Blend of Humor on Pathos in Dickens Oliver Twist

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      It is very complex to ascertain the leading strain of Dickens' novels. Whether it is disgust and detest again social evils or the humourous treatment of the idiosyncrasies or flaws of human nature. The comic and satirical elements are so subtly knitted together in his novels that the reader gets confused in getting whether one end or other starts. Infact it is not inapt or hyperbolic to say that "Dickens is often at his most funny, when he is at his most biting."

Instances from Oliver Twist

      In the second chapter of the novel, Dickens exposes the atmosphere of the workhouses where poor and paupers are kept. The elderly Mrs. Mann, who is the superintendent of the baby farm, the branch of workhouse, there the poor infants grow up. She is a woman of 'wisdom and experience', a great 'experimental philosopher'. She knows very well what is good for the children but she better knows what is good for her ownself. She misappropriates the money that she receives as weekly stipend to look after the orphans by the parish authorities. The children are not ever properly fed, they are starved to a kind of slow death. How cruel it is to see Mr. Bumble preventing Oliver from catching cold by making a tingling sensation on his body by the repeated application of cane. The comic strain of these episodes is entirely superficial, and the real target of the novelist is to make people aware of the callousness of the system that puts poor innocent children to utter ill-treatment. When Oliver has to appear in front of 'board', Mr. Bumble first gives him a tap on the head with his cane to 'wake him up' and another on the back to make him 'lively' and then after takes him into a big room where eight or ten fat men are sitting round a table. Oliver is said: 'bow to the board.' But the poor Oliver does not know the meaning of live board. He feels troubled. He starts trembling in fear. Then he brushes away his tears and on seeing no board but table he bows to that. Though it is comical but Dickens has used this humor to stress the inhumanity of the members of board. They are emotionless like a wooden plank.

      In chapter three Dickens has portrayed a character of Mr. Gamfield who is cudgeling 'his brains and his donkey'. This is also funny but soon after two paragraphs we see him giving his donkey's jaw 'a sharp wrench' and a blow on the head. This makes us to anticipate the ill-treatment Oliver is expected to face. It is very easy to find examples in Oliver Twist that is full of both disgust, bitterness and laughter. There are various episodes in which we find an inextricable mixture of humor and pathos —Oliver's asking for more, his ravenous eating of the meat left by dog, his experiences at Mr. Sowerberry's shop, at Fagin's company playing the game of picking pockets with others, the scene of Mr. Bumble's courtship with Mrs. Corney, his rage on seeing Noah kissing Charlotte, Fagin's explanation of number one to Noah Claypole, Noah playing 'Kinchin lay' are examples of the blend of comedy with satire. Mr. James R. Kinchard says in his essay Laughter and Oliver Twist that in all these cases laughter is primarily employed as a weapon to emphasize the callousness of situation and to evoke pity and sympathy for the person who is ill-treated. This blend of comedy and satire appeals more the 20th-century sensibility.

University Questions

"Dickens is often at his most funny, when he is at his most biting." Elaborate with reference to Oliver Twist.
Discuss the most striking feature of Dickens' style —Blend of humor and pathos. Answer with reference to Oliver Twist.

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