Oliver Twist

victorian stereotypes about the poor asserted that poverty and vice were fundermantely connected and that moreover both were heriditary types the were supposedly bad from birth how does dickens approach such stereotypes

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On the surface, Dickens appears to be using Oliver Twist to criticize the Victorian idea that the poor were naturally destined for lives of degradation and desperation. Dickens satirizes characters who voice such an opinion, such as Mr. Bumble, Mr. Grimwig, and Mrs. Sowerberry. The latter, for instance, declares that children like Oliver “are born to be murderers and robbers from their very cradle.” In addition, characters like Nancy, Charley Bates, and Oliver stand in direct opposition to the assertion that an individual who happens to be born poor is also born without any innate sense of right and wrong. However, on a more subtle level, Oliver may be interpreted as a character who lends support to the very stereotypes Dickens seems to be condemning. At the end of the novel, we discover that Oliver is, in fact, the child of well-off parents, and a Victorian reader could interpret the novel as saying that Oliver’s seemingly innate goodness is inherited from them. Moreover, with a few obvious exceptions, most of the poor characters depicted are morally reprehensible, or at the very least somewhat laughable as people. Finally, while the character of Monks explicitly violates the connection of vice with poverty, he represents some support for the argument that moral shortcomings are the product of nature, not nurture. Brownlow tells Monks that, “You . . . from your cradle were gall and bitterness to your own father’s heart, and . . . all evil passions, vice, and profligacy, festered [in you].” It seems, then, that vice and virtue may be hereditary traits, present in an individual “from [the] cradle.”


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