Life of Crime & Vice as Described in Oliver Twist

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Dickens' Own. View in his Preface to Oliver Twist

      Dickens is not undoubtedly, intended to make crime look glamourous and attractive. Instead he has made it disgusting, abominable and abhorrent. In his Preface to Oliver Twist Dickens has made it very clear. He says that he has portrayed crime and criminal in all their ugliness, filth and foul, how squalid their lives are ! He continues to say that he has exposed those crimes and criminals which were rampant in his society and he has depicted them as they were in reality, and in doing that he has served his society through making people aware of the evils of society. Dickens has boldly disowned this charge against him that his novel Oliver Twist would allure the readers to adopt criminal life. He says that the life of criminals and description of evils in the society has no charm or magnetism that would fascinate the readers. He has not given glamour to criminal life. In this reference Dickens has given the example of Gay's work called The Beggar's Opera, in which thieves are depicted as leading such a life that spectators would in place of feeling disgust, feel envy. But Oliver Twist does not belong to that category. It is among the category of books written by Fielding, Defoe, Goldsmith, Smollette etc. who has portrayed the dregs and wastes of society to appear obnoxious and disgusting.

The Squalid of Criminal Lives

      The atmosphere of criminal lives, in Oliver Twist is not pleasant and healthy but full of filth and sordidness. No gentleman would wish to spend even a single day in those dirty localities. When Artful Dodger takes Oliver to Fagin's den, it is described in the novel that Oliver had never before seen such a dirty and filthy place where old Fagin resides. The street which leads to Fagin's lodging is very narrow and full of filth and mud; there is foul smell in the air. The children in the houses are crawling in and out at the doors or can be heard screaming inside the home. The room in which Fagin lives is quite dirty and dismal. Spiders and webs on walls and the ceiling would be seen. Mice are running here and there. Likewise, the locality of Sikes is described. It is also full of garbage and filth. Toby Crackit is also living in the same disgusting locality. Thus no reader would like to live or feel tempted to spend few hours in such environment where criminals are leading their lives.

Criminals Devoid of Self-respect, Comfort and Money

      In Oliver Twist we are told that criminals do not have enough money to fulfill their needs. The life of luxury is not expected out of them. What is the advantage of being involved in crime and vices if we can not even properly feed ourselves. Charley Bates and Artful Dodger often retire to bed without food because they have come back with empty hand. Sikes has to demand money to Fagin who first expresses his mobility to provide that and then most reluctantly sends some money. How can anyone feel temptation to join Fagin or Sikes in crime when they themselves lack money. When Sikes goes to rob the house of Mrs. Maylie, he has to walk several miles on foot. He goes with Oliver but cannot afford to hire any carriage. He has to request for lift from cart drivers. Fagin has to flatter Sikes regardless of any self-importance and respect. He has to please Sikes by all means because he himself does not commit robbery. Thus he has to depend on Sikes who commits crimes and burglary and gives the stolen articles to Fagin who makes, money by selling them to petty shopkeepers. Sikes is often found threatening Fagin. Thus we find no glamour in criminal lives.

Criminals, Always Haunted by the Fear of Police

      In the series of troubles of leading criminal life next is the constant fear of being arrested. They all the time feel insecure because police is expected to raid their places anytime and arrest them. It is well illustrated in that chapter in which Sikes' mental state is revealed after murdering Nancy. Sikes can not stay even for a single moment after killing Nancy. Immediately he leaves his lodging and walks on without any destination. He keeps on walking and leaves London far behind. Then, he takes refuge in a village and does not reveal his identity to anybody. On finding no secured place to live, he thinks it better to go back to London because he gets this news that police is expecting the murderer in Birmingham. He takes refuge in the lodging of Toby Crackit. Here we recall the words of Monks to Fagin when Monks said that murderer is always found out and the repentance after committing the murder keeps on haunting the murderer. Fagin is all the time frightful of being arrested. When Dodger and Bates come back to him without Oliver after picking Mr. Brownlow's pocket, Fagin feels apprehended at the thought that Oliver might inform the police about Fagin's whereabouts. Fagin desperately alarms everyone to get Oliver back to his lodging. At another occasion when he learns that the attempted robbery has failed, Fagin feels most worried because Sikes has not yet returned and if Sikes is caught by the police, Fagin himself might be captured.

The Tragic End of Sikes and Fagin

      The end which Sikes meets is too horrifying. His hastiness in escaping through the rope from the crowd has caused his death. He is estrangled by the noose of the rope. Likewise frightful is the description of Fagin's last night when he is awaiting his death behind the bars of jail. Though Fagin spend very short time in the jail before being hanged, yet he almost goes mad because of the severe mental agony which he feels at the thought of hangman's noose around his neck. Thus, this tragic end of criminal makes the reader fearful against adopting the criminal life, it does not tempt them to follow criminal life. The catastrophe of Sikes and Fagin are a kind of warning which makes the reader aware of the results of committing any crime.

The Moral Shown by Oliver Twist

      The lesson of the novel is — Crime never pays. Thus the book has some morals to preach. If anyone commits a crime, he is sure to be exposed and caught by the police. It is entirely wrong to state that the book is glamourous representation of crime and vice.

University Questions

Is Dickens' portrayal of crime and vice glamourous and fascinating or revolting? Justify your view with reference to Oliver Twist.
Do you feel attracted to the life of crime and vice as described in Oliver Twist?

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