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How Charles Dicken’s Life Experience Influenced his work "Oliver Twist"

Updated on July 3, 2017


Oliver Twist is Charles Dicken’s second literary work first published in 1839. The novel centers mainly on attacking England’s Poor Law that had been enacted in 1834. This law which had been enacted by the government was actually a series of measures which the government had been initiating from 1834. The aim of such measures was to offer assistance to poor people. Poor people who did not have a means of income were sent to workhouses where they were given some jobs in return for food and other form of support. However, the system was designed in such a way that those who were sent there could find it unpleasant and uncomfortable and that this would incentivize people on the need to become self sufficient. For instance, the foods offered in the workhouses were often very little and people were not required to talk with each other while taking the meals. What is more, families were separated and forced to live in same-sex quarters while children as young as ten were sent t “baby farms” (Dickens 11). It is upon these flaws that Charles Dickens penned down this novel as an attempt to criticize and make the government change the system.

Dicken’s Life

Charles Dicken’s childhood was full of miseries. At twelve years, Dicken’s father, John Dickens was imprisoned for failing to pay a debt. This subjected the family to a devastating state and forced Dickens junior to work in a factory that manufactures shoe polish. At the factory, Charles Dickens met, Bob Fagin, a fellow employee whom they became close friends. This friendship became intact since unlike other employees, Bob did not have a tendency of teasing Dickens junior, and rather, he came to his defense whenever he was being taunted by other boys. Further, he also taught him a lot concerning work and the skills needed to do certain tasks. Bob also stood in the gap for Dickens whenever he was sick and could not therefore report to work (Cody 1).

Interestingly, Charles Dickens does not shower Bob Fagin with praises or acknowledgement to what appears to be great kindness during this time. Instead, he goes on to nickname him, Oliver Twist, an imaginary villain. His argument for this action was that he does not at any point see anything good all the time he worked in the factory and that this time was the worst in his life. Therefore, Bob’s “assistance” during this time did not do anything good to him or in other words did not count. In fact he considers Bob Fagin as a person who showed him the “darker side of life”.

Dicken’s Life Experience

As earlier depicted, Dickens early life was full of miseries and hardships. In particular, his early life was though, idyllic and he acknowledges in “Oliver Twist” that “at a tender age, my parents and the society did not take good care of me as a boy”. In fact, he retorts the idea that his mother, Elizabeth Dickens strongly supported his enrolment in the Blacking factory. This made Charles to have a negative view of his mother and all mothers in general with assertion that a family should be ruled by the father and not mothers and that, mothers should only be relegated to the kitchen duties. Furthermore, the failure of his mother in requesting for his return hugely contributed to his negative attitude towards women.

“I can never forget the idea that my mother welcomed the idea for me to be sent to the Backing wharehouse against my wishes, I can never forget” he retorts”(54)

Upon imprisonment of his father in Marshalsea prison, the young Dickens and his mother joined him there (at the prison) since this was the practice at that time. However, Charles was forced to move out of that prison due to harsh conditions and board with one of their family friends identified as Elizabeth Roylance. Though Roylance had accepted to board with Charles, the old lady was too poor to afford the needs and even education of the boy. He went on to live with various other family friends including Dombey and Son, whom he describes as living in a despicable house, Archibld Russel who had a lame son and a very old wife. This illustrates that Charles childhood was never a settled one and that most of the conditions he lived in were deplorable.

This kind of life and considering that nobody was in a position to help Dickens proceed with college education forced him to abandon school and work part time at Warren's Shoe Warehouse where he was paid a weekly six shillings for sticking labels on the pots of boot blacking. The work environment was described as not only harsh but also strenuous and Dickens did not like it at all. This work which also caused a permanent impact on Dickens life was a huge influence to Dickens writings including essays, novels, fiction and was the basis of his strong desire to reform the labor and socio-economic conditions of his time. According to him, these rigors and old laws were meant to oppress the poor even more and should be discarded at all costs (Moore 241-244).

Eventually, Dickens got a chance to attend Wellington House Academy located at Camden Town where he schooled for two years. However, he did not like this institution owing to its haphazard nature, poor discipline, and poor ways of teaching, brutality of the school administrators, poor governance, lack of sufficient resources and lack of concern by teachers. He generally had a negative view of this school because of the way learners were treated.

Presentation of Dickens Life Experience in Oliver Twist

The novel “Oliver Twist” is largely penned from Charles Dickens’s life experiences including the conditions of working class people at his time, the righteous indignation derived from his situation including mistreatment of children by parents, relatives and lack of concern by the society or authorities. His placement at the Blacking factory caused unhappy moment in Dicken’s youth and which is alluded in his second novel Oliver Twist (Bidwell 2).

Alongside the experience of mistreatment is the misery of poverty alongside its effects in the society. In this novel, Dickens further reinforces the idea that the prevalence of poverty and its effects including homelessness had been made worse by a misguided approach by the responsible stakeholders towards resolving this issues(John 72). In other words, the government’s approaches in these matters were encouraging their proliferation and even increase.

Dickens places much concern in showing the misery of the lower class in his society. In this regard, he uses words such as despair, workhouses, and filthy quarters. Using his socio-economic context and experiences, the author has depicted the conditions of the poor with a resolute realism (Hard 65). He consistently describes those in the poor category as animal like or sub-human for the purpose of highlighting the huge gap inherent between the poor and the middle class. When describing the Babytons, the author makes the poor appear like lesser humans “ Oliver was not at ease looking at either the man or her since they seemed to be rats he had seen earlier” (5.64)

Child abuse is also a recurrent theme that appears in this novel Oliver Twist. For instance, it can not be right for a boy as young as twelve to be enlisted as a worker in a Blacking factory while going on to subject him to harsh and un-conducive work environment. Further, subjecting Charles Dickens to live in the same prison environment because of the mistakes of the father was unacceptable under child welfare rights. The author has also described the treatment of children by parents and society at large as well as by natural. This description makes it apparent that children or at least those presented in the novel were subjected to risk factors that hindered their progression and welfare alongside the high nature of child abuse (Brennan 1). According to Meadow (1997) child abuse is an unacceptable treatment accorded to a child in a particular context under specific time. In today’s standards and other parts of the world, majority of the practices depicted in Dickens’s novel could be considered as an outright breach of child rights.


From this analysis, it is apparent that the novel “Oliver Twist” is largely based on the life experiences of the author Charles Dickens. The novel provides enlightenment on the actual life that were inherent in England during the 9th century. From this book, we get to understand the huge gap between the poor and the rich, child abuse among other factors. Therefore, one can see a great transformation between the culture and society at time with today’s. This is also an indication that humanity is progressing.


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