Charles Dickens is one of the greatest writers of the Victorian era. The famous British novelist was born into a family belonging to the middle class, so, he had an opportunity to obtain some education. His father was “an improvident naval clerk who was imprisoned for debt” (Burt, 108).
Dickens was twelve years old when his father got imprisoned. He found it necessary to support financially the whole family. To gain some money Charles Dickens started working at the workhouse. After that, the writer had some experience of creating literary works as “a court and parliamentary shorthand reporter” (Burt, 108). The experience of a writer has caused the publication of his first work in 1837. It was called The Pickwick Papers and made Charles Dickens one of the greatest novelists of the Victorian era.
This success was followed by the next novel Oliver Twist published in 1837-1839; first, it was serialized and then the full work was published. Charles Dickens was one of the novelists who wrote his works in a specifically structured manner, so, it was easier to publish his novels as properly organized series. The most famous works of Charles Dickens, including the ones of The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist, are Christmas Carol, Bleak House, Great Expectations, and David Copperfield.
Dickens is famous for its miraculous ability to depict life in all its expressions: the low-class people and their hardships, including black humor and sarcasm. The novels of the author are considered outstanding for “the variety of lo-class characters and scenes depicted, perhaps a first in English literature” (Smiley, 1).
All the novels of the great writer Charles Dickens are the stories representing the contemporary period of the author. The social and economic problems raised in the novels are described as an integral part of Victorian-era society. The poor people were not the exception but rather the rule. People did not have jobs or their jobs did not provide them with the needed amount of money. One more problem of the Victorian period was poverty and misery because the economic position of people belonging to the low class was horrible and engaged them in crimes.
The children had to work in the workhouses; the labor there was extremely hard and exhausting; they were not given the food in the appropriate quantity, the working day consisted of ten hours of slavery, humiliation, starvation, and sorrow. How did Charles Dickens show the economic hardships of the lower class during this time?
Charles Dickens describes the economic situation in the country against the social background of the low-class characters. The prototypes of most characters of his books were people encountered by Dickens during his life and work at the workhouse, at the court, and in the newspaper. The law system, governmental decisions, social and economic institutions are criticized in the novels written by Charles Dickens.
One of the famous novels written by the famous English novelist of the Victorian era, Charles Dickens, is the novel Oliver Twist. It is the representation of the social problems and economic hardships of contemporary society. It gives the reader a vivid description of the life of the low-class people, their problems, while it gives no solutions to their problems, simply bare facts, and descriptions. Dickens criticizes the government, the authorities, the law system, the structure and rules of the social and economic institutions of his time.
The novel Oliver Twist or the full name of it is Oliver Twist or the Parish Boy’s Progress tells about the adventures of the little boy Oliver Twist. There are a great number of problems raised in the novel: the problem of parentage, the problem of the social status, the problem of child labor, the problem of the economic hardships, and other problems that are raised and described without giving any ideas about solution of these numerous problems.
The novel Oliver Twist is a remarkable piece of literature that gives the reader a full expression of the spirit of the Victorian era. To tell the truth, this spirit was a stinking one saturated with worn-out, dirty, filthy thieves. How did Charles Dickens show the economic hardships of the lower class during this time? The answer is very simple because the whole novel represents the economic hardships of people interlaced with the adventure of the little poor boy abandoned by the members of his family.
The full name of the novel lets the reader a brief impression of the actions taking place in the novel. It tells the reader about the possibility of adventures and difficulties, problems, and hardships experienced by the main character and his companions and friends. Oliver Twist appears abandoned by his mother who died in childbirth. Here we can see the representation of the first burning issue of the novel.
There were thousands of abandoned children. There was a numerous variety of reasons for their orphanage. One of the reasons is described in the novel Oliver Twist. At the very beginning of the novel the mother of the main character dies in the process of delivering a baby. Here the mysterious outset for the secret of the origin, social status, and parentage is depicted.
The main character is considered to pass through difficulties to experience all hardships and value his genuine position. “Halfway through Oliver Twist, its young hero is absorbed into a pastoral world evoked in fragments of Wordsworthian language and echoes of an idealized eighteenth-century village order” (Bodenheimer, 119).
The young hero is not considered to be a hero; he is rather a symbol of the good things that exist in the world (Hobsbaum, 38). Oliver is the boy who encounters injustice and all hardships of the economical position within the society. He does not seem to complain about his problems and getting into trouble, but all his actions are aimed at searching for the true destination.
The novel about the adventures of Oliver Twist is not a guideline about the solution to the economical problems of contemporary society. The author represents several ideas, that should be analyzed and criticizes, the economical structure of the country, the measures assumed to control the employment rate. The economic conditions of low-class people are the issues for discussion.
The author of the novel introduces “a contradiction between freedom and necessity, undermining his investigation of social corruptibility with a saving vision of unconditioned goodness” (Bodenheimer, 120). The main hero finds himself in the middle between two worlds; he is threatened by the members of a thief gang to become a thief as well. He tries to escape the criminal environment of the low-class people.
“The gap between nature and society opens at the moment of Oliver’s birth and is extended throughout his story in terms of a split between the body and the spirit” (Bodenheimer, 121). The main character of the novel serves as the chain between the two worlds. He does not know about the genuine origin but feels that the criminal world is not the one he belongs to.
One of the most burning issues of the Victorian era is the level of the orphanage, the further life of children after being abandoned, and the measures assumed to improve the current situation. The children are taken to so-called “baby farms”, where they are treated worse than animals. The people who maintain such institutions receive some payment from the governmental sources for the abandoned children and for keeping them at the “baby farm”; where the real life of children resembles a horror movie.
Children abandoned by their parents are doomed to languish in poverty like animals or ones deprived of family and support. The children are to work hard to finally get some food unfit even for dogs. The Great London Waif Crisis is the problem that is related to the orphanage.
The number of children that appeared to be abandoned or just found themselves in the street is simply enormous. The problem is raised in the novel Oliver Twist written by the greatest novelist of the English language taking into consideration the complexity of the theme. But Charles Dickens described the work at the workhouse easily.
The description of the hard labor is the result of the author’s experience of the work at the workhouse during the period when his father was imprisoned for debts. Charles Dickens is one of the writers who introduce the descriptions and characters encountered personally in the everyday life.
The image of Oliver Twist is a symbol of goodness, an embodiment of the good intentions, the natural flow of life, and the actions made due to the good nature of intentions. “The descent into the waters of death is the last and most significant version of a constant motif in Dickens, a motif going back to Oliver Twist: the reaffirmation of one’s given the role after an interval of separation from it” (Miller, 325).
The children who were abandoned were placed into special institutions called baby farms or infant farms. Here the children of all ages were forced to work to have some food and a place to call home. This situation was oppressive and many children tried to escape the evil fate. Some of them were able to find a place to live and people who helped them.
Other children who managed to escape the infant farms were recruited as thieves or other kinds of criminals. They were trained to still wallets and to rob houses. Their teachers had gangs that were composed of children involved in the crimes. The children were engaged in criminal actions because they fitted perfectly the size of the windows to rob the houses or ordinary people and to pickpocket the wallets in the streets.
It was easier for children to escape and to get released in case they were caught. The novel shows “a fascination not only with brutal crime, in the story of Bill Sykes and Nancy, but also with the idea of a kingdom of crime, in Fagin and his school for thieves” (Green, 137). The author reveals a mystery of the low-class world and describes its main characters.
The other burning issue of the Victorian era from the point of view of the economic hardships is the Poor Law. All the laws of that time were not perfect, but this one was at least unjust to the representatives of the low class of contemporary society. It represented the embodiment of cruel treatment and discrimination towards the low-class workers and their children and children from infant farms.
The Poor Law can be stated as one of the economic and social problems of the Victorian era and can serve as the answer for the question of the economic hardships of the low-class society as presented by Charles Dickens. According to this special law system the poor people had to work in workhouses. The principle of the less eligibility assured that the working conditions of the workhouse were worse than the worst working conditions outside it.
Child labor is the phenomenon within the legal issues of society; no one struggles against the injustice or the hard work of children in workhouses. The children have to work for ten hours or even more to be fed like animals and treated like dogs. Another way for the abandoned or poor children was to be recruited by the criminal.
The work for the criminal was more profitable as well as more dangerous: the member of a gang could be wounded or imprisoned. The leader of the gang was not involved in the crimes; he was a teacher for young inexperienced thieves and the person who planned the robberies and controlled the amount of money in the pockets of his “employees”.
The criminal world is shown as a part of contemporary society; it is the result of the economic hardships of the low-class people. The people being the representatives of the low class had little choice between the work in workhouses and the criminal life within the thief gangs.
The low-class society was divided into two parts by the economic conditions in the country. The adults abandoned their children or gave voluntarily to the infant farms, where the children had to work hard or escape the horrible conditions by becoming a thief, a member of the street gang.
The novel Oliver Twist is written by the greatest English novelist of all time. Charles Dickens introduces the adventures of the young boy, mysteries, and troubles related to the companions of the main character and his origin. The author’s descriptions of the economic hardships and social injustice are very realistic. The realistic vision of the problems raised in the novel is the result of the problems experienced by Dickens at the age of twelve years when his father got imprisoned for debts.
Oliver Twist is one of the well-known works of Charles Dickens. The features of the number of characters are the features of people encountered by the author during his life. The novel Oliver Twist shows “that a sense of the grotesque idiosyncrasies of people, their incommensurability with one another, is a central element in Dickens’ vision of the world” (Miller, 330).
The Victorian era is one of the brightest periods in British literature from the point of view of mysterious adventures and fiction. The descriptions of life were not idealized to make it better. Real-life was represented with all its hardships and crimes; it was criticized and analyzed from the position of the economic conditions of the low-class people.
Bodenheimer, Rosemarie. The Politics of Story in Victorian Social Fiction. New York: Cornell University Press, 1991.
Burt, Daniel S. The Biography Book: a Reader’s Guide to Nonfiction, Fictional, and Film Biographies of More Than 500 of the Most Fascinating Individuals of All Time. Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2001.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. London: Penguin Books, 2008.
Green, Martin Burgess. Seven Types of Adventure Tale: an Etiology of a Major Genre. Pennsylvania: Penn State Press, 1991.
Hobsbaum, Philip. A Reader’s Guide to Charles Dickens. London: Syracuse University Press, 1998.
Miller, Joseph Hillis. Charles Dickens: the World of his Novels. London: Harvard University Press, 1958.
Smiley, Jane. Charles Dickens. London: Viking, 2002.