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This February is the celebration of renowned writer Charles Dickens’ 2oo birthday and for the occasion a number of his novels are being reread and analyzed, as well as numerous events being held throughout the year.
One of Dickens’ most beloved stories, Oliver Twist, was first published serially in 1837 but the themes within its pages still garner attention today. From loneliness to an innate respectability for nature, Dickens covers it all.
Be aware that many of the chapter titles are in most cases long and containing spoilers. This is likely due to the circumstances of its serial publication and hence the need to grab a buyer’s attention. Also, the overall plot of the story is rather cliche: A boy is born of low class and goes through various struggles throughout his life until the novel ultimately steers towards a battle between good and evil (Oliver versus the word of thieves).
Look beyond this storyline and delve deep into the language and you will be amused by the haughtiness of the narrator when he describes the lives of the workers in the workhouse, police officers, and thieves and his sentimental tone in the portrayals of those dear to Oliver and nature scenes.
Dickens’ detail is at once extensive as well as humorous at times and the reader will find him or herself smiling as his or her eyes continue down the page. Within the text, Dickens shows his audience the contrast between class within the city and distrust of government. When given the chance to abide by the law, most often, even characters deemed honest and “good” prefer to fix things themselves instead of turning to the law.
Made clear is the idea that some of the laws enacted by the government at this time are the reason why the poor are kept poor. Social stigmas remain in place throughout the novel and the characters use nature (trips to the country) to escape from them, much like people of today’s society who travel to the countryside to relax or venture into the wilderness to go camping and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Aside from the politics, Dickens also touches on the ideas of bullying and the need to be wanted. Oliver is constantly bullied, not just by the system (government and its laws, as well as the people who enforce them), but also by the people who take him in. Oliver has an innate nature to want to help others and he constantly yearns for the company of people. The thieves who Oliver gets tangled up with use this need to manipulate him for their own purposes.
The reader may want to condemn Oliver for giving in to the thieves, but Dickens portrays these instances in such a way that the reader connects with Oliver emotionally and feels the loneliness that creeps upon him and allows them to sympathize with the idea of wanting company even with thieves.
Whether in the city trying to navigate his way through the twist and turns of the life he was born into or amongst nature, Oliver holds on to his ability to love and the hope of better things to come. Like many individuals today, Oliver pushes his way through reoccurring images of death and loneliness and holds on to those that bring him happiness. Dickens uses Oliver as an example that as corrupt as the system may be, there are always exceptions to the social stigmas.