Essay/Term paper: Oliver twist and the victorian era
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Oliver Twist and the Victorian Era: The novel, Oliver Twist, by Charles
Dickens draws many parallels to the Victorian Era. Charles Dickens, was one of
the main writers to emerge from the Victorian Era. Dickens style and
understanding of the period, allow Chesterton to believe that he is "Victorians
king of literature."
Oliver Twist and the Victorian Era
The novel, Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens draws many parallels to the
Victorian Era. Charles Dickens, was one of the main writers to emerge from the
Victorian Era. Dickens style and understanding of the period, allow Chesterton
to believe that he is "Victorians king of literature." (236). Oliver Twist
is a perfect example on how Dickens uses his great skill.
In Oliver Twist, young Oliver is an illustration of the harshness that is
evident during this time. The treatment of adolescence, child labor, British
Laws, and British society all are examples of the Victorian Era that Dickens
makes reference to in Oliver Twist. Even through the reality to the time, Oliver
is still able to find happiness.
Charles Dickens was born February 7, 1812, in Portsea on the south coast of
England. Dickens family was of the lower middle class. John Dickens his father,
was a clerk in the navy pay office. "In 1814 John Dickens was transferred to
London for a tour of duty of unknown duration. By 1817 the family was
established in Chatham near the naval dockyard." (Allen 23) From there on came
the happy years of Dickens childhood.
Young Dickens received his first education from his mother and later attended
regular schools in Chatham. He soon became intimate with his father"s small
collection of literary classics. (Allen 34) Dickens also revealed early signs of
being a genius. John Dickens was delighted in his son"s exhibiting talents,
"â¦thus reinforcing the nudgings of young ambition." (Johnson 10) But, the
pleasant times came to end in 1822 when John Dickens was ordered back to London.
The now older Dickens" improvident fondness for convivial living had by
then got him into financial straits from which he could not extricate himself,
and the situation was alarmingly precarious. Mrs. Dickens made a feeble and
foolhardy attempt to conduct a school to augment the family resources but only
succeeded in further diminishing them. (Forster 13)
To lessen the strain, Dicken"s was put to work in a blacking warehouse at
minimal wages. Two weeks afterward, his father was incarcerated in a debtor"s
prison, where the whole family joined him. During the incarceration, Dickens had
irregular relations with his family. The next six months were a painful ordeal
to the family. In addition to the labor, Dickens endured the indignities of
malnutrition, indecent housing, and the hostile living companions. This was a
humiliating time that left an incredulous impression on the proud and sensitive
Dickens. (Allen 49) We know this because of Dicken"s later novel David
Copperfield. It is likely that the implication and consequences of poverty were
instrumental in shaping the patter of his life. Dickens became distinguished by
furious energy, determination to succeed, and an inflexible will, said Allen.
After his father"s had been imprison for months, his mother passed away.
"The legacy that he received was sufficient to effect his release and to
relieve his immediate financial embarrassments." (Forster 22) The only thing
that was uplifting to Dickens during this time was that he was taken out of the
warehouse and put back into school. He spent the next three years at the
academy, completing all of the formal education that was to receive.
In 1827, Dickens entered a solicitor"s office. While applying himself to
the law, he managed in his spare time to master shorthand. About two years
later, Dickens felt ready to hazard a less tedious and more promising
occupation, and he became a free-lance court reporter. (Johnson 19) Which
started Dickens illustrious journalistic and writing carrier. For over three
years, the future novelist was brought into close contact with grim facets of
the city life as exhibited in the courts. His work was seasonable and to some
degree sporadic, so he was able to spend much time reading in the British
Museum. (Forster 26)
In March of 1832, Dickens became a journalist. After serving on two
newspapers and acquiring experience as a parliamentary reporter, in 1834 he
joined the staff of the prominent Morning Chronicle. (Allen 64) Dickens gained
the reputation of being one of the fastest and most accurate reporters in
London. "In addition to his metropolitan activities, his assignment took him
all over England, mainly to cover political events." (Bloom 65) With this
exposure to the prevailing realties of political life, in Parliament and around
the nation, the writer"s apprenticeship was receiving its finishing touches.
During his expeditions, Dickens had begun to compose sketches of London life.
The first of these was published unsigned in the Monthly Magazine of December
1833. In August 1834, the signature "Boz" made its first appearance, and
Dickens" anonymity evaporated. (Forster 28)
Dickens composed numerous sketches while continuing his journalistic career
at the newspaper. The records of the reporter"s keen observances that were
preserved in the vivid pieces later found their way into a profusion of
celebrated novels. Finally, on Dickens twenty-fourth birthday, "Sketches by
Boz, Illustrative of Everyday Life and Everyday People was published in book
form." (Allen 69) A second series came later, and the complete edition was
issued in 1839.
The following month an even more significant literary event occurred:
The first number of The Postumous Papers of the Pickwick Club was offered to
the public. Instead of being first serialized or released in its entirety, the
work came out in individual numbers that were sold separately from March 1836
thru November 1837. Only four hundred copies were printed of the first
installment, and the initial reception was inauspicious. (Johnson 32)
But later the sales rose and printings reached 40,000.
The success of the Sketches by Boz had elevated Dickens" confidence in the
future and sufficiently improved his income to enable him to assume the
responsibilities of matrimony. On April 2, 1836, two days after the first of the
Pickwick Papers went on sale, Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth were
married. (Nelson 20) The bride was the oldest daughter of George Hogarth, the
editor of the Evening Chronicle, an affiliate of the newspaper for which Dickens
wrote. The couple had ten children, but after twenty-two years the marriage
ended in separation. (Forster 34)
After the success of the Pickwick Papers, Dickens resigned from the Morning
Chronicle. Within months, he became editor of Bentley"s Miscellany. "The
February, 1837, issue began with the serialization of Oliver Twist; or, the
Parish Boy"s Progress by Boz, even though the busy editor was still at work on
the Pickwick Papers." (Wilson 76) Before Oliver Twist had all appeared,
several numbers of Dicken"s next novel, Nicholas
Nickleby, had been printed. Oliver Twist was completed in September 1838, and
was issued in book form before the end of the year.
Oliver Twist conclusively demonstrates that Dickens accepted the prevailing
doctrine that the novel should be directed toward social reform. Bloom believes
that Dickens was "not a propagandist espousing utopian panaceas for the ills
of the world." (48) Dickens bitterly attacks the defects of existing
institutions: government, the law, education, penal system. He also exposes the
injustice and wretchedness inflicted on the people. But Dickens does not suggest
the overthrow of government; nor does he offer a resolution.
"Dickens relinquished the editorship after a couple of years, but his
astounding literary productivity went on with few intermissions until the day of
his death." (Nelson 79) Dickens published book after book: The Old Curiosity
Shop, Barnaby Rudge, American Notes, Martin Chuzzlewit, Domebey and Son, David
Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, Little Dorrit, A Tale of Two Cities, Great
Expectations, Our Mutual Friend, and the unfinished The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
He also wrote miscellaneous sketches, travel accounts, articles, and dramatic
pieces, as well as A Christmas Carol and The Cricket on the Hearth. Dickens
assumed the editorship of Household Words and edited the periodical All the Year
Round. (Forster 51)
"Beginning with his early success, Dickens" literary career was an
unbroken triumphal procession." (Nelson Introduction) His popularity grew
enormously and everywhere he came to be regarded with almost reverence. His
cosmopolitan to his writing was awaited with wild expectation. Dickens was
universally beloved as probably no other living writer has ever been. On June 8,
1870, Charles Dickens, working on the manuscript of his last book The Mystery of
Edwin Drood, wrote longer than was his usual practice. At dinner time he
collapsed and sank into a comma; he died in the evening of the following day.
The news of Dickens" death was carried on a shock wave of grief to many
regions of the earth. As his body was interred in Westminster Abbey, the whole
world mourned. (Chesterton 236)
The story of Oliver Twist is a dark tale generated by vice, degradation, and
terror. Accordingly, it takes place against a suggestively unwholesome
background. "Slime and filth seem inescapable." (Johnson 196) Even the
elements conspire to accentuate the dismal atmosphere; the weather is often
bitterly cold, and rain and fog are frequent. It is important to note that the
large amount of significant action takes place at night. The criminals are
creatures of nocturnal habits. "Sunlight penetrates their gloomy world but
seldom, and then perhaps only to mock-as on the morning that Nancy is slain."
(Bloom 82) The only period of sustained brightness is during the summer months
when Oliver stays with the Maylies at their rural cottage. Even then, black
shadows are around by Rose"s near-fatal illness and the chilling intrusions of
Monks and Fagin.
The novel deals mainly with poverty and crime. The outcasts of society lurk
amid crumbling ruins that are expressive of the tottering institutions that have
helped to deform their lives. "In the author"s descriptions, the words "neglect"
and "decay" recur insistently." (Nelson 77) And it has been the neglect of
human values that has fostered the spiritual decay that is so aptly reflected in
the odious surroundings.
The plot of Oliver Twist is the same as a typical Dickens novel. It is
fashioned around the core of tangled intrigue that brings together a large
number of people. The characters are of "desperate origins and diverse
background." (Wilson 88) On the surface it would appear that their paths
should ever cross, but they are all inexorably drawn into the same web of
circumstances. Dickens seems to be conveying that the lives of men of all
stations may become intertwined and none is exempt from being impinged upon by
the actions of others.
"The characteristic distinguishing ingredient of the plot is conflict and
resolution." (Johnson 76) In Oliver Twist there are dual conflicts: the one
between Monks and Oliver; the other between Fagin and Sikes. Through his
conspiracy with Monks, Fagin is involved in both conflicts and is the agent
whose decisions precipitate the two lines tumultuous action that subsequently
The crisis in Oliver"s trials entails no volition on his part. The critical
decision is Fagin"s, when he maneuvers Oliver into the Chertsey fiasco.
(Nelson 98) the abortive burglary is the climax in the boy"s misadventures. In
the animosity between Sikes and Fagin, the crisis is reached when the old thief
resolves upon the destruction of his detested antagonist. Fagin"s preliminary
step of having Nancy spied upon leads directly to the climax of the girl"s
murder. "The final denouement comes with Sikes perishing in his own noose, at
the end of the day when the gang has been demolished." (Wilson 91) Both
exposition of the complications and the unraveling is accomplished by means of a
complex mosaic of "back-illumination." (Bloom 89) this technique offers
several distinctive advantages. It facilitates raising suspense to a high pitch
and maintaining interest at a lively level. In order to draw the numerous people
into the current of events, the author is forced to make liberal use of accident
and coincidence. These are, however, obscured by the method of telling the
story, so that credibility is not overtaxed.
Other violence to probability is likewise bewilder. For example in Chapter
49, Brownlow undermines Monks" resistance with the startling words "the only
proofs of the boy"s identity lie at the bottom of the river, and the old hag
that received then from the mother is rotting in her coffin." (Dickens 324)
These are the exact words that Nancy claimed to have overheard Monks utter while
the girl was engaged in her risky game of eavesdropping on his private parley
The novel also exhibits many characteristics of melodrama. "The quality of
pathos is freely injected, most gratuitously in the case of "little Dick.""
(Chesterton 238) The portrait of Oliver"s mother and Monks" scar are signs
used as recognition devices. Other examples of standard melodramatic apparatus
include the machinations of the evil brother, a destroyed will, assumed names,
and the discovery of unknown relatives. The romantic subplot itself partakes of
melodrama. In the contest between the dark and light forces of the book, the
maiden stands out in dazzling white purity. Although the romance is hardly
integral to the plot, it does defer to established literary tradition and
provides a center of interest for bringing the book to a conclusion. (Bloom 227)
A novel may have many levels of symbolism. Setting and characters may convey
symbolic meaning aside from their plot functions. Some traitor gesture of a
person may symbolize an aspect of his character, as Bumble"s fondness for his
three-cornered hat serves to illuminate his devotion to an empty
authoritarianism. (Wilson 251)
A purely symbolic character is one who has no plot function at all. The
chimney sweep, Gamfield, may be looked upon in this light. He contributes
nothing to the development of the plot but stands forth as a consummate
representative of unprovoked cruelty. Ordinarily, symbolic statement gives
expression to an abstraction. In spite of his conspicuous role in the plot,
Brownlow exemplifies at all times the efficacious virtue, benevolence. (Nelson
A note that pervades the novel of allusion to obesity, which in an inverse
fashion symbolizes hunger by calling attention to its absence. It is interesting
to observe the large number of characters who are corpulent. (Cruikskank 88)
Regardless of station, those may be considered prosperous enough to be
reasonably well-fed pose a symbolic contrast to poverty and under-nourishment.
â¦the parish board is made up of "eight or ten fat gentlemen"; the
workhouse master is a "fat healthy man"; Bumble is a "portly person";
Giles is fat and Brittles "by no means of a slim figure"; Mr. Losberne is
"a fat gentleman"; one of the Bow Street runners is "a portly man."
The setting is also charged with symbolism in Oliver Twist. The external
evidences of neglect and decay are expressive of their counterparts in society
and in the hearts of men. The dark deeds and dark passions are concretely
characterized by dim rooms, smoke fog, and pitch-black nights. The governing
mood of terror and merciless brutality may be identified with the frequent rain
and uncommonly cold weather.
To read Oliver Twist is like looking down a dirty alley in the light of six o"clock
of a March morning. "The dustbin, the dead cat, the scattered filth, the
broken bottles, the forsaken old granny huddled up in her rags on a doorstep,
the bully skulking home, casting a look over his shoulder at every step, are
perceived as in a hard light before sunrise." (Cruikskank 166) This was the
Victorian times. The French Revolution was finally over leaving men either dead
or unemployed. Crime became a harsh reality that leads to death. Juveniles were
born criminals or born to work in the factories. Society was just beginning to
A new concept was adopted to deal with the vexing issue of pauperism. "The
Poor Law of 1834 provided that all able-bodied paupers must reside in a
warehouse." (Chesterton 330) Inmates of the warehouse became objects of public
stigma, and to further heighten the unpopularity of the institutions, living
arrangements in them were deliberately made harsh. The plan was successful from
one standpoint, for within three years the cost of poor relief was reduced by
over one-third. However, the system was sharply censored, and the increased
prevalence of crime has been attributed to it. "Dickens made the Poor Law of
1834 a conspicuous target of denunciation in Oliver Twist." (Chesterton 331)
Oliver Twist is an example of the Poor Law. He was thrown into a warehouse
while he was an infant, and worked through his childhood. He was thrown out
after asking for more food, and sold to an undertaker. During the Victorian Era,
youths were sold for nothing. Since there was only education for the upper
class, Twist was not literate. He soon ran away from the undertaker, and pursued
In London scanty wages given to forms of labor, as well as high rent and
provisions, made it almost impossible for man to support their family. This led
to father and son teaming up to pick pocket the wealthy. Oliver learned how to
pick pocket from a new friend, Dodger, on his first day in the city. Dodger
worked for Fagin, who in return for wallets, gave food and shelter. Fagin grew a
liking to Oliver, and figured that he would learn to be a skilled thief. Dickens
made evident to the reader about Victorian life in the city. (Cruikskank 163)
The upper class ruled over the entire city. The middle class was emerging and
the lower class was shunned upon. That is why there was so much crime and little
control. Most crime was sent before a judge and then executed, until the late
Oliver had to deal with a large number of criminal acts, but luckily was able
to have a sound mind. Monks and Fagin were evil to the adolescents, like the
villains they were. The only one that was kind to them was Nancy, who had taken
the wrong path in life. She saved Oliver"s life in return for her. Being a
woman, and having no rights, no one would listen to her.
The harshness of the Victorian Era had most "enslavement." (Cruikskank
168) Men worked in the mills, children worked in the factories, and women were
treated with no rights. If one was not the upper class, one had to steal to
live. This is what Dickens makes apparent throughout Oliver Twist from all
sides. Oliver had lived a terrible life, but still had the will to make it
through and find happiness. Dickens understood the Victorian Era so well, which
brought out many parallels, in all of Dickens works.
Oliver"s life is one that no one would want to live. Luckily, through the
rough times, Oliver still found happiness thanks to Brownlow. Dickens did a
remarkable job making parallels between Twist"s life in the Victorian Era.
Being an orphan, thrown into a warehouse to work, sold, and learning to be a
criminal, all where aspects of the Victorian Era which Dickens makes apparent to
the audience. He also makes an effort to point out that the class system was
ruling the time, and woman had no say in any matter. Dickens lived up to his
name as the king of the Victorian Era in Oliver Twist, possibly because of the
strong parallels to the time.
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SAMPLE THESIS STATEMENTS
These sample thesis statements are provided as guides, not as required forms or prescriptions.
The thesis may focus on an analysis of one of the elements of fiction, drama, poetry or nonfiction as expressed in the work: character, plot, structure, idea, theme, symbol, style, imagery, tone, etc.
In “A Worn Path,” Eudora Welty creates a fictional character in Phoenix Jackson whose determination, faith, and cunning illustrate the indomitable human spirit.
Note that the work, author, and character to be analyzed are identified in this thesis statement. The thesis relies on a strong verb (creates). It also identifies the element of fiction that the writer will explore (character) and the characteristics the writer will analyze and discuss (determination, faith, cunning).
The character of the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet serves as a foil to young Juliet, delights us with her warmth and earthy wit, and helps realize the tragic catastrophe.
The works of ecstatic love poets Rumi, Hafiz, and Kabir use symbols such as a lover’s longing and the Tavern of Ruin to illustrate the human soul’s desire to connect with God.
The thesis may focus on illustrating how a work reflects the particular genre’s forms, the characteristics of a philosophy of literature, or the ideas of a particular school of thought.
“The Third and Final Continent” exhibits characteristics recurrent in writings by immigrants: tradition, adaptation, and identity.
Note how the thesis statement classifies the form of the work (writings by immigrants) and identifies the characteristics of that form of writing (tradition, adaptation, and identity) that the essay will discuss.
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame reflects characteristics of Theatre of the Absurd in its minimalist stage setting, its seemingly meaningless dialogue, and its apocalyptic or nihilist vision.
A close look at many details in “The Story of an Hour” reveals how language, institutions, and expected demeanor suppress the natural desires and aspirations of women.
The thesis may draw parallels between some element in the work and real-life situations or subject matter: historical events, the author’s life, medical diagnoses, etc.
In Willa Cather’s short story, “Paul’s Case,” Paul exhibits suicidal behavior that a caring adult might have recognized and remedied had that adult had the scientific knowledge we have today.
This thesis suggests that the essay will identify characteristics of suicide that Paul exhibits in the story. The writer will have to research medical and psychology texts to determine the typical characteristics of suicidal behavior and to illustrate how Paul’s behavior mirrors those characteristics.
Through the experience of one man, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, accurately depicts the historical record of slave life in its descriptions of the often brutal and quixotic relationship between master and slave and of the fragmentation of slave families.
In “I Stand Here Ironing,” one can draw parallels between the narrator’s situation and the author’s life experiences as a mother, writer, and feminist.
SAMPLE PATTERNS FOR THESES ON LITERARY WORKS
1. In (title of work), (author) (illustrates, shows) (aspect) (adjective).
Example: In “Barn Burning,” William Faulkner shows the characters Sardie and Abner Snopes struggling for their identity.
2. In (title of work), (author) uses (one aspect) to (define, strengthen, illustrate) the (element of work).
Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses foreshadowing to strengthen the plot.
3. In (title of work), (author) uses (an important part of work) as a unifying device for (one element), (another element), and (another element). The number of elements can vary from one to four.
Example: In “Youth,” Joseph Conrad uses the sea as a unifying device for setting, structure and theme.
4. (Author) develops the character of (character’s name) in (literary work) through what he/she does, what he/she says, what other people say to or about him/her.
Example: Langston Hughes develops the character of Semple in “Ways and Means”…
5. In (title of work), (author) uses (literary device) to (accomplish, develop, illustrate, strengthen) (element of work).
Example: In “The Masque of the Red Death,” Poe uses the symbolism of the stranger, the clock, and the seventh room to develop the theme of death.
6. (Author) (shows, develops, illustrates) the theme of __________ in the (play, poem, story).
Example: Flannery O’Connor illustrates the theme of the effect of the selfishness of the grandmother upon the family in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
7. (Author) develops his character(s) in (title of work) through his/her use of language.
Example: John Updike develops his characters in “A & P” through his use of figurative language.
Perimeter College, Georgia State University, http://depts.gpc.edu/~gpcltc/handouts/communications/literarythesis.pdf