When Charles Dickens was a child, his entire family was put in a deptater’s prison as his father owed money. As Dickens struggled through horrific factory conditions, he witnessed people and events that stayed with him for the left of his life. When Dickens father was released after inheriting some money, Dickens returned to school where he furthered his education and went on to careers such as a Law Clerk and a Journalist and eventually becoming a writer.
Charles Dickens was the second eldest child well-known, respected writer of the 19th Century but he was not really noticed until the 20th Century. He was not shy in expressing his deep-felt of the society in which he lived. His childhood was the basis of his writing about the appalling conditions of the dark society that surrounded him. Through his career he carried his childhood, which was lined with the torment of social and economic life on the streets of London in this Victorian England.
The Novel is about an orphan called Oliver Twist who was born into the workhouse just before his mother died. With no way to know if Oliver has a father, he was legally the responsibility of the Parish Board. This branded Oliver with the title of a workhouse boy. The novel continues by explaining the life of Oliver Twist from his first job as an undertaker to being involved in crime and the corrupt Legal system. Dickens mentions things in this story to illustrate to the reader about the bad conditions of which the way people were treated and forced to live in. In this essay I will describe the social problems which Dickens portrayed about the 19th Century through the novel Oliver Twist.
In England in the 1830’s, people was moving from the country to the town in search o a better economy and way of living. The rapid growths of towns were to much for the towns to handle and overcrowding became a major problem. It was not until 1834 when the poor law was passed that the people in the country received help from the government. In this Victorian novel, there was the rich, the poor and the middle class. The poor majority lived by working as servants to the middle and upper classes, staying in the workhouses, crime and prostitution. The struggle to survive has tough, and with large families, overcrowding and medicine only in its infancy, diseases such as Cholera and tuberculosis spread rapidly through the poorer classes and many people died. Children had to work from a young age to help support the family, with a low income. This meant that many children received little o no education.
The upper class was split into two main sections, the Naveau-riches and the aristocracy. The Naveau-riches (new rich) were people who became wealthy by working and making there own business such as factories and law practices. The aristocracy was people who became wealthy through inheritance. The aristocracy looked down upon the Naveau-riches because they thought that it was beneath them to work and that they were not the,
‘True Upper Classes’. The Middle Class was in charge of the running of the workhouses. The workhouses were put in place to help support the poor. In 1834, the ‘Poor Law’ stated that the poor could only receive government assistance if they left there own homes or wherever they were living and entered the workhouse. The workhouse was a place where the poor could receive shelter in very crowed conditions. Food was rationed and the people inside the workhouse had to do hard labour to survive in the workhouse.
The middle classes who were running the workhouse considered its residents as immoral and evil. They believed that that if someone was evil, then they should not have anything to make them happy. Dickens shows through the pages of Oliver twist that people who entered the workhouse received no consideration from others in any class. We see this when he describes Oliver in the workhouse.
“Despised by all and pities by none” The people in charge of the workhouses thought that they were ‘doing Gods work’ by making there lives a misery. Dickens describes the very bad conditions of the workhouse and the appalling way that illustrating to us that the people were almost equal to ‘Inmates’ treated the people inside the workhouse. They usually split families up and they were not permits any contact with each other. The main reason for this was to stop Husbands and wives reproducing.
In the novel, Dickens refers to the characters in a special way. He uses their names to reflect there personality and occupation mixed together. Mr Bumble is the Beadle in the story. He claims to be doing the work of Christianity however he is a greedy, selfish, arrogant man which is symbolic to his name ‘Bumble’. With this, Dickens portrays the image that Beadles in general, do not care about the people in there care. ” ‘Yes, I think it is rather pretty,’ said the Beadle, glancing proudly downwards at the large buttons which embellished his coat.” Another example is ‘The Artful Dodger (Jack Dawkins). This name tells us that criminals like Jack are all carefully skilled in ‘dodging’ the eyes of the victim. The name Oliver Twist describes the events in Oliver’s life, unfortunate and fortunate times.
Dickens also strongly criticises the legal system of the 1830’s. In the novel, when Oliver meets Jack Dawkins, Mr Fagin offers him shelter. Fagan is a criminal who trains orphan boys to pick pocket. When Oliver sees two other boys’ pickpocket a handkerchief from an elderly gentleman, he cannot believe what he sees and runs away. After an attempt from Oliver to escape from the crowed perusing him, he is caught. Dickens illustrates to us the harsh reality of the Legal system when Oliver is being convicted. When they were in court, Oliver was pleading his innocence and even had the backing of the victim of the crime. However, the judge dismayed the witness testimony of innocence of Oliver. This shows us that the Law didn’t need evidence but only the reputation of someone to make a conviction.
Another thing that Dickens showed us about the Legal system was that they had no consideration for the person on trial, even if he was a sick child. We see this when twist asks for a drink of water when he was not feeling well, but his request was declined. Also, Dickens recalls his Childhood through the legal system and his attitude portraying how harsh the Punishment was and the Prison conditions being fair. We see this when a young boy is sent to prison for sleeping under a haystack. “…Two men and a boy were in a cage in Kingston….. The suspicious circumstances however … they had Been discovered sleeping under a haystack.”
Dickens describes the Legal System as harsh, not accurate uncaring and the prisons are in bad condition, all through the novel Oliver Twist. Dickens Portrays London at this time as a society littered with crime, prostitution, disease and unemployment. The poor at this time very often turned to crime due to orphanage or unemployment. This was because the workhouse had been given a bad reputation for the bad conditions and little food supply. People needed to stay alive and so the only way that the lower class thought that they could. Dickens portrays this with Feigns orphan boys pick pocketing.