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Oliver Twist Essay, Research Paper


With all of the symbolism and moral issues represented in Oliver Twist, all seem to come from real events from the life of its author, Charles Dickens. The novels protagonist, Oliver, is a good person at heart surrounded by the filth of the London streets. Filth that Dickens himself was forced to deal with in his everyday life. But through morals and mere chance Oliver becomes a living symbol.

It?s probable that the reason Oliver Twist contains so much fear and agony is because it?s a reflection of occurrences in Charles Dickens’ past. During his childhood, Charles Dickens suffered much abuse from his parents. This abuse is often expressed in his novel. While at the orphanage, Oliver experienced a great amount of abuse. For example, while suffering from starvation and malnutrition for a long period of time, Oliver was chosen by the other boys at the orphanage to request more gruel at dinner one night. After making this simple request, the master (at the orphanage) aimed a blow at Oliver’s head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle. The whole beginning of Oliver Twist’s story was created from memories which related to Charles Dickens’ childhood in a blacking factory (which was overshadowed by the Marshalsea Prison ). While working in the blacking factory, Dickens suffered tremendous humiliation. This humiliation is greatly expressed through Oliver’s adventures at the orphanage before he is sent away.

Throughout his lifetime, Dickens appeared to have acquired a fondness for “the bleak, the sordid, and the austere.? (Bloom 231) Most of Oliver Twist, for example, takes place in London’s lowest slums. The

city is described as a maze which involves a “mystery of darkness,

anonymity, and peril.” (Bloom 232) Many of the settings, such as the pickpocket’s hideout, the surrounding streets, and the bars, are also described as dark, gloomy, and bland.

Even while his life was in danger while in the hands of Fagin and Bill Sikes, two conniving pickpockets, he refused to participate in the

stealing which he so greatly opposed. All Oliver really longed for was

?to escape from harsh living conditions and evil surroundings which he

had grown up in.? (Walder 299) However, no matter how tempting the evil may have been, Oliver stood by his beliefs. Therefore, he can be referred to as:

Unfortunately, many critics have found it hard to believe that a boy such as Oliver Twist could remain so innocent, pure, and well spoken given the long period of time in which he was surrounded by evil and injustices. Fagin the head of a group of young thieves, spends most of his time trying to “demoralize and corrupt Oliver and prevent him from ever coming into his inheritance.” (Hobsbaum 72) To Oliver, he is seen as an escape from all previous misery. He also helps Oliver to ease any fears about starvation and loneliness.

One element relied heavily upon in this novel is symbolism. Obviously, escape is an important symbol in Oliver Twist. Oliver is seeking various forms of escape from conditions which makes him unhappy and from his loneliness and starvation. Since dealing with escapism, it is not surprising that death also plays a major role as a symbol in this story. In the novel, death and coffins symbolize a happy and peaceful manner of escape. It is suggested that only loneliness and brutality exist on earth. Supposedly, there is no sanctity on the planet, which is a belief that goes against the idea of a ?Heaven on earth.? (Praz 54) Another important symbol within the novel is “two separate and conflicting dualisms: one, social, between the individual and the institution; the second, moral, between the respectable and the criminal.” (Praz 56) Most of Oliver Twist seems to imply that “it is better to be a thief than to be alone.” (Walder 152) This tends to make the reader think that Dickens favors the criminal aspect of his novel over the moral side. However, the conflict between the individual and the institution leads to Dickens’ criticism of social injustices such as injusticestowards the poor. Also in the form of satire, Dickens attempts to “challenge the pleasurability of fortune.” (Romano 81)

Aside from satire, Dickens uses various other devices in writing this novel. One of the most common is that of coincidence. For example, Oliver just happened to end up, first, at the house of Mr. Brownlow, who at one time was a really good friend of Oliver’s father. Then, later on, Oliver ends up at Rose Maylie’s house, who, as it turns out is his aunt. Both of these occurances are also even more rare just because of where they happened. In Dickens time, London was not as huge a city as it is now, but it was still one of the larger places at the time. So, coincidence? Maybe in a town like Plainsville, TX (pop. 75), but not in London. (Rosales 927) “Written in abrupt, truncated chapters,” (Winans 238) Oliver Twist took the form of a new type of English prose. It depends heavily on the use of abstraction, or the avoidance of various facts. However, the novel has it?s own form of narration. Oliver Twist is written in the third person, therefore the reader gains a view of the story from the position of an onlooker or outsider. They form their own opinions about the characters from “watching them.”

With a theme dealing primarily in social injustices and various writing techniques such as the use of coincidental incidences and abstractions, the book has a lot to offer society in terms of pointing out many problems which still exist today, such as child abuse and injustice to the poor. All of which are bad things in our society that are not usually in the spotlight. In order to conquer these evils, they must first be understood and explaining the severity of these experiences seems to be a job which Charles Dickens did very well.

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