Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is a fictional story based in London during the 1800’s. Oliver Twist, an orphaned child, is forced to live in a workhouse where he is abused, starved, and given away as an apprentice. Eventually Oliver turns to a life on the streets, living with a gang of orphaned children. Charles Dickens depiction of the workhouse conditions is considered very accurate according to historians. The conditions were horrible and unfit for humans. Poor people were not valued and were considered a blight on society. It was morally acceptable to treat them as less than human and to abuse and starve them.
Charles Dickens was born in Portsmouth in 1812. His father was imprisoned as a debtor when Dickens was only 12 years old. According to the laws of the time, his brother and mother were forced into the workhouse with his father. While they were imprisoned, Charles started his first job at a factory. He would not speak of the time he worked at the factory to many people, only his wife and closest friend were told of the horrors he faced during that dark period in his life. He witnessed the devastating effects of poverty first hand and he saw the social idiocracy. As an adult, Charles became a newspaper reporter and a book author. During this time in society you were not allowed to openly object to the government regulations so Charles would express his displeasure and opinions through his writing.
Social norms were considerably different in the 1800’s. The English considered the poor to be unworthy of help and passed laws preventing anybody from assisting them. “In 1834, the Commission’s report resulted in the Poor Law Amendment Act, which was intended to end all out-relief for the able-bodied. The care and training of children are matters which should receive the anxious attention of guardians. Pauperism is in the blood and there is no more effectual means of checking its hereditary nature than by doing all in our power to bring up our pauper children is such a manner as to make them God-fearing, useful and healthy members of society. (Higginbotham, 2005).It was decided that workhouses would be used instead of the upper and middle class donating food and clothing to the needy. The horrible conditions were used as a deterrent so that only the extremely desperate would turn to them for relief.
Oliver Twist, the main character in the book, was sent to live in a juvenile workhouse until he was 9 years old. The conditions in the workhouse were deplorable just as they were in real life. “Where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws, rolled about the floor all day without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing, under the parental superintendence of an elderly female (Dickens) Mrs. Mann, Oliver’s caretaker, was given a pension for each child that was more than enough to feed and care for them appropriately. Instead she opted to use the money for her own wants and strategically starved the...