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Of the various characters Oliver encounters in the early chapters of Oliver Twist,...

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taylorgregory | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted July 12, 2013 at 9:18 PM via web

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Of the various characters Oliver encounters in the early chapters of Oliver Twist, which do you think is Dickens' strongest representation of commentary on the social conditions of his time period?

•Mrs.Thingummy   •Mr. Bumble    •Mrs. Mann   •Mr. Limbkins   •Mr. Gamfield   •Mr. Sowerberry   •Noah Claypole

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litteacher8 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted July 19, 2013 at 8:21 PM (Answer #1)

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Mrs. Mann is the strongest commentary on the social conditions of the time because of the way she treats the infants in her care.

Mrs. Mann is responsible for raising the orphans who come to the workhouse until they are old enough to work.  She feeds the children as little as possible to keep them alive (not always succeeding), and rarely washes them or takes care of them.  Dickens sarcastically refers to this as a farm, and points out that the crop usually does not do very well.  After all, the children often die.

[For] at the very moment when the child had contrived to exist upon the smallest possible portion of the weakest possible food, … either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident… (ch 2)

Mrs. Mann is the perfect example of the conditions of the poor.  No one cared about them.  The Poor Law reinforced their fate, rather than helping them get out of it.  They had few chances to improve or even survive.  The condition of the children was the worst example of this, because they saw nothing but abuse and neglect until they were old enough to be put to work.

Dickens felt strongly about the social conditons of his time.  He wrote this book and others, such as A Christmas Carol and David Copperfield, to create sympathetic characters that would help people realize what was going on and take action rather than looking the other way.

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