” Oliver Twist”, written by Charles Dickens is famously known all across the world and also as one of his best novels. The novel is based on the life of a boy born into a workhouse, which is a world of distinctive cruelty and oppression. Oliver is a young boy who faced struggle from the minute he was born and brought up as an “orphan” and ” a workhouse child” by the parish authorities, after losing his mother at his birth and his father remained anonymous.
Charles Dickens resumed working on the novel in 1837, and it mirrors his own experience in life of how he was forced to work in a workhouse, a place believed at the time, to be a harrowing and shameful place, a place turned to by the poor with no other alternative. Society at the time was Victorian who referred to the workhouse as a place to be turned too by those in need of a punishment.
Dickens has created “Oliver Twist” to criticise and expose the harshness of society back in Victorian times where torment and bullying took place within such places as the workhouse. We are shown in ” Oliver Twist” the Institutional bullying faced by Oliver whilst growing up in a “systematic course of treachery and deception” as described by Dickens himself. In the first few chapters, where we see the first stages of Institutional bullying and how it came about, we take notice of the use of language. Long sentences are used which are purposely used to show satire and bring out irony to reflect the criticism of society.
Orphans in the 19th century were children who have had no parents and required special effort to develop and are “left to the tender mercies of churchwardens and overseers.” They were “juvenile offenders”, “culprits” who were not shown any mercy. They were mistreated, abused, isolated, bullied and neglected by various sections of society. These children were “pitied by no one”, “despised by all,” kept “half starved” and were never respected in society. They were the victims of betrayal and disloyalty, were called “dirt of society.”
‘Oliver Twist’ is the story of a boy who passes through many difficulties and troubles through life’s journey each time becoming stronger from it. The novel fictionalizes the experience of the writer ‘Charles Dickens’ and reflects the social evils existing in the 19th century. In the book ‘Oliver Twist’ Dickens brings to life the terrible hardships faced by the orphans at that time. He shows how England’s society changes from a slow paced one to a fast paced mechanized one, where the typical rule applies- the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer.
Bullying is presented at the moment of Oliver’s birth, “The result was that, after a few struggles, Oliver breathed, sneezed and proceeded to advertise to the inmates of the workhouse the fact that a new burden had been imposed upon the parish”. Here Dickens has tried and successfully achieved to show that when Oliver finally shows signs of breathing “after a few struggles” that these struggles continue for the rest of his life.
Dickens also uses the phrase “a new burden”, suggesting that the torment and bullying has already started, through Oliver not having an identity to begin with. He’s simply another “parish orphan” an “it” which he is referred to as being earlier on at the start of the first chapter, when Dickens speaks of whether Oliver would ever come to have an identity, a gaining of integrity at all “it remained a matter of considerable doubt whether the child would survive to bear any name at all”. This shows us just a taster of bullying inside workhouse with worse to follow throughout his life.
Dickens shows us how officials like Mr. Bumble had no feelings for children but only love for the power that they brought them. I think when Mr. Bumble goes and collects Oliver to bring him to the poorhouse, he says, ” Will you go along with me, Oliver?” Oliver replies, ” Will she go with me?” indicating to the woman who looked after him. He was hoping she would not as he disliked her and he wanted to go to the workhouse, unknowing what this entailed.
Dickens yet again shows his true cynical feelings on exploitation of the poor and helpless by using great descriptions to show how underfed the boys were. ” The bowls never wanted washing, as the boys polished them with their spoons till they shone again. They looked at the copper with such eager eyes as if they could have devoured the very bricks of which it was composed.” This gives us a good idea of how children were treated. Other evidence of Institutional bullying can also be seen when the description of how Oliver is dressed and comes to have an identity is seen in Chapter one of the book, minutes after his birth of which is a battle but a battle won by Oliver, against the forces of nature.
This is shown in the book, where Dickens says, “he was enveloped in the old calico robes, which had grown yellow, in the same service”. Normally, when a child comes into existence, a huge fuss is made to make sure the child has comforts and luxuries such as beautiful clean clothes and gleaming white worn in baptism, which represents the symbol of purity and innocence within the child. But in contrast Oliver is just another orphan who needs taking care of or as seen as the society at the time “a drain on society”.
Also by describing Oliver’s clothes as “grown yellow” it shows that there is no care or love there for Oliver and gives us an indication of what is to come in the rest of the novel. Bullying is also shown where it speaks of Oliver having been, “bagged and ticketed, and fell into place at once- to be cuffed and buffeted through the world- despised by all, and pitied by none”. This shows us the cruelty of the majority of society at the time that nothing else was important to them but themselves and material things such as money.