Mrs Mann’s name suggests the lack of feminine nurturing skills, her name being an aptonym like many other characters in the novel. Dickens’ characters are often two-dimensional, cartoonish archetypes which allowed his Victorian audience to read them as representative figures, rather than merely fictional constructs. ] By surrounding Dickens lists examples of the numerous ways that children were killed through neglect at the hands of Mrs Mann, and makes casual reference to a mortality rate of 85%:
“It did so perversely happen in eight and half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident” The connotations of the word smothered are suggestive of society’s smothering of children by oppression. Dickens contrasts the language Mrs Mann uses in speech to welcome Mr Bumble and the language used to refer to the children in her care, to display her deception: “(Susan, take Oliver and them two brats up-stairs,)… ” and then, in conversation with Mr Bumble : ” My heart alive! Mr. Bumble, how glad I am to see you, -sure-ly!
” Within the first two chapters, Oliver has encountered several people employed by the parish to care for him, none of whom have treated him with any compassion or care. Indeed, Dickens suggests that the very root of a child’s survival laid in him not being surrounded by care and compassion: “If.. Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would have most inevitably and indubitably been killed in no time” Oliver is then moved to the workhouse, and it is here where the most famous scene in Oliver Twist is set.
After an elaborate description of the way the boys devoured the small amount of gruel they were given, Dickens makes it clear how gruesome the conditions in the workhouses are – even ten years after Oliver is born, things appear to be getting worse. It is Oliver who is chosen to ask for more food, and it is this which is the catalyst for Oliver’s escape from the Workhouse. The reaction of those in the workhouse is so excessive in their horror that it is humorous. “There was a general start. Horror was depicted on every countenance”
Dickens highlights the hypocrisy that these gentleman revel in through their treatment of the children, in comparison with the tiny amounts of gruel given to the Workhouse inhabitants, they are “.. fat, healthy men” who feast gluttonously on superb cuisine at meal times. However, Oliver’s escape is not into a happier environment, rather into yet another of Victorian society’s ills – child employment. Dickens continuously refers to society’s capitalistic commodification of children – in the opening Oliver is “badged and ticketed”, he is later referred to as being “To Let” when the undertaker.
Mr Sowerberry “takes possession of him”. Fagin too says, in reference to Oliver, “the boy’s worth hundreds of pounds to me”. This works as part of Dickens’ wider campaign against the dehumanizing effects of capitalism. Dickens presents children as having a “sweet and soothing”, medicinal effect on adults. Whilst Brownlow’s adoption of Oliver is a benevolent act, it is also taken to animate his life, he, an adult who has lost his childhood and is living a materially comfortable yet emotionally barren existence. Oliver “awakened in his own bosom old remembrances”.
This portrayal of childhood is consistent with Romantic idolisation of children. Nancy embodies in her loyalty to Bill Sikes a childhood innocence, wherein Dickens suggests that the abstract quality of childhood is not restricted to “mere children” By surrounding himself with children, Fagin too attempts to fulfil his desire for this exposure to the magical powers of childhood. Fagin is a victim of Oliver Twist’s recycling in popular culture, film and TV adaptations have simplified Dickens’ portrait and replaced it with a pantomime, Shylockian villain, with a tendency towards pederasty.
However, Fagin’s exploitation of children is clearly shown by Dickens to be only a microcosm of society’s greater and systemic exploitation of children. Oliver, rather understandably, decides to run away. As he leaves, there is a beautiful moment where Oliver says goodbye to his friend Dick, whom he remembers from the Child farm. Here, Oliver says to Dick; “they beat and ill-use me, Dick” It is notable that a life of abuse and ill-use is all Oliver has ever known or experienced, yet Oliver clearly knows that it is wrong – or he would not run from it.
Dick has overheard the doctor saying that he will die, and it appears that such a fate would not be uncommon for children left to the devices of parochial care. So Oliver continues to London. Upon arrival, he becomes acquainted with the Artful Dodger, and very quickly is immersed in a new aspect of childhood destitution- childhood crime. Oliver’s naivety is highlighted in the first few encounters with Fagin’s gang, the language used by these criminals is unfamiliar to Oliver, and he frequently inquires as to what they mean.
Dickens spells words phonetically, characterising these urban street children colourfully. Their dialect and ‘flash’ contrasts markedly with the standard English of the narrative voice. Throughout the entire novel, Oliver is portrayed as an innocent child, who needs to be rescued from the society that, on the whole, exploits him. Dickens shows society treats children appallingly, but that good will always triumph over evil. The problem is that the reader may find this conclusion trite.
After a scathing attack on the evils of Victorian capitalism on children the only resolution Dickens has to offer us is a fairytale ending. Dickens’ idealized vision of childhood is not that far away from the Lionel Bart adaptation with Oliver’s life as a pick pocketing cabaret of song and dance Mr Brownlow rescues Oliver and restores his fortunes. Oliver lives as “the most blessed and favoured of mortals. ” Dickens waves his narratorial magic wand and all is well in the world. This unconvincing resolution, coupled with a clichi??
d depiction of Oliver as the quintessence of innocence and goodness produces a model of childhood that is eventually demolished by later writers such as William Golding in Lord of the Flies where children are depicted as selfish and feral. Golding shows us the darkness in children’s hearts, Dickens only a sanitised and sentimentalised portrayal. Word Count : 2,081 Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Oliver Twist section.