Essay, Research Paper: Great Expectations And Oliver Twist

Literature: Charles Dickens

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During his lifetime, Charles Dickens is known to have written several books.
Although each book is different, they also share many similarities. Two of his
books, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, are representatives of the many
kinds of differences and similarities found within his work.. Perhaps the reason
why these two novels share some of the same qualities is because they both
reflect painful experiences which occurred in Dickens' past. During his
childhood, Charles Dickens suffered much abuse from his parents.1 This abuse is
often expressed in his novels. Pip, in Great Expectations, talked often about
the abuse he received at the hands of his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery. On one
occasion he remarked, "I soon found myself getting heavily bumped from
behind in the nape of the neck and the small of the back, and having my face
ignominously shoved against the wall, because I did not answer those questions
at sufficient length."2 While at the orphanage, Oliver from Oliver Twist
also experienced a great amount of abuse. For example, while suffering from
starvation and malnutrition for a long period of time, Oliver was chosen by the
other boys at the orphanage to request more gruel at dinner one night. After
making this simple request, "the master (at the orphanage) aimed a blow at
Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for
the beadle."3 The whole beginning of Oliver Twist's story was created from
memories which related to Charles Dickens' childhood in a blacking factory
(which was overshadowed by the Marshalsea Prison).4 While working in the
blacking factory, Dickens suffered tremendous humiliation. This humiliation is
greatly expressed through Oliver's adventures at the orphanage before he is sent
away. Throughout his lifetime, Dickens appeared to have acquired a fondness for
"the bleak, the sordid, and the austere."5 Most of Oliver Twist, for
example, takes place in London's lowest slums.6 The city is described as a maze
which involves a "mystery of darkness, anonymity, and peril."7 Many of
the settings, such as the pickpocket's hideout, the surrounding streets, and the
bars, are also described as dark, gloomy, and bland.8 Meanwhile, in Great
Expectations, Miss Havisham's house is often made to sound depressing, old, and
lonely. Many of the objects within the house had not been touched or moved in
many years. Cobwebs were clearly visible as well as an abundance of dust, and
even the wedding dress, which Miss Havisham constantly wore, had turned yellow
with age.9 However, similarities are not just found in the settings. The novels'
two main characters, Pip and Oliver, are also similar in many ways. Both young
boys were orphaned practically from birth; but where Pip is sent to live with
and be abused by his sister, Oliver is sent to live in an orphanage. Pip is a
very curious young boy. He is a "child of intense and yearning
fancy."10 Yet, Oliver is well spoken. Even while his life was in danger
while in the hands of Fagin and Bill Sikes, two conniving pickpockets, he
refused to participate in the stealing which he so greatly opposed. All Oliver
really longed for was to escape from harsh living conditions and evil
surroundings which he had grown up in.11 However, no matter how tempting the
evil may have been, Oliver stood by his beliefs. Therefore, he can be referred
to as "ideal and incorruptible innocence."12 "It is Oliver's
self-generated and self-sustained love, conferred it would seem from Heaven
alone, that preserves him from disaster and death."13 Unfortunately, many
critics have found it hard to believe that a boy such as Oliver Twist could
remain so innocent, pure, and well spoken given the long period of time in which
he was surrounded by evil and injustices.14 Pip, on the other hand, is a
dreamer. His imagination is always helping him to create situations to cover up
for his hard times. For example, when questioned about his first visit to Miss
Havisham's house, he made up along elaborate story to make up for the terrible
time he had in reality. Instead of telling how he played cards all day while
being ridiculed and criticized by Estella and Miss Havisham, he claimed that
they played with flags and swords all day after having wine and cake on gold
plates.15 However, one special quality possessed by Pip that is rarely seen in a
novel's hero is that he wrongs others instead of being hurt himself all of the
time.16 Another similarity between Oliver and Pip is that they both have had
interactions with convicts. Fagin the head of a group of young thieves, spends
most of his time trying to "demoralize and corrupt Oliver and prevent him
from ever coming into his inheritance."17 To Oliver, he is seen as an
escape from all previous misery. He also helps Oliver to ease any fears about
starvation and loneliness.18 Just as Fagin is Oliver's means of escape, Magwitch,
an escaped convict, is Pip's. However, as Fagin provides Oliver with an escape
from misery, Magwitch tries to provide Pip with an escape from poverty by
becoming his anonymous benefactor. Obviously, escape is an important theme in
both Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Even though they both have different
goals in mind, Pip and Oliver are seeking various forms of escape from
conditions which make them unhappy: Pip from his poverty, and Oliver from his
loneliness and starvation. Since dealing with escapism, it is not surprising
that death also plays a major role in both stories. In the two novels, death and
coffins symbolize a happy and peaceful manner of escape.19 In Oliver Twist, it
is suggested that only loneliness and brutality exist on earth. Supposedly,
there is no sanctity on the planet, which is a belief that goes against the idea
of a Heaven on earth.20 Another important theme within the novel is the theme of
the "two separate and conflicting dualisms: one, social, between the
individual and the institution; the second, moral, between the respectable and
the criminal."21 Most of Oliver Twist seems to imply that "it is
better to be a thief than to be alone."22 This tends to make the reader
think that Dickens favors the criminal aspect of his novels over the moral side.
However, the conflict between the individual and the institution leads to
Dickens' criticism of social injustices such as injustices towards the poor.23
Also in the form of satire, Dickens attempts to "challenge the
pleasurability of fortune."24 Aside from satire, Dickens uses various other
devices in writing these novels. One of the most common is that of coincidence.
For example, in Oliver Twist, Oliver just happened to end up, first, at the
house of Mr. Brownlow, who at one time was a really good friend of Oliver's
father. Then, later on, Oliver ends up at Rose Maylie's house, who, as it turns
out is his aunt. In Great Expectations, the use of coincidence is also
noticeable. For instance, Pip finds out that Magwitch and Molly, Mr. Jagger's
servant, are the parents of Estella long after he first met them. Then, later
on, Pip just happens to be visiting Satis House (Miss Havisham's old home) at
the same time as Estella. "Written in abrupt, truncated chapters,"
Oliver Twist took the form of a new type of English prose.25 Both Oliver Twist
and Great Expectations depend heavily on the use of abstraction, or the
avoidance of various facts. However, the novels each have their own form of
narration. While Oliver Twist is written in the third person, Great Expectations
is in the first person. Therefore, in Oliver Twist, the reader gains a view of
the story from the position of an onlooker or outsider. They form their own
opinions about the characters from "watching them." In contrast, when
reading Great Expectations, the view is given through the character of Pip. So,
since we only know about Pip's feelings and what he tells us, our opinions of
the other characters are highly influenced by what he thinks of them. In
conclusion, both books seem to have much in common such as feelings shared by
the main characters, themes dealing primarily in social injustices, and various
writing techniques such as the use of coincidental incidences and abstractions.
However, they also differ greatly from one another. For example, Pip searches
for money while Oliver searches for security, and while Pip was raised in a home
environment, Oliver was raised in an orphanage. Yet, both books have a lot to
offer society in terms of pointing out many problems which still exist today,
such as child abuse and injustice to the poor. In order to conquer these evils,
they must first be understood, and explaining the severity of these experiences
seems to be a job which Charles Dickens is very good at.
Bibliography
Carey, John. Here Comes Dickens - The Imagination of a Novelist. New York:
Schocken Books, 1974. Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: The
Heritage Club, 1939. Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. New York: Dodd, Mead, and
Company, 1949. Johnson, Edgar. Charles Dickens - His Tragedy and Triumph. New
York: Simon and Schuster, 1952. Kincaid, James R. Dickens and the Rhetoric of
Laughter. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971. Marcus, Steven. Dickens: From
Pickwick to Dombey. Great Britain: Basic Books, 1965. Slater, Michael, ed.
Dickens 1970. New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1970. Slater, Michael. Dickens
and Women. California: Stanford University Press, 1983. Stewart, Garrett.
Dickens and the Trials of Imagination. Massachusettes: Harvard University Press,
1974. Welsh, Alexander. The City of Dickens. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1971.
Wilkie, Katherine E. Charles Dickens, The Inimitable Boz. New York: Abelard -
Schuman, 1970. Footnotes 1 Steven Marcus, Dickens: From Pickwick to Dombey
(Great Britain: Basic Books, 1965) 82. 2 Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
(New York: The Heritage Club, 1939) 69. 3 Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist (New
York: Dodd, Mead, and Company, 1949) 16-17. 4 Katharine E. Wilkie, Charles
Dickens, The Inimitable Boz (New York: Abelard - Schuman, 1970) 77-78. 5 Marcus
71. 6 Wilkie 77. 7 Marcus 256. 8 Edgar Johnson, Charles Dickens - His Tragedy
and Triumph (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952) 273. 9 Dickens, Expectations
62. 10 Garrett Stewart, Dickens and the Trials of Imagination (Massachusettes:
Harvard University Press, 1974) 187. 11 Marcus 74. 12 Marcus 80. 13 Marcus 83.
14 John Carey, Here Comes Dickens - The Imagination of a Novelist (New York:
Schocken Books, 1974) 149. 15 Dickens, Expectations 71-72. 16 Alexander Welsh,
The City of Dickens (Oxford: Claredon Press, 1971) 107-108. 17 Marcus 75. 18
James R. Kincaid, Dickens and the Rhetoric of Laughter (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1971) 72. 19 Kincaid 51. 20 Kincaid 51. 21 Kincaid 53. 22
Kincaid 72. 23 Wilkie 78. 24 Welsh 82. 25 Marcus 55
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