Charles Dickens’ Satire of Victorian Culture in Oliver Twist

Last Updated: 17 Aug 2022
Essay type: Satire
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In the novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens ridicules Victorian society; he focuses on the Poor Law system, orphans, workhouses, and the characterization of Oliver and Nancy, using sarcasm, and the comparison between the real world and the world of Oliver. When Dickens was just a child, a lot of traumatic things happened to him. At twelve, his father went to prison. He then had to work in a shoe blacking factory. He knew poverty and that’s why he was aware of social problems and had deep feeling of social commitment. Dickens was one of the most important social writers of history.

He criticized moral, social, and economic problems in the Victorian era through his fiction works (“Charles” 1. ) The emotional and symbolizing power that Oliver Twist has is he value in Dickens life (Linsay 172. ) While writing the book, Victorian themes like poverty, injustice, mean characters, and punishment were all live issues in the world. Dickens didn’t like the 1834 New Poor Act, which criminalized the poor. He didn’t like the harsh utilitarian ethics of it. The Poor Law Board thought that people that could do work didn’t get anything better than the poorest worker.

Due to the emergence of trade unions, the Poor Law system fell into decline. There were liberal welfare reforms during the twentieth century; it wasn’t until 1948 when it was officially abolished. Illustrated in Olive Twist, Dickens showed the reading society the harsh symbol of realities in the Victorian era. In the novel, there are a lot of orphans. Dickens depicts them as poor, underfed, oppressed, and severely punished (“Charles” 1. ) The fear of destitution and poverty was always present in the minds of adults, and children alike in Victorian society.

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There were many orphans, and one in fourteen of many towns population of children were classified as paupers in 1863. Most of the needy population relied on the parish system through the Poor Law. A Board of Directors was elected, and in many occurrences, Dickens doesn’t put them across as the “best fit”, even though the goal in the Acts was to help these paupers. Dickens uses sarcasm to write about the Board. It was once a Poor Law system that encouraged work ethic (“Poverty” 1. ) He describes them in the novel as “very sage, deep philosophical men” (Dickens 11.)

Dickens talks how two orphans, Oliver and Rose, are tried with adversity which teaches them the virtues for others and love. It’s the life of pain and alienation that help them become pure characters, contrasting the fact of the stealing, wild paupers of the Victorian era (Baldridge. ) In the novel, Charles based the character of Oliver on eighteenth century characteristics. Charles’s daydreams of childhood were at bay, and it gave him an emotionally true picture of the exploited children of his own time (Linsay 179. ) In the workhouses that orphans were sent to, there was strict discipline.

They were given just barely enough food to survive, and were punished harshly if they didn’t follow strict rules. In the novel, Dickens explains what happens to Oliver when he asks for more food. 'Please, sir, I want some more. ’ The master was a fat, healthy man; but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupefied astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralyzed with wonder; the boys with fear. Dickens shows the reader through Oliver’s hunger how bad it was for him.

Everyone around the food master thought surely Oliver was to be hung for asking such an explicit question. Instead, Oliver is sent to immediate confinement, awaiting a new master. Laborers had tasks like stone breaking, oakum-picking, sack-making, and corn-grinding. Work conditions were tough, even though they were required to be moderately clean. Patricia Pulham and Brad Beaven explain in their article entitled “Poverty and the Poor” how in his journal, Workhouse Words, Dickens investigates the conditions of the workhouse conditions.

When he went to the workhouse debate in the 1850s, he witnessed poverty, misery, starvation, and all around death these defined the lack of the workhouse system. Dickens achieves the simplicity of the characters because the way he presents them and describes them doesn’t contain any indistinctness. To some, Oliver might seem sentimental, and Nancy a prostitute with unsure feelings, but these depictions are conventional, and are the marks and representations of a tragedy. Oliver is looked at as an “item of mortality” who will be a new responsibility for the parish and is only worth selling to the general public when he misbehaves for 5 pounds.

Society views Oliver, with its money ethic, as a liability, for he really doesn’t portray a soul or spirit in the Board’s eyes. Oliver’s characteristic development might seem pompous, because he doesn’t really act or talks like the other children. Dickens removes him from the natural speech of all other characters, and gives him the emblem of susceptible innocence and exposure. Oliver is managed by anyone who comes in contact with him. He’s like a puppet, influenced beyond his view. Actually, through most of the novel, Oliver often doesn’t know where he is or who he is.

Social order is shown through the rough unimportance of Oliver’s concealed humanity (Duffy 5. ) Oliver never learns how to juxtapose the alabaster and pitch social vocabularies in his story in any way that he might earn about the realities of Victorian culture (Baldridge. ) Dickens depicts Nancy as forced into prostitution by poverty, her peers, and her corrupt environment. Dickens knew of the victimization of Victorian women and wanted to show that Nancy’s sweet character was corrupted by this and that she didn’t deserve her fate (Charles 1.)

Even at the cost of her life, Nancy feels change in her heart. She is loyal to her friends, and she goes to save Oliver and Rose. Dickens isn’t emotionalizing iniquity and crime. The truth of life is being represented (Al- Mahdi 3-4. ) Charles Dickens successfully takes the harsh realities of the Victorian era and employs them into the novel Oliver Twist. Through his satire and characterization, he creates a negative image of the cruel things that happened to people in workhouses, orphans, and children. Charles Dickens will always be remembered as one of the best social commentators in history.

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Charles Dickens’ Satire of Victorian Culture in Oliver Twist. (2016, Aug 18). Retrieved from

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