s awful treatment of children of the poor?
Charles Dickens wrote the novel “Oliver Twist” as a way of expressing
his views on how the rich treated the poor, and how he felt about the laws
regarding the poor. At the time there was a huge gap between the rich and
the poor due to industrialisation. This meant that the poor were left to
survive in unpleasant, overcrowded conditions, and were treated harshly by
the rich. Dickens felt strongly about this situation and wrote “Oliver
Twist” with the intention of changing the public’s attitude towards the
poor. He uses wit, sarcasm, exaggeration, and emotional writing to get his
points and feelings across to the reader. Dickens uses different techniques
to expose Victorian Society’s awful treatment of children of the poor.
From the very beginning of the novel, Dickens describes the
mistreatment of the poor. He uses the workhouse and authorities to show us
just how badly the children are treated. A newborn baby is seen as a “new
burden for the parish”, an “item of mortality”, or a “statistic”. Oliver
was born into a grim workhouse where he was constantly in a “hungry and
unwanted situation”. The helpless infants are made to use the treadmill as
punishment, and Oliver is locked in the coal-cellar. Here Dickens uses over
exaggerated descriptions to show the treatment of the children, to get the
message clear to people so that they are able to get an idea of the
Mrs Mann shows the careless attitude of those in authority. She uses
tough punishments such as locking the boys in the dark coal-cellar. Oliver
is even locked up on his ninth birthday with a select party of two other
young gentlemen. Here Dickens uses sarcasm to show the carelessness of
those who worked with the children. The children mainly die of natural
causes, but Mrs Mann makes no effort at all to keep them alive. Dickens is
really trying to demonstrate that the authorities are the main threat to
The terrible conditions of the workhouse are shown when Oliver asks
for more gruel. “Please, sir, I want some more.” Dickens uses exaggeration,
and even slight humour to compose this section of the book. What seems to
be a reasonable, polite question from a growing boy is shown as a complete
insult and offence to authority. “The master was a fat, healthy man; but he
turned very pale.”
Dickens uses stereotyped characters to symbolise the superior, and
how they treated the poor. Mr Fang, a police magistrate, is extremely harsh
on Oliver and gives Oliver an unreasonable sentence for Oliver’s “crime”,
considering his age.
Mr Bumble, the beadle at the workhouse, constantly bullies and looks
down on Oliver. “…One hundred and forty sixpences! – and all for a
naughty orphan which nobody can’t love.” Although Mr Bumble overpowers
Oliver, he is not all that he seems. He acts superior and intelligent.
Dickens uses this technique to show the reader that the rich feel that they
are special and of a higher standard than the poor, but really they are in
no sense any different than the lower class, so they should not be allowed
to treat them any differently.
London is described as a “filthy” and “wretched” place, definitely
not a good place for a young boy to live, so when Oliver reaches the city,
it shows the dangers he has reached, due to being ill kept and running
away. This makes the reader feel sorry for Oliver. Oliver stays with Fagin
and gets brought in with the boy’s thievery, without realizing what they
were out to do. Oliver is used to show how nave a poor young boy is in
this situation and how dangerous it was for a boy like Oliver in those
days. Fagin is used to show the other dangers present for the poor children
at the time. Dickens uses imagery to introduce Fagin. He describes him as
“villainous-looking”, “matted red hair” and a “Jew”. At the time, Jews were
stereotyped as evil. This all adds to the effect of Fagin being much like
the Devil. Dickens also demonstrates that it was difficult for the poor to
break free of the poverty cycle. Fagin could not earn money in any other
way but to look after the boys, and train them to pickpocket for him.
Stolen goods such as “a great number of silk handkerchiefs” paid for their
survival. Dickens shows us here how hard survival was if you were classed
as “poor” and how desperate the poor were for their necessities, that they
reduced themselves to stealing.
Many poor young children at the time were brought up as criminals,
such as prostitutes and thieves, as that is the only way to survive. A good
example of this is Nancy, the kind-hearted prostitute.
Many people believed that if you were born into a poor family, you
stayed in that situation for the rest of your life, and could not change.
Charles Dickens tries to state that we are all born into the same world and
it is only our upbringing that distinguishes us. He used Oliver to show us
that through determination and willpower, you can overcome the bad and
things will turn out how you want them to. Dickens was very biased towards
Oliver throughout the book, and he emphasises that all good triumphs over
evil. Oliver returned to his rightful place in society, and those who hurt
him along the way were severely punished.