, determination to succeed, and an inflexible will (Kaste 9). It is likely that Dickens’ introduction to the consequences of poverty was a contributing factor in shaping his life and literature. Dickens’ early short stories and sketches, which were published in various London newspapers and magazines, were later collected to form his first book, Sketches by Boz in 1836. Dickens’ “early period” includes his work Oliver Twist in 1838.

By 1837, Dickens was the most popular author in England. His fame soon spread throughout the rest of the English-speaking world and eventually throughout the continent. It still has not diminished (“Charles Dickens”). For many readers, Dickens is not only a great novelist but also a history book. Although he is a great entertainer and comic genius, we have come to know him as a famous example of the wounded artist, whose sicknesses were shed in great art, whose very grudges against family and society linked him throughout personal pains with larger public sufferings. Charles Dickens’ long and illustrious life came to an end on June 18, 1870 at Gad’s Hill, Kent due to a paralytic stroke.

He is buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey (Blount; “”Charles A frequent early criticism that Dickens’ works are “formless” is not accepted by most modern critics. Many now see Dickens’ novels as vast and complex denunciations of the bourgeois society that corrupt it’s members. Even as the structure of his novels grew more intricate, Dickens never abandoned this method of publication, for he cherished the constant contact with his readers through monthly or weekly installments (“Charles Dickens”). Dickens was also a novelist who loved to devise plots that hinged on secrets and disclosure and succeeded in keeping secret his own private life (Hardy 43). Dickens’ fictions are packed with social information and social passion.

Dickens bitterly attacks the defects of existing institutions: government, law, education, and penal systems. He also mercilessly exposes the injustice and wretchedness inflicted by them. However, Dickens was not a propagandist exposing utopian panaceas for the ills of the world. Dickens was fascinated by the grotesque and had a particular talent for exaggeration. His exuberance carried him beyond the bounds of moderation, but he seldom lost sight of his intentions (Kaste 15). Charles Dickens is frequently charged with offering a view of the world that does violence to reality.

However, he really was able to just create a fictive world that was a mirror in which the truths of the real world were reflected. Almost all of his novels display, to varying degrees, his comic gift, his deep social concerns, and his extraordinary talent for creating unforgettable characters (“Charles Dickens”). Dickens was primarily concerned with external behavior of people and little occupied with the exploration of psychological depths. Dickens caricatures may seem overdrawn, but they usually discharge a serious function in the fictional milieu. He is often accused of being deficient in character portrayal.

His characters do not often develop, but remain unchanged through the course of events and interaction with other characters. Charles Dickens had a relish for melodrama and his characters reflect this. Dickens secondary characters are often the most memorable. Subordinate characters regularly are given identity upon first introduction by being labeled with some idiosyncrasy (Kaste 14).

Dickens firmly maintains that the nature and behavior of his depraved characters reflect truth without distortion, however, implausible they may seem.. The serious characters between whom the conflict usually takes place usually embody the extremes of virtue and viciousness (14). Dickens never endows a character with that imaginative sensibility and energy which gives weight and truth to the characters in his stories (Price 40). Though he has sometimes been criticized for creating caricatures rather than characters, he has been defended as a master of imaginative vision by forging whole character types out of tiny eccentricities.

All of the afore mentioned writing traits make Dickens one of the most original writers of all time. Critics have always been challenged by his art though from the start it contained enough easily acceptable ingredients of evident skill and gusto to ensure popularity. Dickens has entered into the art and consciousness of modern writers such as James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, and Angus Wilson. Modern critics believe that Dickens is second only to Shakespeare in English Literature (“Dickens” 274).

James Joyce claimed that Dickens has entered into the language more than any writer since Shakespeare. Surprisingly, these two authors have a lot in common. They both brim with originality, but express and address human nature at large. Like Shakespeare, Dickens creates a unique and independent seeming world, allowing us to use that time worn term “world” with precision.

They are both fully in possession of themselves creating an art that is powerfully personal and generously accessible. They both create a flexible language for self-oppression and imaginative creativity that commands admiration for it’s brilliance and virtuosity (Hardy 41). Oliver Twist was a great example of a British literary masterpiece. Here is what happens. Oliver Twist’s mother dies after giving birth to him in a workhouse. No one knows who the father is, so Oliver is placed in a juvenile home.

After roughly nine years of mistreatment, Oliver is returned to the workhouse for more of the same. Oliver is then apprenticed to Sowerberry, an undertaker. Then Noah Claypole guides Oliver towards rebellion, for which he is whipped. So Oliver heads for London. Near the city, Oliver joins up with John Dawkins, who conducts Oliver to Fagin, the ringleader of an infamous gang of criminals. Oliver then learns how to pick pockets.

When Oliver, John, and Charlie Bates go out, Oliver’s companions pick an old man’s pocket and run off, allowing Oliver to be seized for their offense. He is cleared of the charges and is then taken home by Mr. Brownlow, the victim of the crime. While Oliver recovers at Brownlow’s home, Brownlow is puzzled by how much Oliver looks like a portrait he has of a young woman. Mr. Grimwig, one of Brownlow’s friends, does not trust Oliver, so he is sent on an errand to test him.

Oliver is then recaptured by Nancy, one of Fagin’s retainers, and Bill Sikes, her friend. Fagin holds Oliver in strict captivity for awhile. Fagin wants to get Oliver completely involved in some crime. So he convinces Sikes to use Oliver in a major burglary.

Sikes takes Oliver to Chertsey to meet Toby Crackit. At the house they are going to rob, Oliver goes through a window. The occupants wake up. Then Oliver gets shot. The robbers run off with Oliver but abandon him in a ditch. Back in the workhouse Sally is dying.

Mrs. Corney, a matron, and Bumble agree to marry. Fagin is upset when Toby returns alone. Fagin has a meeting with Monks.

Monks is angry with Fagin, who he says has failed in an attempt to ruin Oliver. Oliver stumbles to the nearest house, which is actuallythe place of the attempted burglary. There, Ms. Maylie and a doctor help Oliver recover.

Monks meets the Bumbles and purchases a locket that Mrs. Bumbles had. The trinket contained a ring inscribed with “Agnes.” Monk drops it in the river. Nancy tells Ms.

Maylie everything that she has learned by listening to Fagin and Monks. The two are plotting to destroy Oliver, who is actually Monks’ brother. Fagin finds Noah and Charlotte hiding out in London. Fagin sends Noah to spy on Nancy.

She has a meeting with Rose and Brownlow. Nancy says how she can corner Monks. Noah reports all of this to Fagin. Fagin waits up for Sikes and discloses Nancy’s double dealings.

Sikes then goes home and bludgeons Nancy to death. He then returns to London. Brownlow captured Monks and took him home. Brownlow had been engaged to Monks’ aunt. Monks father was forced into marriage. The two had only one child, Monks.

They then separated. Monks’ father then became attached to Agnes Fleming. He died suddenly in Rome while Agnes was pregnant with Oliver Twist. Before leaving, Monks’ father had left her picture with Brownlow. Brownlow fnally realized all about the destruction of Monks’ father’s will, the disposal of the identity trinket that Oliver’s mother possessed, and Monks’ conspiracy with Fagin to destroy Oliver.

Monks comes to terms in return for immunity. Brownlow’s exaction is that Monks make restitution to his brother in accordance with the original will. Toby Crackit and Tom Chitling were hiding on Jacob’s Island. Fagin was arrested along with Noah. Sikes was running from pursuers who Charley Bates has helped. Sikes, attemting to escape from a gouse top, falls and is hanged by his own noose.

Oliver returns with Mrs. Maylie, Rose, and Mr. Losberne to the town of his birth. Their father’s will left the bulk of his fortune to Agnes Fleming and her child, Oliver.

Rose s found to be Agnes’s sister. Fagin gets sentenced to be hanged. While in prison Fagin tells Oliver where he can find some important papers. Claypole is pardoned for testifying against Fagin. Bates becomes a herdsman. Other members of Fagin’s gang are transported out of England.

Oliver shares his fortune with Monks, who happens to do later die in prison, destitute. Rose and Harry Maylie are married. The Bumbles lose their positions and become inmates of the workhouse where Agnes Fleming died after giving birth to Oliver. Oliver Twist is adopted by Brownlow.

The two settled near the parsonage. That is “Oliver Twist” in a nutshell. It was packed full of suspense and action. This piece of literature will never be forgotten. In Conclusion, Dickens had a rough childhood which helped prompt him to write many classic novels.

Dickens wrote to make people think about how the government was being run. He wrote Oliver Twist to almost protest the Poor Law of 1834 and the use of the workhouses. Since Dickens was such an original writer his presence in literature will Bibliography: Blount, Trevor. Dickens: The Early Novels. London: Longmans, Green & Co., 1968.

Dickens, Charles Discovering Authors. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993. Dickens. Encyclopedia Brittanica. 1998 ed.

Hardy, Barbara. Charles Dickens. British Writers. Ian Scott-Kilvert. vol.

5. 12 vols. New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1982. Kaste, Harry, M.A. Cliffs Notes on Oliver Twist.

Lincoln: Cliffs Notes Inc., 1997. landow.stg.brown.edu Price, Martin. Dickens. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967. Rooke, Patrick.

The Age of Dickens. New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1978. Wagenknecht, Edward.

Cavalcade of the English Novel. Chicago: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Inc., 1967. “www.sparknotes.com”

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