The work of Charles Dickens is widely based upon the social conditions of the period. The novel ‘Oliver Twist’ presents the conditions of life at the time, and the largely exaggerated characters portray the nature of the people then. This is in an attempt to confront some of the issues of the time, including poverty and disease, both of which were extremely common in Victorian England. Dickens has used fictional characters to communicate his views on the situations that arose at the time of writing. There are some serious topics addressed in this book, and Dickens begins the story with the very start of Oliver’s life.
The novel opens with the orphan boy’s entrance into the world, according to Dickens as an ‘it’. He writes, “i?? It was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble by the parish surgeon”. This quote suggests that Oliver was not even seen as a valued human life, but rather as an object to be despised. He also talks about Oliver as being “The item of mortality”, so Oliver’s death is being talked about before his life has even begun. This suggests that the parish feel resentment towards Oliver, and we later see that this is felt towards him throughout most of his life. The nurse who attends Oliver’s birth is clearly abusing her position.
We are told that she is under the influence of alcohol, which is certainly dangerous if she is delivering babies. We are told, “[She] was rendered rather misty by an unwonted allowance of beer. ” We are even told that she would rather drink the liquor than assist in delivering the baby, when Dickens writes, “she had been tasting [it] in a corner with evident satisfaction. ” The doctor also abuses his position. During the birth when he should have been helping, he instead was “sitting with his face turned towards the fire, giving the palms of his hands a warm and a rub alternatively.
” Also, it is clear that this is normal for a person of his position, because we are told that he spoke “with more kindness than might have been expected of him. ” This suggests that not very many people took their social responsibility seriously in those days. The surgeon is not very suited for his job and doesn’t really care about what happens to his patients as long as he gets paid, because we are told that he tells the nurse, “You needn’t mind sending up to me if the child cries. It’s very likely it will be troublesome.
” Later on, we are again reminded of the constant abuse of social responsibility, when Oliver is referred to as “the victim”. It is essential that love is demonstrated to growing children, and obviously the parish authorities were ignoring this. We are told that Oliver was “hungry and destitute”, and clearly it was the people assigned to taking care of him who her making him this miserable. In fact, we later find out that the parish is so desperate to get rid of him that they send him off to a workhouse.
The “elderly female” at the workhouse is even said to be abusing her responsibilities by spending the money intended for the inmate’s meals on herself. She also tries to give them the absolute minimum amount of food necessary for them to stay alive. We are told that she is aware of the dangers of starvation and yet still continues to practice it. “She appropriated the greater part of the weekly stipend to her own use, and consigned the rising parochial generation to even a shorter allowance than was originally provided for them. ” This clearly indicates that she doesn’t care about them in the slightest.
The board members also abuse their social status when they realise that the people actually want to remain within the workhouse. Instead of feeling proud and pleased with themselves, they are resentful and make plans to make the workhouse as unpleasant as possible. ” ‘We are the fellows to set this right; we’ll stop it all, in no time. ‘ ” We are told that a passer-by, named Mr Gamfield hit his donkey “by way of gentle reminder that he was not his own master”, we immediately wonder if the same harsh punishment would apply for one of his apprentices.
Right from Mr Gamfield’s entrance we are wary and suspicious of him, and do not trust him as a potential master for Oliver. Mr Gamfield also hits his donkey “as a caution not to run away in his absence”, and this also relates to the way in which Oliver would probably be treated by him, because he probably would attempt to run away at some point. Then to make matters worse, we gain a dislike for the gentleman in the white waistcoat, as we are told that he thinks that “Mr Gamfield was exactly the sort of master Oliver Twist wanted. ”
When Mr Limbkins states, “It’s a nasty trade”, this demonstrates two things. The first is that he is actually showing some compassion towards Oliver, and the second is that he is actually trying to take his responsibility seriously. He is not willing to just get rid of Oliver as soon as possible, but wants to be certain that he will be taken care of. The gentleman in the white waistcoat then changes his mind and agrees with Mr Limbkins. However, the original low opinion of Mr Limbkins that we are given, is a false one. Mr Limbkins wants rid of Oliver as much as anyone else.
He is actually just haggling with Mr Gamfield and trying to hide this fact. Therefore, Mr Limbkins is not as compassionate as we originally thought. The gentleman in the white waistcoat is abusing his responsibility because he is aware that Oliver will probably die in a chimney, but he is still determined to sell him to Mr Gamfield. Later on we discover that Mr Sowerberry treats Oliver very unfairly. He promised the board that he would take care of Oliver and they trusted him. He abuses the trust that they put in him. For example, he gives Oliver the food that the dog refused.
Mrs Sowerberry also treats Oliver unkindly. She forces him to sleep among the coffins. She is very arrogant when she says to him, “Don’t keep me lingering here all night. ” In contrast to this, Mr Brownlow takes very good care of Oliver. We are told, “He was tended with a kindness and solitude that knew no bounds. ” The old lady at Mr Brownlow’s house also treats Oliver with kindness. We are told, “[she] looked so kindly and lovingly in his face. ” The doctor is very caring, or at least he does his best to be. He is a kind person, but not a very good doctor.
He asks Oliver questions and tries to be smart and predict what Oliver will say, but Oliver always says the exact opposite. ” ‘You’re hungry too, ain’t you? ‘ ” ” ‘No, sir,’ replied Oliver. ” The attitude of this doctor in comparison to the one attending his birth is a very extreme contrast. This doctor actually seems concerned in helping Oliver. Mr Brownlow is very considerate towards Oliver, especially since he thought originally that he may have been robbed by him. However, Mr Brownlow does not believe that Oliver was responsible.
He realises that Oliver has been mistreat in the past and he actually understands and shows pity on him. Another individual held up for our esteem, is the bookstore keeper is a very kind person, because he could have just kept out of the situation, but instead he went out of his way to stand up for the truth. He did this purely because he felt it was his responsibility, and he tells the court, “I have run all the way here. ” Most people would not have bothered to do this. Similarly, Rose and Miss Maylie take extremely good care of Oliver. They enjoy taking care of him and see it as their responsibility that he wants for nothing.
In some ways, however, they are abusing their social responsibility because they should have taken him to the police immediately where he would have most likely been returned to the workhouse. In conclusion, I think that Dickens portrays his message very strongly because he is very critical of almost every character. Dickens uses a long list of characters who are unkind to Oliver, in contrast to a couple who are actually nice to him. This demonstrates how Dickens views society – many unkind people, and very few nice people. This is a successful novel, which allows the reader to see Victorian Society from the author’s point of view.