Oliver Twist Social Criticism

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Hidden Inspiration
“Please, sir, I want some more” says a young orphan named Oliver in one of the most well recognized lines from the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. When Oliver dares ask for more food, he is famished and suffering from the conditions of a hard day’s work in a workhouse. In fact, the whole workhouse is filled with young boys just like Oliver who are underfed, and forced to work harder than they should. Oliver Twist is a fictional story, but poverty was a severe issue in London in the 1830’s when Dickens wrote the classic. Different aspects of Charles Dickens’s life inspired him to write the scathing social commentary Oliver Twist, which illuminates the inhumane conditions endured by the lower class and how it shapes
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Dickens saw certain laws as an issue in society, and Oliver Twist illuminates how these issues could affect someone. In 1776, Hanway’s Act was passed which required every London parish to establish a branch workhouse in the countryside at least three miles outside London to rear poor infants (Richardson 212). In other words, it was required to have a place where children could grow up (though not necessarily in good conditions) so they could eventually be shipped off to a main workhouse where they’d have to work even harder. Dickens incorporates this law into Oliver Twist when Oliver grows up with a life of poverty in one of these branch workhouses. Oliver knows hunger his whole life, and when he is sent to the main Workhouse, he must learn to deal with not only hunger but also a heavy and laborious workday. In both the infant orphanage and the Workhouse, corrupt practices are used by the people in charge. Especially in the Workhouse, Dickens makes a point of showing how the authoritative figures have convinced themselves they are helping the children by giving them food and a job, when they are really causing them hunger and…show more content…
“The workhouse would become the only kind of help offered to anyone seeking assistance, and the standard of relief there should be worse than the standard of living of the poorest labourer outside” (Richardson 226). This new law caused an outrage because it never differentiated between work-shy and disabled, sick and well, and infants and elderly, so they were all treated the same. This created a life of poverty for more people, because the help that people received was minimal compared to the help that they needed and sought. Dickens was actively opposed to this Poor Law. In fact, “Dickens is known to have had many arguments with a newspaper’s Editor about the politics of the Poor Law” (Richardson 233). Knowing how Dickens was so opposed to the Poor Law illuminates why Dickens made this law the basis of Oliver Twist. Dickens writes about Oliver as one of the many victims of this law. Dickens reveals the brutality of the system by showing the treatment that Oliver receives as a result of being in the Workhouse system his whole life. Oliver is never pitied; he is neglected, threatened multiple times, flogged, put into confinement, cursed at, sent to apprentice an undertaker, fed animal scraps, and constantly taunted. Essentially, Oliver is constantly abused by society in every place he goes. Also as a result of the Poor Law, Oliver repeatedly falls into the hands of brutal people. Most of the brutal people
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