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Oliver Twist

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How does Dickens create sympathy for the character of Oliver in the first four chapters of Oliver twist?

Oliver Twist is the second novel Charles Dickens wrote and one of his darkest dealing with burglary, kidnapping, abuse, prostitution and murder. Charles Dickens first introduced his novel as small monthly instalments in a magazine called the Bentley’s Miscellany. This will explain why Dickens creates lots of tension and cliff-hangers in this lasts paragraphs of each chapter.

Charles Dickens’ childhood was plagued by poverty and unfortunate incidents, from his father John Dickens, being arrested due to the failure to pay a mounting debt. Charles Dickens himself had to work at a shoe polish factory to pay off his father’s debts, while the rest of his family were sent Marshalsea.

Dickens later left the factory and returned to full time education, although his experience in the blacking factory made him very sympathetic towards the poor. Many could say his experience at the blacking factory was the most influential factor in the writing Oliver Twist.

In Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens criticises the new Poor Law of 1834. This law was introduced because of the increase of the population due to the industrial revolution. Parishes were responsible for looking after the poor, but the sudden increase of the poor made it too overwhelming for parishes to look after everyone. The Poor Law itself was made to help and assist the unfortunate until they got a suitable and legal way of income. However the system had grave faults.

People without any means of income to survive on such as the unemployed, penniless, mentally ill and disable were sent the treacherous workhouses. Workhouses were actually designed so that they would be a miserable place to be. This would lead people to be independent and harder working in order to avoid being sent to the workhouse. The workhouse was a very intolerant place and had a sharp set of rules and relegations. Meals were very minute and were eaten in total silence.

Families were spilt apart according to their gender or age. Women were on one side of the building and men were on the other side. Also children were separated from adults. Infants and toddlers were sent to a place called baby farms. All dwellers of the workhouse were forced to work hard long hours.

He tries to point out how unfairly the poor were treated by the wealthy in Victorian England. Also how the affluent weren’t so perfect, Dickens introduces in the character of Mr Bumble and the members of the board, through satire and sarcasm.

Oliver Twist is about a boy who was brought up by the parish and becomes an orphan because his mother dies during his birth. He gets in a lot of trouble in the workhouse and then in the next “home” he is sent to. He then runs away to London were he gets into a gang of petty thieves. Charles Dickens is the best candidate, because of his earlier life to write a story like Oliver Twist, to draw attention to how the poor lived. For Charles Dickens it is imperative to create sympathy for Oliver because it touches peoples’ emotions and generates empathy for the condition of the poor in his society. But he also creates irony and is very sarcastic with the language he constructs. I think he does this so it doesn’t seem so unpleasant to the mind but contacts the conscience and makes people think twice and look in between the lines.

In chapter one of Oliver Twist we discover that Oliver is treated as if he was not human and only a mere item. Dickens doesn’t use this name once in the opening paragraphs but refers to him as an ‘item of mortality’ or a ‘burden that has been imposed upon the parish’. This automatically tells us he has dehumanised Oliver. Mortality means that were all destined to die, so to introduce Oliver with such a word may show that death is never to far away from Oliver.

Also during Oliver’s birth the doctor and nurse are both incredibly inconsiderate and pay very little attention to the birth of Oliver. ‘Patchwork coverlet which was carelessly flung’; the adjective ‘carelessly’ is what makes this an important quote because when you do something with out care, and then you do it with out any compassion and no fear of consequence. Furthermore the nurse is drunk; ‘hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the content of which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction’. While she should be delivering a baby, both of these paragraphs are forms of pathos because Charles Dickens creates sympathy. From Oliver’s birth he as been shown no consideration for. Charles Dickens may be foreshadowing what Oliver’s later life will be like. This is the attitude that may wealthy Victorians had towards the poor and Dickens continues to criticise the wealthy with varies techniques such as irony and satire.

‘If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to tender mercies of churchwardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder’. Oliver is only a baby at this stage of the novel, Charles Dickens uses irony here to give the reader understanding of how life for Oliver was looking very gloomy. Unfortunately Oliver has no idea what he is in for.

The technique Charles Dickens uses next is hyperbole when he says ‘Oliver was a victim of a systematic course of treachery and deception’. Systematic refers to organised deception, which means something is intending to deceive, which links to the language that he uses because he tries to exaggerate things to manipulate the reader. So Charles Dickens tries to create sympathy for Oliver here because he states Oliver is a ‘victim.’ So this may show an insight that Oliver will be betrayed later on in the novel. Oliver is again dehumanised and thought to be as an animal when Dickens say ‘Oliver should be farmed.’ Dickens then makes a comparison with the poor; he compares them to ‘juvenile offenders.’ I believe here he is criticising the poor law of 1834 because he believes the government suppose being poor is a crime and the workhouse is a prison. This proves my point in the context, because this paragraph shows the reader how the poor were treated because of their social status.

Irony is used again in the quote when Dickens states ‘without the inconvenience of too much food or too little clothing’. Dickens is using the technique very effectively because he is trying to say that the workhouse children are lucky because they don’t get a lot of clothing or food it would be very awful for them which we know is far from the case.

Dickens compounds our sympathy when he says ‘Oliver Twist’s ninth birth day found him ‘pale thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature, and decidedly small in circumference’. Dickens reminds us how thin Oliver is three times in one sentence. This tells us that Oliver doesn’t get enough to eat and due to this he has become thin and fragile. He utilises repetition here to clearly define Oliver’s physical attributes. It can be assumed that the image of a thin malnourished boy would effectively create sympathy for Oliver.

Charles Dickens names one of the characters in the play Mrs Mann which is a form of characternym and implies that Mrs. Mann is similar to a man maybe in structure or behaviour. She is an alcoholic and could be the nurse that was described in chapter one. This is a problem with her job considering she is meant to be a mothering type and look after small innocent children, yet she beats them.

There is Mr. Bumble who Charles Dickens tells the reader that he is a ‘fat man’. He could be compared to bumblebees that are quite rounded in figure. Mr. Bumble is often ridiculed by Dickens and may be the main reason why Charles Dickens uses satire in this novel. Like when Bumble tries to say are you aware but instead says aweer. Another form of satire is when Mr Bumble says ineddicated instead of uneducated. Charles Dickens is trying to point out how uneducated Mr. Bumble is. He looks like a figure of the population of the wealthy yet he is ignorant.

‘But he hadn’t because nobody had taught him’. This is another excellent example of pathos, it shows the reader how little attention Oliver is given. We know that he has been in the workhouse since birth, yet he has not been taught the simple tasks of praying. From the evidence, I have discovered I can now say that Oliver had been neglected for most of this life. Before my last point he uses the technique of irony when he says ‘like a marvellously good Christian too, if Oliver had prayed for people who fed and took care of him’. This is irony because he is not looked after correctly so it would be very stupendous if Oliver prayed for people he despises.

The most famous part of this novel is when Oliver anxiously says ‘can I have some more?’ The response to this question in the novel was blown way out of proportion and the technique hyperbole is used again to show how wrong it was to ask for more in the workhouse. This leads us to sympathies because we know Oliver is only a child and you have to empathise with Oliver here. He only asks for more, a little no would have been accepted but he is punished and embarrassed before his peers. I believe the workhouse authorities reacted his way to make Oliver an example for the other children. If they didn’t there would be total chaos in the workhouse because everyone would ask for more.

He finishes chapter two by saying ‘whether the life of Oliver Twist had this violent termination or no’. We should never forget that Dickens was writing for a magazine and must end with cliff-hangers so readers will pay to see what happens in the next chapter. So the reader doesn’t get disinterested in his novel.

Dickens furthers our sympathy for Oliver when he express Oliver’s loneliness; ‘drawing himself closer and closer to the wall, as if to feel even its cold hard surface were a protection in the gloom and loneliness which surrounded him’. He creates pathos for Oliver Twist here by using a poetic device called personification. Oliver was trying to hug the wall as if he was his mother protecting him of all the evil and darkness that surrounded him. This could be linked to the Virgin Mary, Catholics believe she is their mother and protects them. This is ironic that he should feel this way about a wall because he has no one there physically to protect him.

In another quote Oliver is willing to be beaten or even killed instead of going away with Mr. Gamfield this again creates sympathy for Oliver. He is willing to lose his own meaningless life so he wouldn’t have to go away with Mr. Gamfield. ‘Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed that they would order him back to the dark room, that they would starve him, beat him or kill him if they pleased rather then send him away with that dreadful man’.

In an early paragraph showed how he dehumanises him by saying Oliver was ‘farmed’ like an animal where Charles Dickens says ‘could have seen Oliver clutch at the dainty viands the dog neglected’. This demonstrates how hungry Oliver actually is because he eats the meat that was left by a dog that didn’t want it. Dickens furthermore says that he’ devours’ it which means to eat up hungrily, voraciously or ravenously which are words that are normally associated with wild animals.

Pathos is the best way that Dickens creates sympathy for Oliver throughout the novel. The narrator is written in third person and therefore is often hypocritical when dealing with certain characters or certain issues because he wants the reader to understand but also understand why he use that type of writing. He also uses characternym, hyperbole and satire very efficiently to create sympathy for Oliver.

I believe Dickens purposely publishes his novel through the media; a reason for this is the media at that time was only available to the middle class and above who would be able to afford or even understand this novel. That was the part of society he was trying to reach. I think he was successful to an extent where the affluent would think and change their views towards the poor. Unfortunately I believe Charles Dickens mislead the reader because of the happy ending for Oliver, which makes the reader lose sympathy for him.

Written by David Ashaolu

P3 Ms Hartley

Room 9

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