Being born just before your mother dies is a terrible thing to have to deal with, but to have no other relative to care for you, nurture you and to love you, it makes life incredibly difficult. However, at this age in the Victorian era, there were many complications that nowadays we do not encounter. To grow up unloved, not knowing how it feels to have a mother is already hard enough as it is, but to be shunned by society is just cruelty to one’s mind.
In the Victorian era, being illegitimately born was considered a horrible thing, and therefore you would’ve been shunned by society, you would be considered the lowest of the low. A novel which portrays these themes is Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, where Oliver was illegitimate and was mistreated in his life, not knowing love. His life was tainted, tainted by his birth, his birth as an illegitimate child burdened his life. Therefore, he faced the consequences.
Agnes Fleming was pregnant with her child, Oliver Twist. “‘She was brought here last night,’ replied the old woman, ‘by the overseer’s order. She was found lying in the street; – she had walked some distance, for her shoes were worn to pieces, but where she came from, or where she was going to, nobody knows'”. By writing this, Charles Dickens shows the readers the harshness that illegitimate mothers had to go through, Agnes was not helped at all when she was lying in the street, nobody cared. After giving birth to Oliver, Agnes says “let me see the child, and die”, Charles Dickens creates emotion in the reader by writing this because it is very emotive, the fact that her final request is to see her child makes the reader question how a human can be treated this way. After the birth of Oliver, she died.
The infant was placed in a private juvenile home. “Oliver’s eighth birth-day found him a pale, thin child, somewhat diminutive of stature, and decidedly small in circumference”. Charles Dickens wrote this to tell the readers how badly he was treated, he was not fed properly, therefore he was pale and thin, which persuades the readers to feel sympathy towards Oliver. After nine years of mistreatment, he is returned to the workhouse for even more abuse. Oliver attempted to ask for more food, but was punished.
‘That boy will be hung,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat; ‘I know that boy will be hung'”. This shows us how injustice can be so cruel towards even children, Oliver had just asked for more food because he was hungry, but instead of more food the man predicted that he would be hung, this could make readers question the cruelty towards children. He was apprenticed to Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker. Charles Dickens wrote about Oliver working at the undertakers to show readers that child labour was wrong, a child of his age working. Noah Claypole, a charity boy working for Mr. Sowerberry, goads Oliver to rebellion, for which Oliver is severely flogged. This is where Charles Dickens tells the readers about child abuse and how it’s wrong.
Oliver was provoked by Noah, and yet he was the one that was punished. “‘Oh you little un-grate-ful, mur-de-rous, hor-rid villain!'” and “Mrs Sowerberry plunged into the kitchen, and assisted to hold him with one hand, while she scratched his face with the other'”. These quotes tell us how children can be cruelly abused in Victorian times. “They dragged Oliver, struggling and shouting, but nothing daunted, into the dust-cellar, and there locked him up”. Charles Dickens reveals the cruelty that can be given to children. It also is emotive and captures the readers’ sympathy because the reason he was locked up was because he had been provoked by Noah Claypole, he taunted Oliver by speaking rudely about his mother which infuriated Oliver which led him to strike Noah.
This captures sympathy because it was not entirely his fault in the first place. Consequently, Oliver runs away and heads for London where he meets John Dawkins and The Artful Dodger, who brings Oliver to Fagin, the ringleader of a gang of criminals. Fagin is an important character in Oliver Twist because he was the one that influenced Oliver into a life of crime and educated him in how to perform crimes. Fagin also treats the children he picks up as ‘dispensable’, he uses them to take risks for him, and he gets all the money from the robberies. It also tells us how the people in Victorian times did not care about children who run away from home or are orphans, unlike the present; the lack of care for children is what Charles Dickens is trying to tell the readers, and this is the reason why people like Fagin can get there hands on vulnerable children.
It makes the readers question the laws and treatment of children even more. Oliver goes out with Charles Bates and the Dodger to pick an old man’s pocket and fled leaving Oliver to be arrested and face the punishment. At the police station, Oliver is cleared by a witness, the bookseller. Mr. Brownlow sympathised with the boy and had him taken in and cared for at his home. Later on, Bill Sykes, a vicious and violent criminal and Fagin told Nancy to kidnap Oliver and return him to the gang. Sykes takes Oliver to a rendezvous with Toby Crackit and they go to a house that they are planning to burglarise but Oliver gets shot in the process.
The robbers run off and abandon Oliver in a ditch. This shows us that Oliver’s conspirators did not care about him; they left him to die. This is emotive and sparks off emotions in the reader; making them question how someone can let a child die like that. Oliver regained consciousness in the ditch and stumbled to the nearest house which was the house they attempted to burgle. Mrs. Maylie, the owner of the house, takes Oliver in and protects him. This shows that not all people are uncaring, by writing this, Charles Dickens probably wanted to persuade the reader to be more like Mrs. Maylie, a caring and kind person who took Oliver in and gave him a home.
Nancy, Bill Sykes girlfriend, tells Rose, Mrs Maylie’s niece, also Agnes Fleming’s sister, about Monks’, a sickly, vicious young man, prone to violent fits and teeming with inexplicable hatred, and Fagin’s plot to destroy Oliver. Rose tells Mr. Brownlow what Nancy has told her, Harry Maylie, Mr. Grimwig and Mr Losberne were also briefed. Fagin comes to the conclusion that Nancy has betrayed the gang and tells Bill Sykes, who bludgeons her to death.
When Oliver was in his birth town he received a will from his father who had died long before the events in the novel, he was the father of Monks’ also but had separated from Monks’ mother and had a love affair with Agnes Fleming, Oliver’s mother. They were to flee the country but he had died before they had the chance. He had left this will, which left part of his property to Oliver. Oliver decided to share his fortune with Monks due to Mr. Brownlow’s recommendation. However, Monks later dies in prison. With no more family left, Mr. Brownlow adopts Oliver and they settle near the parsonage.