Poverty and social class in Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens
The entire plot of Oliver Twist revolves around the themes of poverty and social class. Dickens based this novel on his experience and context, typical life in Victorian times. The spectrum of social class is explored in this novel; there are characters from the poverty sector, including members from the workhouse, Oliver, Fagin, and the pickpockets, Bill and Nancy. Characters from low to high middle class including shop keepers, policemen and judges, and Mr Brownlowe who is an upper class gentleman. The social classes however are all inter-connected to each other in some aspect or other. The police are kept occupied with the over population of street urchins and thieves, the courts are overfilled with them waiting to be tried and convicted, the tradesmen employ cheap labor from those living in the workhouse, and the poverty class feed off the upper class by stealing from them. It was fairly impossible to better oneself in this society, moving from one social circle to another was largely prohibited. Even if classes intermingled with marriage it would generally result in the partner of the higher class being brought down lower in society. One could never forget or escape their place in society, where they came from, their background or parentage. Despite the fact that Oliver discovers he is part of a highly respected gentleman family by the end of the novel it can be assumed that he would never be fully freed from his past, that he is illegitimate. The poor were kept poor by the lack of education, illiteracy was common, only the basic rudiments would have been taught in the workhouse. It would have been along the lines of a tradesman, practical education. A world away in the upper class society, young gentlemen would have been highly educated in the areas of law, science, philosophy, the Greeks and Latin, while the young ladies practiced their accomplishments. The poor in society were unmistakably poor; they were a under-privileged, pitiful class, deprived of independence, dignity, personal freedom. Due to a lack of finance whole families were reduced to a life of drudgery in the workhouse, told when to wake, sleep, work, and eat. It was the only social help and handout available; however it was not much of an improvement on prison. The inhabitants had poor clothing, food, and board. Families were separated, and they worked until death in these establishments. Disease and fleas were rampant due to the unsanitary overcrowded conditions. There was also a terrible stigma and reputation, no one wanted to admit that they had connections to the workhouse. Girls who fell pregnant out of wedlock were sent there, or ended up there, disowned by their families.


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