Wit and Humour: in the Novel Oliver Twist

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The Grimness and Gloom of the Novel Enlightened by Wit and Humour

      In the novel Oliver Twist horror, terror, gloom and darkness is pervading everywhere. Many critics have remarked this novel as absolutely black and a nightmarish book. Undoubtedly, when we go through the novel we feel sorrow and distress by the adverse circumstances which Oliver undergoes and at several occasions we feel terribly shocked. The novel is, of course, covered by the terror and horror. There is plenty of evidence in the novel which is quite amusing, mirthful and that sometimes illumine the darkness of the novel.

Satiric Vein Running through First Seven Chapters of Oliver Twist

      In the first seven chapters the mismanagement of the workhouses of contemporary time is satirized and scolded by the novelist. Dickens has tried to make his socially conscious to the callousness and vices prevailing in workhouses and other charitable institutions. Dickens has exposed this adversity through the devices of irony and satire. Very ironically Dickens has described the ill conditions of the baby farm of Mrs. Mann and the workhouse where Mr. Bumble, the beadle, is an official. But his satire is not pungent, it is mellowed by the use of humor. We laugh and smile even at distressing moments. We feel disgusted for Mrs. Mann because of her avarice and utter selfishness; we hate Mr. Bumble for his cruelty and lack of pity and sympathy for paupers and poor orphans. But Dicken's manner of bringing the abominable traits into our notice amuses us. Infact he has made fun of Mrs. Mann and Mr. Bumble in pointing out their inhumanity.

Dickens' Ironic Tone

      Dickens has very seriously criticized these charitable institutions and persons like Mrs. Mann and Mr. Bumble. For example, Dickens says that Oliver was, for several months after his birth, a prey to systematic course of deceit and h-eachery. Thenafter very implicitly the account of the behavior of authorities of workhouse and parish authorities are given. We are informed that orphans, infants are not properly fed, and when Oliver asked for more gruel, parish authorities decide to take necessary steps. The incharge of a baby farm Mrs. Mann who is an elderly woman knows very well how to deal with infants and orphans. She is an experienced lady who mis-appropriates the weekly stipend that she receives to look after the tender boys. Dickens says ironically that she is good for infants and also for herself. Thus she is remarked as a very great "experimental philosopher; again an ironic remark.

      Mr. Bumble's character and behavior is portrayed in the same manner. He is more ridiculed than Mrs. Mann. Such abominable character like Mr. Bumble is presented in such a way that whenever he appears we feel amused by his manner of talking. Dickens informs us very ironically that Mr. Bumble had a high notion about his rhetorical powers and of his position as a parish official. But we smile when we see him accepting gin-and-water from Mrs. Mann. More amusement is given when he describes the rule how the children born in workhouses are named and how Oliver is named. We laugh when we see Mr. Bumble shocked by Oliver's asking for more gruel and he reports it to the higher officials as some serious crime committed by Oliver. Then is presented satirically the cruelty of the board managing the workhouse. More ironical and amusing is the description of chimney-sweep's contact with the workhouse management and his bargain in taking Oliver as an apprentice. Subsequently the workhouse authorities settle the matter on three pounds from five pounds. The scene of magistrate's decision to give Oliver to chimney sweep is also humourous although he finally gives the right judgment.

The Humourous Presentation of Mrs. Sowerberry

      The wife of undertaker to whom Oliver is apprenticed, Mrs. Sowerberry, her behavior is also presented in amusing manner. First she gives Oliver the scraps of meat left by dog and later she says that she has been feeding the boy most generously but the fact is Oliver is normally given that food which is left by other members of the household. When Oliver gives a good thrash to Noah and dashes him to ground, Mrs. Sowerberry starts shouting that Oliver has threatened to kill her and others in the house. How amusing it is to read that a boy of nine and ten is charged of attempting to kill an elderly lady.

The Mirthful Disposition of Fagin's Boys

      In the group of Fagin, a Jew there are few boys named Artful Dodger, Charley Bates and Tom Chitling working as thieves and pickpockets. Their chat is quite amusing. Though these boys are not even properly fed yet they live quite happily. We find them jovial and happy on several occasions, they play cards and cut jokes on each other at their leisure. Artful Dodger generally wins at cards, as Tom Chitling also admits that nobody can defeat Artful Dodger because luck always favors him. Fagin laughs at it and says that if anybody wants to beat Artful Dodger, he must get up early in the morning. Then follows the most amusing statement of Charly Bates that if anyone wants to win against Artful Dodger, he must put on his boots at night and have a telescope at each eye and opera-glass between his shoulders. The amusing account of Sikes' dog is also given. For example Dickens writes that Sikes' dog sits, alternately winking at his master with both eyes at the same time, and licking a fresh wound on one side of its mouth. He says that the wound was the result of some recent clash between this dog and another. Sikes also speaks to his dog in such style, that it makes us laugh. Charley Bates comments: "He is an out-and-out Christian."

Humourous Court Trials

      Oliver's trial under the charge of picking Mr. Bronwlow's pocket is a humorous incident. "Mr. Fagin, the magistrate has already thought that Oliver is guilty and thus does not listen any defence. When Oliver asks for some water, feeling his lips and throat parched Mr. Fang thinks that he is trying to befool him. Later the trial of Artful Dodger for picking someone's pocket is again an amusing episode. Artful Dodger, in the trial, behaves as if he were most superior even to the law under which he is going to be accused. All of his dialogues cause us to laugh, particularly when he says that court is "not the shop for justice''

Most Comical Episode

      The episode of die courtship of Mrs. Corney with Mr. Bumble is portrayed by Dickens in most hilarious manner. Mr. Bumble moves his chair little by little close to Mrs. Corney and then puts his arm around his waist and kisses her. Later, we smile when Mr. Bumble rebukes Noah for kissing Charlotte. But the most comic incidents occur in that chapter where Mrs. Corney, two months after getting married to Mr. Bumble threatens him and dashes him to the ground. She says to get out of the house if Mr. Bumble wanted to save himself from her furry.

Other Comic Sources

      Mr. Grimwig also appears as a comic figure. He has the habit of using a typical phrase "I will eat my head if..." whenever he has to lay emphasis to any of his view. Then, there are two foolish servants of Mrs. May lie's house. They all provide great comic relief to the grim and dismal atmosphere of Oliver Twist.

University Questions

Oliver Twist is primarily a nightmarish book but it contains enough account of Dickens' wit and humor Elaborate with references to the novel.
Bring out the comic ingredients in the novel, Oliver Twist.

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