Have you ever thought about how it would be to live in a time of poverty? How
would life be if you were poor and did not know from where you would be getting your
next meal? What would it be like to be forced to live in a workhouse? These are some of
the questions you might ask yourself if you were living in early nineteenth century
England. Dickens addresses these issues in his timeless masterpiece Oliver Twist. In the story of Oliver Twist, Dickens uses past experiences from his childhood and targets the Poor Law of 1834 which renewed the importance of the workhouse as a means of relief
for the poor.
Dickens' age was a period of industrial development marked by the rise of the
middle class (Wagenknecht 219). In the elections brought about by the accession of
William IV in 1830, the Tories lost control of the government. Assumption of power by
the Whigs opened the way to an era of accelerated progress (Kaste 8). In this time period children worked just as much, if not more, than some of the adults. After 1833, an increased amount of legislation was enacted to control the hours of labor and working
conditions for children and women in manufacturing plants. The Poor Law of 1834
provided that all able bodied paupers must reside in a workhouse (8). Widespread
hostility was felt to the new law; many believed that life was harder in a workhouse than in prison (Rooke 22). The plan was successful from one standpoint, for within three years the cost of poor relief was reduced by more than one-third. However, this system was sharply censured. The increased prevalence of crime was attributed towards it. Inmates of the workhouses became objects of public stigma, and to further heighten the unpopularity of the institutions, living conditions were deliberately made harsh (Kaste 8). Poverty was at it's peak around this time in England. Houses were overcrowded, packed together in narrow streets and courts which were often piled deep in rotting refuse (Rooke 33). New problems of food and public health were faced by a parliamentary and economic system which was better suited to the eighteenth century. On June 20, 1837, Queen Victoria came to the throne of England as the long period of middle class ascendancy was gaining momentum (Kaste 8). The Victorian age, which this time period is often referred, comes from "Queen Victoria." In 1840, it was thought that only twenty percent of the children of London had any form of schooling. The 1840s were years of crises. The character on English life was being transformed by industrial expansion and by great movements of population towards urban life.
Charles Dickens was born in Landport, Portsea, on February 7, 1812. He was the
second son of John Dickens. John Dickens was a clerk in the Navy pay office. His
improvidence would eventually lead to imprisonment in the Marshalsea, a debtor's prison
for debt (Hardy 41). As a child Charles Dickens explored London...