“Oliver Twist” is a novel written by Charles Dickens in the 1830s, Victorian times, it was so famous that even Queen Victoria herself read it. It tells the story of a boy named Oliver Twist, as it is suggested by the title. Many themes are covered, the most evident being poverty, throughout the novel the reader is shown what conditions certain people were in Victorian times. In this essay I will be concentrating on a certain part of the novel, the board scene in chapter two and three.
I am focusing on this certain part of “Oliver Twist” as it shows the greatest examples of class division and wealth, which are the most important and main themes of the novel. Dickens uses characters to aid the readers’ understanding of the attitudes of life in that current time. Dickens extensive use of language and metaphors make for an interesting and occasionally comical read. The boardroom represents the difference in class and wealth and demonstrates to a high level the many problems of the time.
I am, finally going to talk about Dickens use of language and images imposed by him. The board scenes are the main focus point of the essay and thus I will explain first the way in which the events unfold as to have a better understanding of the happenings. Oliver Twist is brought up in the workhouse and at the age of nine he is presented to the board; this is the first time he has heard of such a thing and is puzzled by it.
After the harsh and stressful board scene Oliver is told that he must pick oakum as a new job and he is taken to a new workhouse, he is then underfed and treated with slow starvation. Because of the effects of this one night a boy tells the others what he might do if he was too hungry, “Hinted darkly to his companions, that unless he had another basin per diem, he was afraid he might some night happen to eat the boy who slept next to him” this shows the conditions they were in, they were so underfed that it even crossed their minds to eat others.
It fell to Oliver to ask for more food the next day, he did as he promised, the master was insulted and astonished by this request and called the beadle immediately for him to be removed from the workhouse “The master aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle, pinioned him in his arms, and shrieked aloud for the beadle. ” He is then sent in confinement and put on sale with a reward of five pounds for anyone that would take them off the hands of the parish.
A chimney sweeper passes by the workhouse and notices the sign on the gate and thus, seeking an apprentice, speaks to the board and manages to strike a deal with them, but of course Oliver Twist must see him first and this is when the board scene unfolds. The first board scene is in Chapter two, whereupon Oliver meets the board for the first time, he has no idea of what the board is “Not having a very clearly defined notion of what a live board was, Oliver was rather astounded by this intelligence, and was not quite sure whether he ought to laugh or cry.
” Dickens describes the boardroom excellently, “A large whitewashed room where eight or ten fat gentlemen were sitting round a table. ” By reading this sentence one can quickly understand the great wealth of those inside the room, a large whitewashed room was only possible if you were rich as keeping it clean and owning it would cost a lot of money. A way in which Charles Dickens characterises, or better said stereotypes rich people, is that they are mostly fat representing wealth; poor people are depicted by Charles Dickens as skinny.
The boardroom is extremely unappealing to a nine year old, as it has nothing to grab the child’s attention to seek comfort within. The gentlemen ask Oliver direct and stern questions without seeking to comfort him in any way, they also used advanced language for a child of his age and expect him to know the meaning of them, even though he hasn’t had an education, and call him a fool if he does not “‘listen to me. You know you’ re an orphan, I suppose?
‘What’s that, sir? ‘ inquired poor Oliver. ‘The boy is a fool – I thought he was,'” The second board scene is quite similar to the first. As I mentioned before after Oliver commits his “crime” he is placed in a dark room for some time and then called to the board as a chimney sweep wishes to make him his apprentice. This board scene is not much different to the first as Mr. Bumble tries to influence Oliver to do his bidding once again.
He is placed before the board but none seem to present much interest for him, or even completely disregard him, this shows the little interest there was for those of lower class such as Oliver “Mr Limbkins was standing in front of the desk on one side, and Mr Gamfield, with a partially washed face, on the other; while two or three bluff-looking men, in top-boots, were longing about. The old gentlemen with the spectacles gradually dozed off” The old gentleman after confirming with Mr.
Bumble that Oliver wishes to be apprenticed to a chimney sweep, looks for his ink pot and whilst looking for it crosses his gaze towards Oliver “It was the critical moment of Oliver’s fate”. This again shows how little influence poor people had as only by luck or fate they may be given a chance to change the events being decided for them ” his gaze encountered the pale and terrified face of Oliver Twist”. Oliver was fortunate enough to be saved by this kind gentlemen, this also shows that Charles Dickens is not completely stereotypical and shows that there are rich people that are kind enough to spare a child from a terrible fate.
Dickens creates many different types of characters to explain the different classes and beliefs at the time. The names for the characters are reflections of who they are and their position in society. Mrs. Mann implies a very manly character, which you would not expect from a woman. Mr. Bumble implies a very comical, fat and clumsy character, as Mr. Bumble is. Mr. Gamfield, the chimneysweeper has a name, which implies fields and thus farmer insinuating a low class job; these are all flat characters. The fat gentlemen are extremely hypocritical, insensitive and frugal.
“‘I hope you say your prayers every night,’ said another gentleman in a gruff voice; ‘and pray for the people who feed you, and take care of you – like a Christian. ‘” Another interesting character which Dickens cleverly names the gentleman in the white waistcoat as such, as he is wearing a white item of clothing you would expect kindness from him but it is not so as he his much harsher than the other characters and always insists that Oliver is a fool and will be hanged “‘I never was more convinced of anything I my life,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat”.
Oliver Twist is the complete innocence of the novel; he rarely talks and is treated like dirt by the higher classes because of his poverty. His name is also quite a dark joke by Dickens, Oliver Twist, insinuates something funny but in this case implies someone’s life with a bit of a twist, a very bad one. Dickens’s use of language is excellent and compelling, and at times even comical. He uses a lot of sarcasm especially when talking about the rich people; he calls them gentlemen even when they are starving children to death.
Charles Dickens uses exaggeration a lot and uses it in combination with irony to create compelling descriptions “he gave his jaw a sharp wrench, by way of gentle reminder that he was not his own master”. Dickens also changes the way certain characters speak to each other; Mr. Bumble speaks with utmost respect to the gentlemen but treats Oliver worse than an animal “‘Now, Oliver, my dear… in a low voice ‘Mind what I told you, you young rascal'”. Mr. Bumble shows attitude of deceit and a fake ade when it best suits him.
The board scenes in chapter two and three are excellent examples of the hardship that the lower class had to endure at the time. Dickens uses compelling vocabulary but sometimes uses quite satire humour. Poverty is reflected greatly in these two chapters and demonstrates that if you were poor at the time you had no choice over your future decisions. I believe the novel has become a great cultural part of England and I think it encouraged the reform into a more civilised world.