During his lifetime, Charles Dickens is known to have written severalbooks.
Although each book is different, they also share many similarities. Two of his books, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, are representativesof the many kinds of differences and similarities found within his work. Perhaps the reason why these two novels share some of the samequalities is because they both reflect painful experiences which occurredin Dickens’ past. During his childhood, Charles Dickens suffered much abusefrom his parents. 1 This abuse is often expressed in his novels. Pip, inGreat Expectations, talked often about the abuse he received at the handsof his sister, Mrs.
Joe Gargery. On one occasion he remarked, “I soon foundmyself getting heavily bumped from behind in the nape of the neck and thesmall of the back, and having my face ignominously shoved against the wall,because I did not answer those questions at sufficient length. “2While at the orphanage, Oliver from Oliver Twist also experienced agreat amount of abuse. For example, while suffering from starvation andmalnutrition for a long period of time, Oliver was chosen by the other boysat the orphanage to request more gruel at dinner one night.
After makingthis simple request, “the master (at the orphanage) aimed a blow atOliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloudfor the beadle. “3The whole beginning of Oliver Twist’s story was created from memorieswhich related to Charles Dickens’ childhood in a blacking factory ( whichwas overshadowed by the Marshalsea Prison ). 4 While working in the blackingfactory, Dickens suffered tremendous humiliation. This humiliation isgreatly expressed through Oliver’s adventures at the orphanage before he issent away. Throughout his lifetime, Dickens appeared to have acquired a fondnessfor “the bleak, the sordid, and the austere.
“5 Most of Oliver Twist, forexample, takes place in London’s lowest slums. 6 The city is described as amaze which involves a “mystery of darkness, anonymity, and peril. “7 Many ofthe settings, such as the pickpocket’s hideout, the surrounding streets,and the bars, are also described as dark, gloomy, and bland. 8 Meanwhile, inGreat Expectations, Miss Havisham’s house is often made to sounddepressing, old, and lonely. Many of the objects within the house had notbeen touched or moved in many years.
Cobwebs were clearly visible as wellas an abundance of dust, and even the wedding dress which Miss Havishamconstantly wore had turned yellow with age. 9However, similarities are not just found in the settings. The novels’two main characters, Pip and Oliver, are also similar in many ways. Bothyoung boys were orphaned practically from birth; but where Pip is sent tolive with and be abused by his sister, Oliver is sent to live in anorphanage. Pip is a very curious young boy.
He is a “child of intense andyearning fancy. “10 Yet, Oliver is well spoken. Even while his life was indanger while in the hands of Fagin and Bill Sikes, two connivingpickpockets, he refused to participate in the stealing which he so greatlyopposed. All Oliver really longed for was to escape from harsh livingconditions and evil surroundings which he had grown up in. 11 However, nomatter how tempting the evil may have been, Oliver stood by his beliefs. Therefore, he can be referred to as “ideal and incorruptible innocence.
“12”It is Oliver’s self-generated and self-sustained love, conferred it wouldseem from Heaven alone, that preserves him from disaster and death. “13Unfortunately, many critics have found it hard to believe that a boysuch as Oliver Twist could remain so innocent, pure, and well spoken giventhe long period of time in which he was surrounded by evil andinjustices. 14Pip, on the other hand, is a dreamer. His imagination is alwayshelping him to create situations to cover up for his hard times. Forexample, when questioned about his first visit to Miss Havisham’s house, hemade up along elaborate story to make up for the terrible time he had inreality.
Instead of telling how he played cards all day while beingridiculed and criticized by Estella and Miss Havisham, he claimed that theyplayed with flags and swords all day after having wine and cake on goldplates. 15 However, one special quality possessed by Pip that is rarely seenin a novel’s hero is that he wrongs others instead of being hurt himselfall of the time. 16Another similarity between Oliver and Pip is that they both have hadinteractions with convicts. Fagin the head of a group of young thieves,spends most of his time trying to “demoralize and corrupt Oliver andprevent him from ever coming into his inheritance. “17 To Oliver, he is seenas an escape from all previous misery. He also helps Oliver to ease anyfears about starvation and loneliness.
18Just as Fagin is Oliver’s means of escape, Magwitch, an escapedconvict, is Pip’s. However, as Fagin provides Oliver with an escape frommisery, Magwitch tries to provide Pip with an escape from poverty bybecoming his anonymous benefactor. Obviously, escape is an important theme in both Oliver Twist and GreatExpectations. Even though they both have different goals in mind, Pip andOliver are seeking various forms of escape from conditions which make themunhappy: Pip from his poverty, and Oliver from his loneliness andstarvation.
Since dealing with escapism, it is not surprising that death alsoplays a major role in both stories. In the two novels, death and coffinssymbolize a happy and peaceful manner of escape. 19 In Oliver Twist, it issuggested that only loneliness and brutality exist on earth. Supposedly,there is no sanctity on the planet, which is a belief that goes against theidea of a Heaven on earth. 20Another important theme within the novel is the theme of the “twoseparate and conflicting dualisms: one, social, between the individual andthe institution; the second, moral, between the respectable and thecriminal.
“21 Most of Oliver Twist seems to imply that “it is better to be athief than to be alone. “22 This tends to make the reader think that Dickensfavors the criminal aspect of his novels over the moral side. However, the conflict between the individual and the institution leadsto Dickens’ criticism of social injustices such as injustices towards thepoor. 23 Also in the form of satire, Dickens attempts to “challenge thepleasurability of fortune.
“24Aside from satire, Dickens uses various other devices in writing thesenovels. one of the most common is that of coincidence. For example, inOliver Twist, Oliver just happened to end up, first, at the house of Mr. Brownlow, who at one time was a really good friend of Oliver’s father. Then, later on, Oliver ends up at Rose Maylie’s house, who, as it turns outis his aunt. In Great Expectations, the use of coincidence is also noticeable.
Forinstance, Pip finds out that Magwitch and Molly, Mr. Jagger’s servant, arethe parents of Estella long after he first met them. Then, later on, Pipjust happens to be visiting Satis House (Miss Havisham’s old home) at thesame time as Estella. “Written in abrupt, truncated chapters,” Oliver Twist took the form ofa new type of English prose. 25 Both Oliver Twist and Great Expectationsdepend heavily on the use of abstraction, or the avoidance of variousfacts.
However, the novels each have their own form of narration. WhileOliver Twist is written in the third person, Great Expectations is in thefirst person. Therefore, in Oliver Twist, the reader gains a view of the story fromthe position of an onlooker or outsider. They form their own opinions aboutthe characters from “watching them.
“In contrast, when reading Great Expectations, the view is giventhrough the character of Pip. So, since we only know about Pip’s feelingsand what he tells us, our opinions of the other characters are highlyinfluenced by what he thinks of them. In conclusion, both books seem to have much in common such as feelingsshared by the main characters, themes dealing primarily in socialinjustices, and various writing techniques such as the use of coincidentalincidences and abstractions. However, they also differ greatly from one another.
For example, Pipsearches for money while Oliver searches for security, and while Pip wasraised in a home environment, Oliver was raised in an orphanage. Yet, both books have a lot to offer society in terms of pointing outmany problems which still exist today, such as child abuse and injustice tothe poor. In order to conquer these evils, they must first be understood,and explaining the severity of these experiences seems to be a job whichCharles Dickens is very good at. BIBLIOGRAPHYCarey, John.
Here Comes Dickens – The Imagination of aNovelist. New York: Schocken Books, 1974. Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: TheHeritage Club, 1939.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. New York: Dodd, Mead, andCompany, 1949. Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens – His Tragedy and Triumph.
New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952. Kincaid, James R. Dickens and the Rhetoric of Laughter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. Marcus, Steven.
Dickens: From Pickwick to Dombey. GreatBritain: Basic Books, 1965. Slater, Michael, ed. Dickens 1970. New York: Stein and DayPublishers, 1970. Slater, Michael.
Dickens and Women. California: StanfordUniversity Press, 1983. Stewart, Garrett. Dickens and the Trials of Imagination. Massachusettes: Harvard University Press, 1974. Welsh, Alexander.
The City of Dickens. Oxford: ClaredonPress, 1971. Wilkie, Katherine E. Charles Dickens, The Inimitable Boz. New York: Abelard – Schuman, 1970.
FOOTNOTES1 Steven Marcus, Dickens: From Pickwick to Dombey (GreatBritain: Basic Books, 1965) 82. 2 Charles Dickens, Great Expectations (New York: The HeritageClub, 1939) 69. 3 Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (New York: Dodd, Mead, andCompany, 1949) 16-17. 4 Katharine E. Wilkie, Charles Dickens, The Inimitable Boz(New York: Abelard – Schuman, 1970) 77-78.
5 Marcus 71. 6 Wilkie 77. 7 Marcus 256. 8 Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens – His Tragedy and Triumph(New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952) 273. 9 Dickens, Expectations 62. 10 Garrett Stewart, Dickens and the Trials of Imagination(Massachusettes: Harvard University Press, 1974) 187.
11 Marcus 74. 12 Marcus 80. 13 Marcus 83. 14 John Carey, Here Comes Dickens – The Imagination of aNovelist (New York: Schocken Books, 1974) 149. 15 Dickens, Expectations 71-72.
16 Alexander Welsh, The City of Dickens (Oxford: ClaredonPress, 1971) 107-108. 17 Marcus 75. 18 James R. Kincaid, Dickens and the Rhetoric of Laughter(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971) 72. 19 Kincaid 51.
20 Kincaid 51. 21 Kincaid 53. 22 Kincaid 72. 23 Wilkie 78. 24 Welsh 82.
25 Marcus 55.