Charles Dickens wrote the novel “Oliver Twist” to express 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 industrialization. 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” to change the public’s attitude towards the poor. He uses pathos, wit, sarcasm, exaggeration, and emotional and deceptive writing to get his points and feelings across to the reader. In addition, Dickens uses various techniques to expose Victorian Society’s awful treatment of children of the poor.
From the very beginning of the novel, Dickens starts describing 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…imposed upon the parish”, an “item of mortality,” or a “statistic.” Dickens shows the reader that Oliver has suffered from birth. “If he could have known…perhaps he would have cried the louder.” He was born into a grim workhouse where he was constantly in a “hungry and destitute situation.” The helpless infants are made to use the “treadmill” as punishment, and Oliver is frequently locked in the “coal-cellar.” Here Dickens uses exaggerated descriptions to show the treatment of the children, to get the message clear to the public so that they can get an idea of the reality.
Poor children are victims of the authorities. They have no control over what happens to them. A prime example of this is when Dick is dying. “I heard the doctor tell them I was dying.” Dickens uses pathos to create melodrama when writing this scene to demonstrate that although Dick knows he is dying, there is nothing he can do about it but wait until he dies. He uses this technique to create emotion in the reader and, in effect, help the reader experience the suffering that these poor children have gone through. In addition, the character of Mrs. Mann shows the careless attitude of those in authority. She uses dire 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”.
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Here Dickens uses sarcasm to emphasize the carelessness of those who worked with the children. The children mainly die of natural causes, but Mrs. Mann makes no effort to keep them alive. “…at the very moment when a child had contrived to exist…fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accidents…” Dickens is really trying to demonstrate that the authorities are the main threat to the poor. The terrible conditions of the workhouse are clearly 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.”, “What!” It also highlights the innocence and naï¿½vety of the children. Even if the children were to survive past life in the workhouse, they would be exploited by employment. It was typical of employers to exploit the poor children in the 1800s. A good example is when the chimney sweeps are at work, and their employers light the fire below. This clearly shows us the mistreatment of the employers. Dickens uses stereotyped characters to symbolize the superior and how they treated the poor. Mr. Fang, a notorious police magistrate, is extremely harsh on Oliver and presents an unreasonable sentence for Oliver’s “crime,” considering his age. “…committed for three months-hard labour…” This shows he is a cold-hearted, absent-minded man who Dickens uses to generalize magistrates in Victorian society.
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, but he frequently uses malapropisms. For example, he often uses the word “parochial,” but not in the correct manner. Dickens uses this technique to show the reader that the rich feel special and of a higher standard than the poor, but really they are in no sense any different from 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 fit for a young, naï¿½ve boy, 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 pity for Oliver. Oliver stays with Fagin and gets brought in with the boy’s thievery, not realizing their profession. “…the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels, and the Jew, rushed upon the boy’s mind.” Oliver is used to illustrating how naï¿½ve 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 showing 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 a replica of 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 look after the boys and train them to pickpocket for him. Stolen goods such as “many silk handkerchiefs” and “trinkets” 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 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. “…some with the last lingerie tinge of their early freshness almost fading as you looked; others with every mark and stamp of their sex utterly beaten out…” This highlights that the young children do not choose and must go against their wishes to become such sinful criminals. Dickens uses pathos in this section to make the reader sympathize with the poor children who commit these sins out of sheer desperation for survival.
Many people believed that if you were born into a low-income family, you stayed in that “station” for life and could not move into the other. Charles Dickens tries to state that we are all born into the same world, and only our upbringing distinguishes us. He used Oliver to show us that you can overcome the bad through determination and willpower, and things will turn out how you want them to. Dickens was very biased towards Oliver throughout the book, and by using pathos, he emphasizes 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.