Charles Dickens was born near Portsmouth: his father was a clerk in the Navy Pay Office. His father didn’t make much money here and the family wasn’t coping well. The happiest period of Dickens’s troubled childhood was spent in Chatham, although the family moved around a great deal. By early 1824, the family was in financial trouble and the 12-year old Dickens was sent to work for a few months at a shoe-polish warehouse on the banks of the Thames. A few days later, his father was arrested for debt. When his father was released, the family finally had some luck as they were left an inheritance courtesy of a late relative.
In 1827, Dickens worked as a junior clerk for a firm of solicitors in Holborn, but he hated the law, and was drawn instead to journalism. He learnt shorthand and began reporting at the Doctors’ Commons Courts, and in 1831-1832 he was making shorthand reports of Parliamentary debates for the London papers. At this time, Dickens was toying with the idea of an acting career, and he remained fascinated by the theatre throughout his life, often directing and acting in shows to raise money for charitable causes and friends in distress. However, when the Monthly Magazine accepted his story, “A Dinner at Poplar Walk” (1833), Dickens was diverted into his subsequent literary career.
He published a series of sketches of daily life in London in the Evening Chronicle, using the pseudonym “Boz”, his younger brother’s childhood nickname. Through this work, he met his wife, Catherine Hogarth, the daughter of the Evening Chronicle’s co-editor; they married in 1836. Throughout his life Dickens disliked the law. Since he had experienced both sides of life being rich and poor through different periods of his childhood Dickens was completely against the poor law.
Dickens uses the story of Oliver Twist to attack the cruelties of the 1834 reforms to the Poor Law, and to counter the glamorous and falsely attractive depiction of London’s criminal underworld. The novel follows the progress of Oliver, an orphan born in a workhouse, and maltreated by its hypocritical master, Bumble. When Oliver is born after a while he begins to sneeze as if to announce that he is well and healthy but here Dickens uses humour to notify us of the feelings of the rest of the parish. “Oliver breathed, sneezed and proceeded to advertise to the inmates the fact of a new burden being imposed upon the parish.
The fact that Oliver’s mother was being looked after by a peculiar old nurse who was sitting and drinking instead of helping the young woman. “The nurse interposed hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of which she had tasted in the corner with evident satisfaction.” Dickens makes us feel sympathetic towards Oliver in the next paragraph as he writes about the death of his mother. She imprinted her cold white lips on its forehead; passed her hands over her face; gazed wildly around; shuddered fell back – and died. Dickens then shows his anger by predicting Oliver’s future; it shows that he feels that this is how all poor children are treated not only in the workhouse but throughout the world.
“He was badged and ticketed and fell into place at once, a parish child, the orphan of the workhouse, the humble, half starved drudge to be cuffed and buffeted through the world despised by all and pitied by none.” Nine years had passed and we read that Oliver Twist is unhealthy and weak. “Twist’s ninth birthday found him a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature and decidedly small in circumference.” This shows that Oliver has been treated appallingly from the moment he was born up to his ninth birthday. Dickens then uses irony and humour to put forward his point of view as he describes how Oliver is treated on his birthday.
“It was his ninth birthday and he was spending it with a party of young gentleman who, after participating in a sound thrashing had been locked up for atrociously presuming to be hungry. Dickens puts his point across in an effective, thought provoking but funny way. It shows that even on his birthday Oliver is beaten, not given any extra food as a treat and locked up in a coal cellar. Oliver is then sent to the work house yet he had to meet with the board. The boy was frightened and confused. Oliver begins to cry steadily when he reminded that he is an orphan. “You know you’ve got no mother and father and that you were brought up by the parish don’t you?”
Dickens shows here that the board didn’t care about Oliver and his feelings. My point is backed up in the next few lines as the gentlemen are confused as to why Oliver is crying. “What are you crying for?” “What could the boy be crying for?” Dickens pretty much sums up what he is trying to say about the workhouses in this section. Then the gentleman asks him if he’s a good Christian and if he prays at night. “I hope you say your prayers at night; said another gentleman in a gruff voice; and pray for the people who feed you and take care of you- like a good Christian.
Dickens uses irony and humour after this is said. “It would have been very much like a Christian, and a marvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had prayed for the people who clothed and fed him. But he hadn’t because no one had taught him. Three months after Oliver is sent to the workhouse it comes to our attention that Oliver and the rest are slowly being starved to the point where they are threatening to eat each other. “Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months: at last they got so voracious and wild with hunger, that one boy hinted darkly to his companions that unless he had another basin of gruel, he was afraid he might some night have to eat the boy who slept next to him.”
For this reason the boys picked straws to see who would be the one to ask for more food the next evening. Oliver was set this task. “Please sir I want some more.” For this reason Oliver was taken to the board and anybody who would take him away from the parish would receive five pounds in reward. In chapter four we are introduced to Mr Sowerberry the parish under taker who is having a general conversation with the beadle about business. “The prices allowed by the board are very small.””So are the coffins.” “There’s no denying that, since the new system of feeding has come in, the coffins are somewhat narrower and shallower than they used to be: but we must have some profit.”
Here Dickens describes a general conversation between the beadle and the undertaker he uses this conversation effectively as he shows that the children of the parish dying thinner than ever means good news for the business as they make a lot of profit. Mr Bumble changes the subject to Oliver Twist and Oliver is inevitably apprenticed to the undertaker. Oliver arrives at the undertaker’s house with Mr Bumble, Mrs Sowerberry comes to the door and sees Oliver but she is not impressed. “Dear me! Said the undertaker’s wife, he’s very small.” After Oliver finishes his supper he is taken away by Mrs Sowerberry to be shown where he will sleep. “Your beds under the counter. You don’t mind sleeping amongst the coffins, I suppose? But it doesn’t matter whether you do or you don’t, for you can’t sleep anywhere else.”