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A social reformer, Charles Dickens employs the characters and situations in his novel, Oliver Twist, to expose the hypocrisy and flaws of government institutions and laws such as the Poor Laws of 1834 which dealt great injustice and suffering. For, these laws mandated that people who could not support themselves live in workhouses, where they were mistreated and underfed. The object of this plan was to make public assistance so unattractive that people would try to find jobs or refuse assistance. Instead, it created a terrible underbelly to English society as people turned to crime in order to support themselves.
Thus, Oliver Twist, while a poignant and interesting narrative, acts as an expose of the social ills, especially the plight of the orphaned. Fleeing poorhouse and apprenticeship, Oliver makes his way to London in hopes of a better life, only to be kidnapped by the heinous Fagin, who exploits him by forcing Oliver into being a thief. An interesting point is made by J. Hillis Miller,
Fagin's den is both a dungeon and a place of refuge. It is...absolutely shut off from the outside world, but it is also a parody, at least, of a home, that place where one live safely...Fagin's den [says Dickens] is a 'snug retreat,' and inside its walls we find a society leagued for common protection against the hostility of the outside world.
Without question, like so many of Dickens's day, Oliver Twist is a poor boy struggling against the inhumanity of his government. Indeed, Dickens' novel shows to his country the worst shades of the land.
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