“Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was originally called “the Parish Boy’s Progress” and is the earliest English novel to have a child as it’s main character. In this novel I have found several examples of Oliver being mistreated, neglected and exploited, by the adults around him. The way, in which Dickens makes Oliver look like the victim on numerous occasions throughout the book, makes it clear that Dickens is emphasising the cruelty and callousness of the Victorians, towards paupers.
Dickens uses irony and makes acidic authorial comments throughout the novel, to highlight the hypocrisy and pomposity of the adult characters. With particular reference to Chapter Two and Chapter Four of the novel, I am going to explore how Dickens criticises Victorian society for its hypocrisy and ill treatment of children, such as Oliver. For parts of my exploration of the question, I will comment upon Dickens’s skilful character descriptions, his use of irony, his use of emotive language and his open criticisms of the cruelties inflicted upon young Oliver, by the adults in his life.
The first extract from “Oliver Twist” which I am going to explore, is entitled “Chapter II. Treats of Oliver Twist’s growth, education and board. ” It tells us of Oliver’s life from just after his birth to his ninth birthday. At which point, he is taken from the orphanage, to the parish workhouse. At this age Dickens describes Oliver as “a pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature and decidedly small in circumference. ” Firstly, I am going to concentrate on the character of Mrs. Mann, within this extract. Mrs.
Mann is Oliver’s “foster mother”, along with many other young children. She does not treat the children well, and as such, when Mr. Bumble calls “he [Oliver] was keeping it [his ninth birthday] in the coal cellar with a select party of two other gentlemen, who, after participating in a sound thrashing, had been locked up for presuming to be hungry. ” This explains to us that Mrs. Mann half starves her children as well as physically abusing and beating them.
We can see that she beats the children often in the following quotation -“the fist had been too often impressed upon his body. ” She also admits to Mr. Bumble that she drugs the children with gin, or “Daffy” as she calls it. She gives the excuse that she “couldn’t see ’em suffer before me very eyes. ” The gin would subdue the children’s spirits and they would be easier to quieten down and keep in line.
Oliver seems to be afraid of Mrs. Mann, as seen when she is stood behind Mr. Bumble “shaking her fist at him with a furious countenance. ” At this Oliver “took the hint” and pretended to be upset at leaving her.