Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Charles Dickens and the Mistreatment of the Poor

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Oliver Twist, Hard Times, and Great Expectations are three great books by Charles Dickens. Dickens often wrote about the poor because he himself was poor. There are a few differences between the poor of London in the 1800’s and the poor of current day America. The poor of America are expected to get better, whereas the poor of London are not. Also, there are more poor people in London than America because in London there are lower wages, and also there are not as many ways to get back into the middle classes if you lose your job. In America, there are more choices of where to work at because there are a lot of jobs that do not require a lot of skill. Overall, the poor in London in the 1800’s are worse off than the poor of America. Oliver Twist is about a young orphan who unintentionally joins a gang of pickpockets in the streets of London. He meets thieves, pickpockets, and murderers, but manages to struggle through it all and reclaims some property that is rightfully his and lives with a wonderful family. Hard Times shows the mistreatment of the poor in many ways and also portrays the everyday life of the lower classes. Great Expectations is about a boy nicknamed Pip who suddenly finds himself the owner of a large amount of money and “great expectations.” He also tries to win the love of a cold-hearted but beautiful girl called Estella. In all these books, rich people mistreated poor people, which caused them to live in bad conditions, which caused the poor to steal money from each other and mistreat each other.

In Oliver Twist, Dickens shows that poor people lived in bad conditions. All poor people lived in very bad conditions. This was caused by the rich not caring for and distancing themselves from the poor. For example, the house of the woman who died is very dirty and low-down and the woman’s parents do not even have a cloak to wear to the funeral or even a few crusts of bread to eat. However, even though the woman is very unfortunate, Mr. Bounderby, who is at least a little better off, does not make a single move to help the woman, and instead, treats her like she was totally insignificant. Also, Oliver once is so hungry that he eats some viands of a pig that even the dog neglected. Mrs. Sowerby even thinks it was kind of her to treat Oliver like that. Finally, the conditions at the workhouse are horrible; the boys at the workhouse get only a tiny amount of bread and a small bowl of highly diluted gruel to eat. This is caused by the council of people who thought that this meager amount is what the boys deserve to get, and get angry when the boys asked for a little more food to get. Even on holidays, the boys get only a little more bread and a bigger bowl of gruel.

The bad conditions that poor people lived in are also shown in Hard Times. For example, Mr. Bounderby’s supposed life was terrible. He was supposedly brought up in a shack with a very terrible grandmother and was forced to work very hard just to survive. Also, he says he was bullied around by many people and fooled and tricked by bad people. Another example of bad conditions in Hard Times is Sleazy’s circus. The people who worked there had to work very hard, but often people who come to watch the circus do not appreciate their efforts and make fun of them. The circus is one example of the richer people who watch the circus compared to the poor performers. Finally, most Hands live in bad conditions because they do not earn much money. One example of this is Stephen Blackpool’s dwelling, which is very dirty, has only a few pieces of furniture, and a small bit of food. He doesn’t even have enough chairs when company comes.

This same point is shown in Great Expectations, where poor people such as Pip’s family live in bad conditions compared to the rich. Pip’s house is very simple, while Mrs. Havisham’s estate is huge and very fancy, with a garden, many fancy rooms, and even a whole brewery inside the estate. To top it all off, many rich people come visit her. In spite of all the things that Mr. Havisham’s estate does not measure up to Pip’s expectations, so he makes up a story about a coach and horses inside one of Mrs. Havisham’s rooms, a game played with fancy flags, and other embellishments and lies.

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How the bad conditions that poor people lived in caused poor people to steal money, become pickpockets, or do other despicable things is shown in the book Hard Times. The main reason that the poor stooped to such low things was survival. They couldn’t make enough money so they turned to crime because it was either that or die. For example, Fagin, Charley Bates, and Jack Dawkins (the Artful Dodger) are pickpockets. With the exception of the Artful Dodger who enjoys the danger of picking pockets, most of the boys would probably not pick pockets if they could survive without it. Also, Oliver is forcibly made a pickpocket. Even though he was made a pickpocket forcibly, he would have probably died if the gang of pickpockets did not take him in. Later in the book, Bill Sikes, Toby Crackittt, and Oliver try to rob the house of a rich man. Also later in the book, Mr. Sikes murders Nancy, who is an accomplice that tries to redeem herself by telling Mr. Brownlow of Fagin’s gang. Finally, there are people who operate shops that buy and resell stolen handkerchiefs, watches, and jewelry.

In Hard Times, there is also evidence of poor people doing unmoral things. Stephen Blackpool’s want of a divorce would be considered immoral in those days. Also, Stephen’s wife spending a lot of money and repeatedly coming back to Stephen to get more when Stephen does not earn that much himself and his wife doesn’t make any money at all.

Many poor people tried to establish power over other poor people to make up for their lack of power in the real world. This is shown in Oliver Twist, where Noah Claypole, the other girl, and Mrs. Sowerberry abuse, tease, and frame Oliver. Also, Fagin tries to get power over other power people by having apprentices.

In Hard Times, Mr. Bumble has authority over the boys at the workhouse and enjoys it. Much of the time, he abuses the children and enjoys it, which is cruel. To discipline the orphans, he uses a cane with a hard tip. Finally, the woman who owns the orphanage gets power over the orphans by taking a big percentage of the money given to them by the government and using it for her own purposes.

This same thing is also shown in Hard Times, where the higher people try to gain power over the Hands, who have no choice but to accept their fate. In addition, the headmaster and headmistress of the school, Mr. and Mrs. Choakum, yell at the students if they do not get questions that they ask right. In addition, they and Mr. Bounderby teach the children totally useless things.

In Great Expectations, people also try to gain power over other people, like the criminal who at first gets Pip to get him food and a file to break the chain on his foot by threatening to tell his “friend” to rip out Pip’s heart and eat his liver. The gullible Pip is frightened and haunted by this image, so he gets the things the criminal asks for. Also, when Pip’s aunt goes on “the Rampage,” or gets very mad, both Joe and Pip are cowed into submission and frightened. Finally, in the true story that Mr. Pocket Junior tells him, Mrs. Havisham’s sweetheart uses her for his advantage.

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