How did Charles Dickens create sympathy for the protagonist in the opening four chapters of Oliver Twist?
Sympathy is often defined as a feeling or an expression of pity or sorrow for the distress of another. It is noted that Charles Dickens quite frequently applied various techniques to evoke from potential readers, the feeling of sympathy for the protagonist Oliver, in the book ‘_Oliver Twist_’.
The novel pursues the life of a fictional character called, the obvious ‘Oliver Twist’. From the very beginning, attracting the sympathy of the reader is accomplished as Dickens commences with Oliver’s destitute mother arriving, heavily pregnant at a parish workhouse. Not long after arriving at the workhouse, did his mother give birth and demand to let her see the child and die. Although the sympathy was not encompassing the protagonist, it surrounded the mother of the protagonist – who was yet to burden the world with his presence. Immediately, the reader’s emotions are captured as any human could empathise with someone who gave birth to a child aware of their fatal future. Oliver is then presumed an orphan left to the tender mercies of church wardens. The technique of commiseration contrasts with Dickens’ use of irony generating a greater effect on the reader. Oliver has no parents, or acknowledged family and his future was virtually written in concrete. As for his newly present guardians and the church, there is no mercy in store for Oliver, and the characters embodied quite the opposite of tender, more so arduous. It could be said that Dickens did not set up any sort of reader expectations, he more or less, dissolved any reader’s expectations leaving them believing there was no hope for Oliver.
Charles Dickens wrote a masterpiece in Oliver Twist. He wrote a book that sold more than 4 million copies in the decade after his death in England alone. Oliver Twist continues to be one of the most famous books around. His novel is a delight to read because of his clever writing style, and important messages. It is true that Dickens panders to the audience with Oliver Twist, but he wrote Oliver ...
Unfortunately for Oliver, his determined residence was the ill-fated workhouse. Workhouses were supposedly created by the parishes, to ‘aid’ the poor. However, the actual environment of a workhouse seemed to hinder rather than aid the lives of those who fell victim to poverty. As if the conditions of the workhouse were not appalling enough, families were often separated upon entering the workhouse. Dickens’ own depiction and opinion of the workhouses were often representedthrough the experiences of the character, Oliver. For example, we saw in the very first chapter where Dickens described how the children were neglected and starved.
_‘…had contrived to exist upon the smallest portion of the weakest possible food… the miserable little being was usually summoned into another world.’_
Literary history saw evident that Oliver Twist was not the only novel which Dickens used to unveil the inequality and social evils towards the poor. Other novels included ‘_A Christmas Carol’, ‘Great Expectations’ and’ A Tale of Two Cities.’_ The question as to whether Oliver would have been better off if his mother had lived became non-existent, as mothers were also often separated from their children. The general assumption could be made that Oliver’s situation was not unique to this time in history, as a matter of a fact; Oliver was just another item in the ‘supermarket’ of Victorian society. Oliver being a child of the system, as mentioned before, had had presumed a bleak future ahead of him which is evident on page 3.
‘…he was ushered into this world of sorrow and trouble.’
The poor law of 1834 was supposedly created to provide public relief and support for those victims to poverty. Prior to the introduction of the poor law, the underprivileged were treated and regarded as burdens of the English society. The purpose of the poor law was so for these opinions and views of higher classes to modify however, this change of mind didn’t occur, in the opinion of Dickens himself. Dickens actually quoted about the poor law ‘…which under its many forms ended thoroughly demoralizing people… we hear the laborers described as lazy, mutinous and imperious to overseers. The whole character of people was lowered by the admission that they had a right to relief independent of work’. In simpler forms, Dickens own opinion of the poor law was that it was indeed a ‘poor’ law and did not aid the demolition of the social stigma attached to the poor at all. The general opinion of those belonging to higher classes was that the poor deserved to be poor; supposedly that it was a punishment. Consequently, the workhouses were knowingly made as miserable as possible. This again, reveals that Oliver was not alone in the suffering for the duration of his early life.
In his novel, Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens narrates a classical story (in a true life experience manner) of a mistreated Orphan, named Oliver Twist. The story unfolds the adventure of Oliver Twist who lost both parents at a very tender age and thus lost his chances of decent living. His mother died at childbirth, while his father was conspicuously absent in his life from the beginning. He spent ...
Despite the fact Mrs. Mann lacked the all important maternal instinct; it was only a small fraction of unfortunate events in Oliver’s first eight years of life. His early years consisted of survival as he, and many other individuals suffered from ill-treatment, neglect and starvation – all of which became evident in chapter 2.
_‘… Contrived to exist upon the smallest possible portion of the weakest possible food… it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident… the miserable little being was usually summoned into another world.’_
This actual quote demonstrates the hardship which the children under parish conditions faced. Again, the literary technique of dehumanisation is use to claim the sympathy vote from the reader. The fact that this is used in combination with the sad happenings of the workhouses summons the compassion even more intentionally bringing the reader to pity Oliver. Despite the constant and deliberate theme of sympathy, you could say hopes are slightly raised at the mention of Oliver’s birthday. The fact was, it was rather surprising that he actually survived to see his ninth birthday. Nonetheless, the description of the actual events of his birthday did not fulfill any sudden reader expectations.
‘… His ninth birthday; and he was keeping it in the coal-cellar with a select party of two other young gentlemen, who… had been locked up for atrociously presuming to be hungry…’
The usual custom on a birthday is to celebrate it, possibly with companions however this was different for Oliver. Oliver is looked up with two other boys in the parish after claiming to be hungry; this obviously is not the most ideal way to spend a birthday. Dickens quite blatantly highlights this using another literary technique – sarcasm. He writes about the events of Oliver’s birthday using phrases such as select party of two other young gentlemen to describe the event of Oliver getting into trouble with two other young boys; he uses the word participating alongside sound thrashing to describe the lecture upon which they received prior to their punishment. He also uses the phrase atrociously presuming to be hungry supposedly suggesting the feeling of hunger was an atrocious act. The intentional sarcasm highlights the sadness in this sad tale of striving poverty victims. For example, the act of being hungry is a natural feeling which the human body cannot control. The fact that the workhouse environment does not condone this feeling restricts the human abilities again leaving the protagonist, dehumanised. As previously mentioned, the dehumanisation of anyone would cause those on the outside to feel an overwhelming sympathy for the victims of this. Not only does this create sympathy for the readers, but it makes the readers aware of how the authorities conducted the workhouse. It became obvious in this chapter that the authorities, really didn’t care about the welfare of the children. For example, you have Mrs. Mann who only delivered fifty percent of the children’s allowance to them. She obviously believed that she required it more than them, and despite the fact most were struggling to fight starvation, she obviously believed that her needs came first. The selfishness of the authorities was not only unmasked through their actions but also through their appearance.
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Still in chapter 2, Mr. Bumble was actually described as Dickens himself as a fat man. The fact that he as a member of staff was also rather fat shows the carefree attitude in which he had towards the health of the starving children. The illustrative evidence continues as Oliver is conducted into a large room.
‘…Where eight or ten fat gentlemen were sitting round a table.’
Being there so many fat gentlemen, initiated the idea that the men were being well, if not, over fed. Any reader would have immediately been horrified by the idea of so many well fed authorities. Fact is, the purpose of this book was to give other classes a window into the social evils in which the poor suffered. Dickens accomplished this task reasonably well, as it reflected the very truth which was occurring at that time in Victorian History. In my opinion, the imagery of the well-fed gentlemen did not alone grapple the emotion of sympathy, but it was the contrast which brought to the eye the extent of the situation.
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‘Oliver Twist’s ninth birthday found him a pale, thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature and decidedly small in circumference.’
The power of these contrasting lines brings sympathy upon the protagonist. The reader cannot help but feel sorry for a sorrowful orphaned, starving child. The technique of using starving as a sympathy device towards the protagonist continued and became more emphasized throughout the novel.