In the novel Dickens makes his personal opinions well known. He felt very strongly that the laws were unfair for poor people and that the way children were treated in those days were also extremely dreadful. Oliver is portrayed as a typical orphan of the Victorian era, in that he is placed in the workhouse after his mother died and is given food and shelter during his childhood, However he is treated very badly by the head of the workhouse. It is important to understand that the way Dickens uses his language to illustrate his views on social reform and how loose the laws were that allowed characters such as Fagin to exploit the system. Dickens wanted the laws changed to help he poor and also wanted children to be treated .
In Victorian times the attitudes towards Jews were extremely negative, Jews were viewed as the lower class. Dickens also appears to have this attitude as he describes Fagin in a very negative way. Dickens describes “the Jew” , Fagin, in an extremely bad light, as a dirty red haired man who uses children to pick pocket for his own living. The area around where Fagin lives is also dreadful; Dickens uses his language to describe the area in a very dreadful way. Dickens describes the area where a Fagin life as the worst place Oliver has ever seen. He starters off by saying “A dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen”. This is a bold opening and immediately tells the reader the place that Oliver has been taken to is not good.
“The street was very narrow and muddy, and the air was impregnated with filthy odours”, this paints a horrible picture in the readers mind. By using this language the picture painted in the reader’s mind is exactly what Dickens wants the reader to picture. The area where Fagin lives is extremely disgusting and Dickens wants the area to reflect the same as the Jew, Fagin. He also describes how the people act in the area: “where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth”. Dickens felt very strongly that the attitudes of some people living in poor conditions were also wrong, this is well known were he describes the people as “positive wallowing in filth. Dickens wants the reader to get a accurate feel of the atmosphere in this area, the description of the area also gives a build up to Fagin. He also stereotypically describes the Irish in this descriptive paragraph. “The public houses, and in them, the lowest orders of the Irish were wrangling”.
The Irish in those days were viewed as being, like the Jews, lower than the rest of society. They were viewed as the drunken and one of the worst types of people in those days. Dickens uses the Irish to give the reader another dimension of feeling into the area, the reader knows because the Irish are there the place is bound to be bad. All the description of this area gives a sense of suspense to the reader and makes them presume that where Oliver is taken will be pretty dirty and disgusting like the area. Oliver after being taken through the alleys into a house where he meets Fagin. Inside the house the Dodger is asked what seems like a password. “Now then!” Cried a voice from below in reply to a whistle from the Dodger”
“Plumy and slam” was the reply.” “Plumy and Slam” was Victorian slang that meant “All Right” (it was apparently a Victorian underworld slang which was used between 1860 and 1910. Dickens first instalment of Oliver twist was written in 1837. This could mean that Dickens coined the phrase and from his books it was more widely used in the language) it was obviously a password or watchword that mean that’s everything is okay, having the password gives the impression that Fagin does not want people who are not invited or welcome to enter the house. It is also meant to give the reader the thought that whatever is done in the house is of dodgy origins, or may be illegal, and they have the pass word to make sure that no police or unwelcomed people that could mean harm to Fagin are not allowed.
Oliver is then led in to meet Fagin. The room itself is described as being extremely old and dirty. The room is described as very old and dirty by Dickens: “The walls and ceilings of the house were perfectly black with age and dirt”. This gives the reader the impression that the house is very dirty and has never been cleaned. Dickens takes so long to introduce Fagin to his readers because he wants to create a sense of anxiety and suspense about Fagin. Fagin himself is described in an extremely bad light and also as a Jew. He is described as a typical Jewish criminal stereotype of the time.
“Some sausages were cooking, and over them, with a toasting fork in hand, was a very old shrivelled Jew”. Dickens purposely makes Fagin cook sausages and hold a toasting fork because he wants to give the impression to the reader that Fagin with toasting fork in hand resembles the devil. Dickens also describes Fagin as a “merry old gentleman”. This may seem a compliment at first however “merry old gentlemen is actually another way of calling Fagin the devil. Dickens definitely wants the reader to think that Fagin is not a trustworthy gentleman and resembles the devil.
Dickens uses the phrase “matted red hair” Dickens wants the reader to imagine Fagin as a horrible old gentleman with matted red hair, another feature Dickens created to make Fagin appear like the devil. Dickens uses lots of adjectives to paint a horrible picture in the reader’s mind. Dickens describes Fagin’s face as “repulsive” and “villainous looking”. These are extremely powerful adjectives and give the reader a sense of awfulness about Fagin. Dickens uses this language to firmly put across Fagin’s horrible appearance. Dickens also calls Fagin most of the time “Jew” or just as “the Jew”, this is to emphsizes Fagin’s origins and that he’s no just a horrible repulsive old man, he’s a Jewish repulsive horrible man. Dickens defiantly believed in the Jewish stereotype that Fagin was meant to be. Dickens also must have seen Jews as the lower of society and repulsive and poor.