Charles Dickens shows notable amounts of originality and morality in his novels, making him one of the most well-known novelists of the Victorian Era and preserving him through his great novels and short stories. One of the reasons his work has been so popular is because his novels reflect the issues of the Victorian era, such as the great disregard of many Victorians to the situation of the poor.
The reformation of the Poor Law in 1834 brings even more unavoidable problems to the poor. The Poor Law of 1834 allowed the poor to receive public assistance only through established workhouses, causing those in debt to be sent to prison. “Workhouses were in existence before 1834, but only the very old, the very sick, or the very young occupied them. The choice was clearly defined: live in a workhouse, find work, or starve to death outside. Many chose death” (Epstein 93) Unable to pay debts, new levels of poverty were created. Dickens recognizes theses issues with a sympathetic yet, somewhat, critical eye, due to his childhood experiences with debt, poverty, and child labor. He notices that England’s politicians and people of the upper class try to solve the growing problem of poverty through the Poor Laws and what they presume to be charitable causes, but Dickens knows that these things will not be successful; in fact they are often inhumane.
Dickens’ view of poverty and the abuse of the poor can be seen in Oliver Twist, the novel about an orphan, brought up in a workhouse and poverty to demonstrate the hypocrisy of the upper class people. Oliver Twist shows Dickens’ perspective of society in a realistic, original
manner, which hopes to change society’s views by combining a “set” of the actual social scene with fiction, designed to reveal the nature of such a society when exposed to a moral overview.Dickens uses satire in Oliver Twist to protest what the English believe are charitable solutions to the increasing poverty rates, extensive child labor in workhouses. Dickens witnesses an injustice happening in England’s workhouses and works to make society’s views of the abuse of children change, but by this time, the horrors of the workhouse were so established in the English scene that they were destined to become part of the British social legend “Those in favor of the workhouse supported it because it efficiently sealed off the poor, decreased population growth by separating husbands and wives, and shamed the needy”(Epstein 94)
Because of the Poor Law of 1834, the young children suffered more than the able bodied benefitted, so through Dickens’ career, he becomes preoccupied with the use and abuse of the Poor Laws. Through satire, Dickens explores the relationships between the paupers and the masters of the workhouse. Satire is used to portray the cruelty, sufferings, and injustice in the workhouses especially through Mr. Bumble, Mrs. Corney, and Oliver, characters that play a significant role in the message of child abuse in the workhouses. Through these characters and their actions, Dickens is able to reveal how ordinary workhouse masters treat their paupers. Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney are stereotypes of the heartless employers who overuse their power on the workhouse children. Mr. Bumble is the corrupt representative of an evil, unjust system but in the novel, Dickens also shows humor through this character. Mr. Bumble brings humor through many petty actions such as the courtship between Mrs. Corney and him. That scene is a humorous interval, which contrasts with life in the workhouse, but Dickens believes that humor gives a more isolated moral understanding that horror could not produce. This episode shows that the
happenings in the workhouse and the actions of Mr. Bumble are not a laughing matter because while Mr. Bumble is frolicking and getting fat, the many young children at the workhouses are suffering and starving in the bitter cold. The humor sets off the darkness and despair of the workhouse, by showing the different lights of the situation; moreover, increasing the awareness of the circumstances that the children are in.
Insight on the abuse of children is also shown through the matron of the workhouse, Mrs. Corney. As ordinary masters of the workhouse will conduct themselves, Dickens shows how insignificant the paupers are thought of to be through Mrs. Corney as she thanks God that she has a warm home to go to and wishes the starving paupers to be put out of their misery. Mrs. Corney’s duty as the matron of a workhouse is to provide assistance to the poor but instead of doing her actual task, she sits in front of the fireplace not wanting to suffer like the poor. It is ironic how Mrs. Corney takes great care of her cats, like they are human but treats the paupers like animals. Mrs. Corney and Mr. Bumble are used to mock the workhouse system while revealing the horrors of child abuse in workhouses.
Dickens also shows satire of the actual workhouse and the duties that are preformed in it to further impart his message to end child abuse in workhouses. Mr. Bumble’s workhouse has young boys picking rope hemp for many excruciating hours until their fingers bleed. After a long day’s work, one is to expect a hearty meal to replenish energy but food is scarce to those living in the workhouses and only small portions of watery gruel are given to the growing boys. Meals are made insufficient to repel the paupers from wanting public assistance and Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney take great advantage of their power of being able to “aid” the paupers. On a generous day, Mrs. Corney gives away twenty quarter loaves and a cheese and a half to the entire
workhouse expecting the paupers to be ecstatic. A bit of bread is given to starving children, and the masters expect to be put upon a pedestal but neither of them is willing to spare a few cents to fill the paupers sufficiently, even though they live comfortably. Not only are the boys seriously hurt and mal-nutritioned, but they are also stunted in growth, physically and mentally. Dickens wanted to show that many of these children become severely ill and still, they have to work; numerous children often die because of this. Ill paupers are not cared for; instead, Mr. Bumble sends them away in open carts during rainy weather because it is cheaper to move them than it is to bury them. Mr. Bumble is always seeking new ways to cut costs in caring for the paupers. Because of the satire, Dickens is really able to get to the core of child abuse in the workhouse to eventually open all of society to the inhumane acts of the workhouses. No other literary device or writing style can explain the horrors of the workhouse as Dickens does with satire in Oliver Twist.
Perhaps now you have a better view or insight of what Oliver went through. Oliver Twist is just a story. However it holds many good points. Children were never meant to be abused while adults sat around nonchalantly. Dickens wanted the rich hypocrites to have a little taste of what they put out, from a different point of view. He did it in a very lengthy, almost annoying book, but he did it and it was published. Despite the fact that he can be a very exhausting author. He must be given at least some credit for writing an entire book to show the people of his time how cruel and harsh they really were. After all these years one can still read his work, Oliver Twist and have a deep sense of what it must have been like to live in the Victorian Era when poverty was very real and very distressing to deal with.