Oliver Twist

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ethelion1
Words 2866
Pages 12
Oliver Twist is one of Charles Dickens’ most famous novels and a classic poor-to-rich story about an orphan who was born into a workhouse and must navigate his way around the criminal underworld to avoid being corrupted. Literature incorporates the history of the workhouse and reflects the concerns of both paupers and ratepayers, and it also challenges the dehumanizing effects of the Law’s administration. The time period of Oliver Twist was still under the time of the Old Poor Law, but it was mainly seen as criticizing of the New Poor Law. Felix Driver writes, “The account of the starving child who asked for more was almost certainly based on the earlier system, although the extent to which the old survived in the new does not entirely invalidate the criticism”. Scholars tend to focus on the scene where Oliver asks for more food as indicative of the meagre portions that the inmates received. These scholars identify hunger as the main threat of the workhouse, but that approach neglects the larger threat of death, which shapes Oliver’s character.

When the opening chapters of the novel are considered more broadly, the workhouse is actually a site where the poor carry an obligation to one another. High death rates within the workhouse encourage solidarity as seen by the behaviours of the orphans. While providing charity carries the risk of supporting idlers, and Dickens is consistently critical of charity, he also writes the poor as recognizing common risks and finding their own ways to overcome those risks, even within a system that continually removes their individuality and separates them from one another.

The precarious nature of life in the workhouse is foregrounded by the opening of Oliver Twist, which shows Oliver’s mother coming to the workhouse to give birth to the boy. The narrator pushes the point that this place of birth was in Oliver’s favour, since…...

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