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Independent Project Checkpoint Oliver Twist Critical essay Question: How does Charles Dickens represent the fate of the individual in the Victorian Era? A critical analysis of the novel ‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens clearly suggests that Dickens represents the fate of the individual in the Victorian era. Being written in the Victorian era, Dickens focusses on themes relevant to this era. These themes include “the moving depiction of the evils of homelessness and its consequences”, “the powerlessness of children”, “greed”, “criminality” and “the limits of justice”.
Dickens uses a variety of literary devices to effectively convey these ideas and through the use of this, it positions the audience to understand through the novel the fate of the individual in the Victorian Era. Justice and its variant form are very important in Oliver Twist and is a theme used by dickens to represent fate of certain individuals in the Victorian era. By the end of the novel, almost all characters face justice, the good characters living happily and the bad characters suffering. Oliver, Rose and just about all the other characters live happily while the bad and evil character Fagin and
Sikes both get hanged. The reader is already wary of the justice system because of how close Oliver becomes to being an innocent victim of it. Thus despite Dickens making sure the good characters have happiness and the bad characters receive the punishment they deserve, Dickens clearly makes sure that it is not the usual story where the good guys end happily while the bad guys suffer. Such is the result of Nancy’s death when she gets killed by Sikes after trying to save Oliver from the hands of Fagin and Sikes and return him to Mr Brownlow. Symbolism plays a major part in expressing this theme.
Nancy’s decision to meet Brownlow and Rose on London Bridge reveals the symbolic aspect of this bridge in Oliver Twist. Bulls- eye, Sikes’s dog is a symbolic element of the character of Sikes, displaying similar characteristics. The dog leaves bloody footprints on the floor of the room where the murder is committed. Not long after, Sikes becomes desperate to get rid of the dog, convinced that the dog’s presence will give him away. Yet, just as Sikes cannot shake off his guilt, he cannot shake off Bull’s-eye, who arrives at the house of Sikes’s demise before Sikes himself does.
Bull’s-eye’s name also conjures up the image of Nancy’s eyes, which haunts Sikes until the bitter end and eventually causes him to hang himself accidentally. That Sikes own dog ultimately leads to Sikes demise is evidence of symbolism being used to represent the theme of “the limits of justice” and how it represents the fate of the individual in the Victorian era. Oliver’s struggle to be free of Fagin and Sikes and his desperate search for a loving and nurturing home, express the theme that forms the heart of the book: the moving depiction of the evils of homelessness and its consequences.
Being an orphan, Oliver was living poor conditions, with gruel being his meal for breakfast lunch and dinner. That too, only a spoonful. It was not only Oliver who was suffering the poor living conditions but also the rest of the orphans in the orphanage. One day, the children in the orphanage decide they can no longer take this and that someone must be brave and stand up to Mr Bumble (Orfan owner). At this instance, all eyes turn to Oliver and he eventually agrees to do so. The next day, he says to Mr Bumble after finishing his gruel “Please Sir, I want some more”.
At this instant, as if Oliver committed such a big crime, he is sold to the Sowerberry family. In this section of the novel, Dickens successfully expressed the difficulties faced by the poor in the Victorian Era. The theme is further demonstrated through the use of verbal irony when Dickens refers to the workhouse as “a regular place of public entertainment for the lower classes”. The statement is ironic, given how much the orphans were suffering in the workhouse and helps represent Oliver’s fate in the Victorian era. Through the theme of ‘greed’, Dickens manages to successfully express the fate of the individual n the Elizabethan era. There are a number of characters in the novel who play a major role in expressing this theme, these being mainly Fagin and Bill Sikes and the theme leads to the success of some and the downfall of others. All Fagin is after throughout the novel is money and he uses the young boys to build his wealth however due to his greediness, he does not care about the wellbeing 1 / 3 of the boys, his sole focus being on the valuables the bring to him. This is evident when Oliver is taken into the home of Mr Brownlow, who takes very good care of him, like what a father would give o a son, and despite the care and protection Oliver is receiving, Fagin and Sikes together make a plan to retrieve Oliver due to the fear that he might tell Brownlow of their criminal activity. The criminal activity they undergo also comes from their greediness. When Nancy takes Oliver from Mr Brownlow’s custody, despite the potential consequence of what could have happened if Oliver had opened up to Brownlow on their criminal activity, he still has his criminal mindset and continues to commit crimes, in particular pickpocketing and this is ultimately due to his greed. This is further vident when he says “When the boy is worth a hundred pounds to me, am I to lose what chance threw me in the way of getting safely, through the whims of a drunken gang that I could whistle away the lives of! And me bound, too, to a born devil, that only wants the will and has the power”, referring to Oliver and shows the depth of his greed and exploitation of the people around him. The fate of the individual in the Victorian Era is represented through this theme in ‘Oliver Twist’ as his greed is the reason Fagin runs the criminal organisation and ultimately what leads to him losing all f his wealth at the end of the novel. The theme of ‘criminality’ is important in Charles Dickens representation of the fate of the the Victorian era in this novel, given how it is used in the novel and how crime was a huge problem in London in the 1830’s, when Dickens was writing this novel . While crime is a theme also relevant to today’s society, the extent to which crime existed in the Victorian era was greater, especially considering it was a lot harder to find the villains due to the lack of technology. In Oliver Twist, the criminal organisation is both what saved Oliver and also what almost ruined him.
It saved him as if he hadn’t had met the Artful Dodger and been introduced to Fagin’s criminal gang, he could well have starved to death, unless he himself chose to resort to stealing, which is exactly what he was being taught to do and trying to avoid. In an Era when crime was a major problem faced by society, Dickens wanted to show how criminals really lived, in order to discourage poor people from turning to crime. When Fagin says “What a fine thing capital punishment is! Dead men never repent; dead men never bring awkward stories to light”, he reflects on how capital punishment is a motivator for riminals like him as it would not matter once he is dead, making evident his crimal mentality. Through the theme of ‘criminality’, the fate of the individual is shown in the novel through what happens to the main villains in the end of the novel. Bill Sykes, who with Fagin is one of the primary villains ultimately gets killed while Fagin loses all the wealth that he obtained from the boys who pickpocketed the valuables for him. And Oliver, who didn’t engage in any of this criminal activity gets taken by Mr Brownlow and goes on to live a great life. However, despite all this, Fagin’s haracter doesn’t change, with him still having a criminal mindset, as with the Artful Dodger, which is summed up when he says “Once a thief, always a thief”. The characterisation of the novel plays a major role in expressing the theme of “The powerlessness of children”. Dickens is deeply interested in the plight of the powerless in ‘Oliver Twist’, and this is mostly evident through the children in the novel. Oliver is continually reliant on others- Mr Bumble, Fagin and Sikes. All are completely different characters as while Oliver is shy, Fagin and Sikes are erious criminals while My Bumble is powerful man, the church official for the workhouse in which Oliver stayed in until asking him for more gruel. Despite the hard work he puts in to survive after escaping the house, he only ends up surviving because he is accepted by Fagin, although this was before he found out about Fagin being the leader of a criminal gang. Oliver’s powerlessness is further shown from his decision to not say anything about Fagin’s criminal gang, despite being away from their presence, due to his fears of what they would do to him if they found out. When he ets caught for stealing Mr Brownlow’s wallet when it was actually the Artful Dodger, no one even listens to what he has to say and this is clear evidence of “powerlessness” of children in the Victorian era. This is further expressed through the use of satire. Satire is evident when Mr Bumble sarcastically calls himself a “humble” author to Oliver and it allows the reader to contrast the characters of Mr Bumble and Oliver, improving the readers understanding of the powerlessness of 2 / 3 Oliver, which is used in this context to represent the powerlessness of children in general in the
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Victorian era, thus their fate in the Victorian era. The fate of the individual in the Victorian Era is represented through the themes addressed and their relevance to that era. The use of certain literary devices stated assists in conveying the significance of these ideas in relation to the themes of “the moving depiction of the evils of homelessness and its consequences”, “the powerlessness of children” and “the limits of justice”. These themes feature prominently in the article, as Dickens way of representing the fate of the individual in the Victorian era. Powered by TCPDF (www. tcpdf. org) 3 / 3
Author: Brandon Johnson
Oliver Twist Critical Essay
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When Oliver Twist was published, many people were shocked, and clergymen and magazine editors accused the young novelist of having written an immoral book. In later editions, Charles Dickens defended the book, explaining that one of his purposes had been to take the romance out of crime and show the underworld of London as the sordid, filthy place he knew it to be. Few of his readers ever doubted that he had succeeded in this task.
When Dickens began writing, a popular form of fiction was the Newgate novel, or the novel dealing in part with prison life and the rogues and highwaymen who ended up in prison. These heroes often resembled Macheath of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera (1728). Dickens took this tradition and form and turned it around, making it serve the purposes of his new realism. The subplot concerning Bill Sikes and Nancy contains melodramatic elements, but Sikes is no Macheath and Nancy no Polly Peachum.
The grim birth of the infant who was named Oliver opens the book, immediately plunging the reader into an uncomfortably unromantic world where people are starving to death, children are “accidentally” killed off by their charitable keepers, the innocent suffer, and the cruel and unscrupulous prosper. Dickens does not hesitate to lay the facts out clearly: Nancy is a prostitute, Bill is a murderer, Fagin is a fence, and the boys are pickpockets. The supporting cast includes Bumble and Thingummy and Mrs. Mann, individuals who never hesitate to deprive others of what they themselves could use. Poverty is the great leveler, the universal corruptor; in the pages of Oliver Twist, the results of widespread poverty are portrayed with a startling lack of sentimentality. Dickens may become sentimental when dealing with virtue but never when dealing with vice.
The petty villains and small-time corrupt officials, such as Bumble, are treated humorously, but the brutal Bill Sikes is portrayed with complete realism. Although Dickens’s contemporaries thought Bill was too relentlessly evil, Dickens challenged them to deny that such men existed in London, products of the foul life forced on them from infancy. He holds up Sikes in all his nastiness, without making any attempt to find redeeming characteristics. Nancy, both immoral and kindhearted, is a more complicated character. She is sentimental because she is basically good, while Sikes is entirely practical, one who will step on anybody who gets in his way and feel no regrets.
In Oliver Twist, Dickens attempts a deliberate contrast to his previous work, The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837). While there is much humor in Oliver Twist, it is seldom like that of its predecessor, and it is woven into a realistic and melodramatic narrative of a particularly grim and dark kind. The readers of Mr. Pickwick’s exploits must have been startled when they picked up the magazines containing this new novel by Dickens and discovered old Fagin teaching the innocent Oliver how to pick pockets and children swigging gin like practiced drunkards. Dickens had many talents, however, and in Oliver Twist, he exploits for the first time his abilities to invoke both pathos and horror and to combine these qualities in a gripping narrative. United with the vitality that always infuses Dickens’s prose, these powers guaranteed Oliver Twist a wide readership.
The book was the first of Dickens’s nightmare stories and the first of his social tracts. A certain amount of social protest could be read into Mr. Pickwick’s time in prison, but it is a long distance from the prison depicted there to the almshouse in Oliver Twist. The leap from farce to melodrama and social reform is dramatically successful, and Dickens continued in the same vein for many years. Some critics called his work vulgar, but his readers loved it. He was accused of exaggeration, but, as he repeatedly emphasized, his readers had only to walk the streets of London to discover the characters and conditions of which he wrote so vividly. If his characterizations of some individuals suggest the “humours” theory of Ben Jonson rather than fully rounded psychological portraits, the total effect of the book is that of an entire society, pulsing with life and energy.
In Oliver Twist, Dickens displays for the first time his amazing gift of entering into the psychology of a pathological individual. He follows Sikes and Fagin closely to their respective ends, and he never flinches from revealing their true natures. The death of the unrepentant Sikes remains one of the most truly horrible scenes in English fiction. (When Dickens performed this passage to audiences in his public readings, it was common for women in the audience to scream or faint.) When Fagin is sitting in court, awaiting the verdict of his trial, Dickens describes his thoughts as roaming from one triviality to another, although the fact of his approaching death by hanging is never far away. The combination of the irrelevant and the grimly pertinent is a kind of psychological realism that was completely new in 1838.
Dickens entertained a lifelong fondness for the theater, and this interest in drama had a profound influence on his fiction. He was himself an actor, and he became famous for his readings from his books toward the end of his life. In his novels, the actor in Dickens is also discernible. At times, it is as if the author is impersonating a living individual; at other times, the plots bear the imprint of the popular stage fare of the day, including heavy doses of melodrama, romance, and coincidence. All of these aspects are seen in Oliver Twist, particularly the violence of the melodrama and the coincidences that shuffle Oliver in and out of Mr. Brownlow’s house.
Above all and ultimately much more important, however, stands the realism that Dickens uses to unite the different elements of his story. Perhaps the greatest achievement of the author in this early novel is the giant stride he makes in the realm of realism. He had not yet perfected his skills, but he knew the direction in which he was moving, and he was taking the novel with him.