At the time there was a huge gap between the rich andthe poor due to industrialisation. This meant that the poor were left tosurvive in unpleasant, overcrowded conditions, and were treated harshly bythe rich. Dickens felt strongly about this situation and wrote “OliverTwist” with the intention of changing the public’s attitude towards thepoor. He uses wit, sarcasm, exaggeration, and emotional writing to get hispoints and feelings across to the reader. Dickens uses different techniquesto expose Victorian Society’s awful treatment of children of the poor.
From the very beginning of the novel, Dickens describes themistreatment of the poor. He uses the workhouse and authorities to show usjust how badly the children are treated. A newborn baby is seen as a “newburden for the parish”, an “item of mortality”, or a “statistic”. Oliverwas born into a grim workhouse where he was constantly in a “hungry andunwanted situation”. The helpless infants are made to use the treadmill aspunishment, and Oliver is locked in the coal-cellar.
Here Dickens uses overexaggerated descriptions to show the treatment of the children, to get themessage clear to people so that they are able to get an idea of thereality. Mrs Mann shows the careless attitude of those in authority. She usestough punishments such as locking the boys in the dark coal-cellar. Oliveris even locked up on his ninth birthday with a select party of two otheryoung gentlemen.
Here Dickens uses sarcasm to show the carelessness ofthose who worked with the children. The children mainly die of naturalcauses, but Mrs Mann makes no effort at all to keep them alive. Dickens isreally trying to demonstrate that the authorities are the main threat tothe poor. The terrible conditions of the workhouse are shown when Oliver asksfor more gruel. “Please, sir, I want some more. ” Dickens uses exaggeration,and even slight humour to compose this section of the book.
What seems tobe a reasonable, polite question from a growing boy is shown as a completeinsult and offence to authority. “The master was a fat, healthy man; but heturned very pale. “Dickens uses stereotyped characters to symbolise the superior, andhow they treated the poor. Mr Fang, a police magistrate, is extremely harshon Oliver and gives Oliver an unreasonable sentence for Oliver’s “crime”,considering his age. Mr Bumble, the beadle at the workhouse, constantly bullies and looksdown on Oliver.
“. . . One hundred and forty sixpences! – and all for anaughty orphan which nobody can’t love. ” Although Mr Bumble overpowersOliver, 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 theyare special and of a higher standard than the poor, but really they are inno sense any different than the lower class, so they should not be allowedto treat them any differently. London is described as a “filthy” and “wretched” place, definitelynot 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 runningaway. This makes the reader feel sorry for Oliver. Oliver stays with Faginand gets brought in with the boy’s thievery, without realizing what theywere out to do. Oliver is used to show how nave a poor young boy is inthis situation and how dangerous it was for a boy like Oliver in thosedays. Fagin is used to show the other dangers present for the poor childrenat the time.
Dickens uses imagery to introduce Fagin. He describes him as”villainous-looking”, “matted red hair” and a “Jew”. At the time, Jews werestereotyped as evil. This all adds to the effect of Fagin being much likethe Devil. Dickens also demonstrates that it was difficult for the poor tobreak free of the poverty cycle.
Fagin could not earn money in any otherway 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 theirsurvival. Dickens shows us here how hard survival was if you were classedas “poor” and how desperate the poor were for their necessities, that theyreduced 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 goodexample of this is Nancy, the kind-hearted prostitute. Many people believed that if you were born into a poor family, youstayed 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 andit is only our upbringing that distinguishes us. He used Oliver to show usthat through determination and willpower, you can overcome the bad andthings will turn out how you want them to. Dickens was very biased towardsOliver throughout the book, and he emphasises that all good triumphs overevil. Oliver returned to his rightful place in society, and those who hurthim along the way were severely punished.