Combining entertainment with a deep critique of the contemporary socioeconomic system and philosophy, Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist explores the reality that in Victorian London, crime was neither heroic nor romantic. A setting of debauchery, thievery, prostitution, and murder, Fagin's underworld didactically illustrates the "unattractive and repulsive truth (36)," that one's environment--not birth--influences character. Attempting to introduce society to the evil it had created, Dickens penned "Fagin's Last Night Alive," manipulating both his literal and figurative audience, capitalizing on the current sentiments and issues. By typifying Fagin as the absolute evil, Dickens uses contemporary religious temperaments and society's apathy and ignorance, to reveal a reality about the underworld lifestyle that society was not willing to acknowledge--society is somewhat guilty for the underworld's corruption.
Distant, detached, and ignorant of society's degenerate condition, the developing society feared reality's ugliness. Believing that decadence encouraged decadence and that one's birth influenced one's character, society sought welfare reform, establishing centralized institutions for public assistance. Once established, the Poor Law separated families, put the poor to work in occupations that no one wanted, creating an environment that was less appealing for public assistance, and more appealing for employment. Believing that it had made today better than yesterday, society went about its business, ignoring the reality of starvation, illness, and death. The conditions after the Poor Law forced people to avoid public assistance, leaving them the only...
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...f society must rid itself of devils, it should also accept the guilt for the things it has created.
Understanding the relationship between environment and morality--indifference and depravity--Dickens evaluated what the system does to a person, how it classifies, how it deforms. Fagin manages the underworld, connoting corruption as an entertaining, enjoyable, and artful game not only because of his intrinsic craftiness, but also because it is the only way he knows to survive. Exploiting his audience's attitudes, Dickens shaped a character with religious stereotypes to ensure that his readers could recognize the absolute evil it had bore through its ignorance and apathy--poverty is a product of a societal environment.
Dickens, Charles. A Norton Critical Edition: Charles Dickens Oliver Twist.? Ed. Fred Kaplan. New York: Norton & Company, 1993.
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