illustrated portrait of English author Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

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What is the link between Charles Dickens and the Industrial Revolution?

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Charles Dickens was critical of the hardships perpetrated on the poor by the Industrial Revolution. In Oliver Twist, Oliver is a poor chimney sweep. Chimney sweeps were necessary in an economy powered by coal; however, the sweeps were paid little and it was very dangerous work with many children succumbing to lung disease. The Industrial Revolution also was important in the creation of the workhouse, a place where the poor would go to work and receive meager rations and bad housing for their efforts. The book Oliver Twist also describes the workhouse in the famous scene where Oliver's request for more gruel is denied.

As a boy, Dickens worked for three years in shoe polish factory attaching labels to pots of blacking in order to support his family. The work was hard and dirty, and Dickens only made six shillings a week. Fortunately, Dickens was able to return to school, but his experience as a child laborer inspired many of his stories. In addition to Oliver Twist, Dickens also wrote A Christmas Carol in order to show how cold and impersonal the managers of this period could be toward their employees.

Instead of directly speaking out against the Industrial Revolution in England, Dickens decided to let his characters speak for him. Oliver's poverty and hopeless situation contrasts with the rich benefactors who redirect his life. This social inequality is a theme in Dickens's works.

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