The Portrayal of the Under Classes in Oliver Twist
During the early 1800s a great number of people were living in extreme
poverty. Dickens had grown up in a poor family. As his childhood was
so awful he wrote the novel 'Oliver twist' as a protest towards the
way the poorer community were treated.
This period of time was torrid for the underclass population,
particularly the children. Orphaned children had only two choices.
They could both live and work in workhouses or to live a life of
crime. As the poor law was introduced most children were forced into
workhouses. Dickens was strongly opposed to this routine. Conditions
were abysmal, children were punished severely, ' for a week after the
commission of the impious offenceâ€¦. Oliver remained a prisoner in the
dark solitary room.' Eventually the starvation and mental turmoil
would turn the children into 'violent social outcasts'. Not only would
the children be mentally abused, but the unrelenting workhouses were
also extremely violent places to be. As I mentioned children from the
poorer community would have two choices. If the children were lucky
enough to escape the workhouses then a life of crime would be the only
way for them to survive.
Oliver is first bought by an undertaker, but escapes to London where
he is thrown together with a band of thieves run by the sinister
Fagin. This business was more rewarding for the children. They would
be fed, clothed and would have more freedom outside of the workhouses.
Although you would think resorting to crime would be the best option
it came with grave consequences. Criminals in this era would be
mercilessly punished for the crimes they have committed, just as
children would be in workhouses. Many lawbreakers would be publicly
hung if the magistrates deemed it necessary. The to options available
to children in the early 1800s were not ideal. But it seems that crime
was the 'lesser of two evils'. Orphaned children would have better
lives if they could get away with crime, but punishments for getting
caught could be crippling.
Dickens' character, Fagin is described as a stereotypical criminal of
this time. He is a wicked criminal dresses in a greasy flannel gown
with his throat bare. For a master criminal it is ironic that he gets
children to do his work for him. Children guard his hideout and a
password is required to get in. Fagin's safety and the success of his
business depend on how well children of about ten or twelve do their
jobs. Despite having a hideout with a password and a large gang
working for him, he is very vulnerable considering the line of work he
is in. A master criminal he is not, maybe he is just a poor Jew,
dependant on poor children. Although Fagin is not an upper-class
citizen, he is neither poor. The success of his business does pay off
' he sat...