Charles Dickens; Reforming from Experience

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  • Topic: Charles Dickens, Workhouse, Poor Law Amendment Act 1834
  • Pages : 11 (3920 words )
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  • Published : May 19, 2006
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Charles Dickens was born on February 7, 1812. Dickens was born at the height of the Industrial Revolution, a time which brought great change to Victorian society. Population in urban areas (London's, in particular) soared. The overpopulation led to a lack of employment; soon poverty and crime increased. In response, the Poor Laws were put into effect. The Poor Laws established baby farms and workhouses to provide aid for those in poverty, and those who could not find work. Rather than provide money or pay in a form of welfare, they provided food and housing. As a child, Dickens experienced the hardships of poverty and neglect of aid that he would write about in his works later in his life. Charles Dickens strongly disagreed with the Poor Laws, and expressed negative imagery of its institutions and those who ran them. Charles Dickens's personal experiences with the underprivileged and government neglect of these people in English society led to his book Oliver Twist. This book became an invitation for British society to take action and aid the poor and working classes with methods other than workhouses.

Charles Dickens's experiences with poverty as a child, and his first-hand accounts of workhouses and other effects of the Poor Law Amendment Act he witnessed later in his travels as a journalist, shape events, characters, and settings in Oliver Twist. When Charles Dickens was twelve, in 1824, his father was imprisoned in a debtor's prison. Charles was the only member of this family allowed to leave; outside the prison walls, Dickens was working at a blacking factory. His experiences in and out of the debtor's prison and blacking factory greatly influenced Oliver Twist. Dickens's father was put into a debtor's prison, Marshalsea, and his family came with him, in 1824, only three years after his role as a naval office clerk was phased out. Dickens was the only one let out, so that he could work in a blacking factory. It was here that he met Robert Fagin, a man who worked with him. Charles Dickens took the liberty of using his name later in life, as a character in Oliver Twist. Robert Fagin was kind to him, and helped him—filled empty blacking bottles with hot water and made a bed out of straw for Dickens—when he was in pain and unable to work (Charles Dickens was frequented with painful back spasms as a child). Robert Fagin becomes the satanic character in Oliver Twist when he walks home with Dickens one day. It is here that he soon can become aware of Dickens's hidden poverty. However, Charles Dickens lies to him and tells him that he lives in a separate house. Charles is traumatized by and ashamed of the debtor's prison, and possesses an immense fear that someone will find out about his family's situation. The non-fiction Fagin is too close to finding out that Dickens and family live in a debtor's prison. This traumatized Dickens, and haunted him until he would develop Fagin into a satanic character in Oliver Twist. Dickens shows a sheer cunning as he deceives Fagin into believing he lives in another home. Charles then takes it to another level, both to satisfy his flair for the dramatic and to reassure himself that he has fully deceived Fagin. This parallels the Artful Dodger's own flair for the dramatic, as he boasted to the cops and other criminals about his high rank in the criminal underworld. He tries to appear as a big-shot criminal, rather than the petty thief he is. As a young boy in the blacking factory, he is very similar to Oliver Twist as he claims to be very "delicate, soon hurt, bodily or mentally" with a "certain striking sensitiveness about him." (Smiley, Charles Dickens, 38) He shares these traits with Oliver, as Oliver is a meek child in a workhouse. Dickens was frequently criticized by his co-workers as he was immobilized from the back spasms that frequented him. He was accused of faking his pains and called lazy. When Oliver is referred to as an orphan, the mere...
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