Dickens as Censor of Social Evils and Reformer in Oliver Twist

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Dickens' Severe Attack on the Officials of Workhouse

      The novels of Dickens show his excessive zeal to reform the evils prevailing in society. In almost every novel he condemns some evil or curse of his time with the purpose of making people conscious of it and raise their furry against it. Thus Dickens comes out as a social critic or censor of the evils of his contemporary society in his novel Oliver Twist. He appears as a supporter of the weak, downtrodden, outcast and exploited men in his novels. His novels confirm him as a professor of humanitarianism.

      Oliver Twist is the first in the peculiar series of his novels. In this novel his prime object was to denounce and punish ruthlessness of organized institutions of charity. He was intended to expose that the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 had only increased the callousness and unsympathetic feelings instead to ameliorate the conditions of poor and wretched people. The workhouses were made to provide shelter and refuge to paupers and orphans. But in reality these poor people were ill-treated there and in place of pity, sympathy, affection, they received nothing but oppression, exploitation and utter ruthlessness. Mr. Bumble, the beadle, embodies this unsympathetic and inhuman feelings for paupers which was pervading the society on a large scale. Dickens has fiercely criticized this character and also made fun of him. Dickens has depicted this character as a most disgusting and despicable fellow. When Oliver asks for more food, tlie parish officials particularly Mr. Bumble gets shocked. Oliver has only said, "Please sir, I want some more." At this, the concerned official gets stunned. When this is reported to Mr. Bumble, he rushes to the chairman of the Board of Trustees of the workhouse in great wonder and agitation. He informs the Board that Oliver has asked for more gruel. On learning this chairman is greatly surprised. It seems as if Oliver has committed any serious crime. The orphans and paupers are not even properly fed in these workhouses. In this reference there is another member similar to those officials is Mrs. Mann. Her duty is to look after the infants who are motherless. She is given proper money also to nourish the boys of tender age. But she misappropriates the greater part of the weekly stipend that she receives from the parish authorities for bringing up the children and taking care of them. Then we also come to now that Oliver like little children are given the job of picking oakum. Another example is of a matron, Mrs. Corney. She is so stone-hearted that when she gets the news that an aged inmate of the workhouse old Sally is on the edge of death and wants to see her, she says that what can she do to save the dying woman. She can not rescue any dying men or women from death.

      Thus, in the opening chapters of the novel, the conditions of the workhouse and baby-farms are bitterly criticized.

Poverty-stricken People and their Insolvent Condition of Living

      Oliver Twist also reflects the extreme poverty of his countrymen. In the beginning of the novel we read a description of the funeral of a woman who has died because of starvation. Her husband says that she is starved to death. The funeral scene represents the inhumanity of the church members. The coffin containing the dead body is placed close to the grave and then it takes a considerable long time for the priest to reach there and read the funeral service. The manner in which the novelist has depicted this funeral must certainly have made the readers full of contempt and it enrages the readers after getting acquainted with the wretched the conditions of the poor men of the contemporary period. Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker says Oliver that he would soon get used to such funeral sights. Later the dinginess and squalor of the various localities of London city are delineated in such a way to attract the attention of the readers. The conditions were too appalling and needed urgent remedy. One of the leading themes of the novel is poverty. According to Arnold Kettle poverty constitutes the core of the novel. The essence of the novel lies in its picture of the plight of the poor.

An Attack on the Judicial System of the Time

      Dickens was not happy with the prevailing conditions of the law and judicial systems. For him, whole judicial system was corrupt. In Oliver Twist Dickens has presented two satirical pictures of two different trials in the court. First, Mr. Fang is bitterly criticized for his inefficiency and his attitude towards the accused is made entirely unjudicial. Mr. Fang has in advance, formed this notion that the boy Oliver is guilty. Consequently, he orders Mr. Brownlow to shut up when he was explaining the circumstances under which his pocket was picked. When Oliver was about to collapse he asks for little water. Mr. Fang replies," Stuff and nonsense. Do not try to make a fool of me." Then, second scene is of the trial of Artful Dodger in court room. It is in contrast to all the other trial scenes of the novel. Artful Dodger appears in the court with firing his gun throughout He is absolutely defiant. He seems right in saying to judges; "This didn't the shop for justice". In other words Dodger does not expect any justice from the law court. Definitely, here Dodger is the object of Dickens' sympathy.

An Exposure of Contemporary Crime and Vices

      Dickens has also exposed the vices and crimes rampant in his time. Fagin, the old Jew goes on performing criminal activities without the fear of being caught by the police. He is capable of handling boys like Artful Dodger and Charley Bates. He has trained them and other boys to work as pick-pockets and thieves. These boys are quite efficient in their jobs. It is another issue that finally Artful Dodger is caught by the police as Fagin also is. More obnoxious and horrible man than Fagin is Bill Sikes who is a robber. Dickens has devoted three or four chapters to describe the activities of William Sikes and his associate Toby Crackit Dickens has also exterted a lot to give the account of robbery attempted by Sikes and Toby at the house of Mrs. Maylie. They compel even Oliver to assist them. Nancy is also a member of Fagin's group who has been brought up by him and trained to perform criminal activities. Thus it seems that juvenile delinquency was very frequent in that period. Police was not that active and efficient to catch them. Dickens has satirized bitterly the two officers from Bow Street.


      Thus Dickens has criticized various aspects of his society in this novel. Though Dickens conies out as a reformer in his novels but he does not propose any remedy to cure those social evils. Indeed his novels had brought social awakening and awareness in Victorian age.

University Questions

Discuss that social criticism is an important feature of the novel, Oliver Twist.
Point out the evidences that expose the humanitarian sympathies of Dickens in the novel, Oliver Twist.
Justify that Oliver Twist presents Dickens as a censor of social evils and as a social reformer.

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