Oliver TwistBy: Charles DickensOliver Twist provides insight into the experience of the poor in 1830s England. Beneath the novel’s raucous humor and flights of fancy runs an undertone of bitter criticism of the Victorian middle class's attitudes toward the poor. Oliver is a near perfect example of the hypocrisy and venality of the legal system, workhouses, and middle class moral values and marriage practices of 1830s England.
As a child, Dickens endured the harsh conditions of poverty. His family was imprisoned for debt, and Dickens was forced to work in a factory at age twelve. These experiences haunted him for the rest of his life.
The misery of his childhood is a recurrent theme in his novels. Oliver Twist expresses the unfortunate situation of the orphaned child. Oliver suffers the cruelty of hypocritical workhouse officials, prejudiced judges, and hardened criminals. Throughout the novel, his virtuous nature survives the unbelievable misery of his situation.
Oliver's experiences demonstrate the legal silence and invisibility of the poor. In 1830s England, wealth determined voting rights. Therefore, the poor had no say in the laws that governed their lives, and the Poor Laws strictly regulated the ability to seek relief.
Since begging was illegal, workhouses were the only sources of relief. The workhouses were made to be deliberately unpleasant in order to discourage the poor from seeking their relief. The Victorian middle class assumed that the poor were uncontroleable due to their state of natureand immorality..