Poverty and charity

Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist presents a realistic depiction of poverty in English society in the early 19th century. Oliver himself is born in a workhouse, and spends most of his childhood amongst the poorest people in society. Dickens is very critical of the workhouse system and of society’s “charitable” attempts to help the poor.

For example, Dickens draws attention to a policy reducing the amount of food given to the poor people in the workhouse:

For the first six months after Oliver Twist was removed, the system was in full operation. It was rather expensive at first, in consequence of the increase in the undertaker’s bill, and the necessity of taking in the clothes of all the paupers, which fluttered loosely on their wasted, shrunken forms, after a week of two’s gruel. But the number of workhouse inmates got thin as well as the paupers; and the board were in ecstasies. (Chapter 2, 80%)

Dickens’ ironic description emphasizes the heartlessness of the workhouse authorities and shows how many people in Victorian society were indifferent to the lives of the poor.

The description of the workhouse also shows th...

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