What were Charles Dickens's main objectives in writing Oliver Twist?

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In writing Oliver Twist Dickens was trying to draw his readers's attention to the plight of the most unfortunate members of society. In particular, he was keen to expose the cruelty of the workhouse system. This was a government system which trapped some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society in lives of unimaginable poverty.

The workhouse system had been set up to crack down on public vagrancy. It was generally successful in achieving this aim, but it did nothing to deal with the causes of poverty. As Oliver Twist discovers, workhouses were often places of misery and exploitation. Desperate people were treated like common criminals simply because they were poor.

Dickens was all too aware of the fact that most people in Britain at that time believed that the poor had themselves to blame for their troubles. In writing Oliver Twist, then, he aimed to challenge this long-standing prejudice. One of the ways he does this is through the character of Oliver's mother, a woman from a good family cruelly abandoned by her loved ones for falling pregnant outside of marriage. The implication is that even so-called respectable folk, the kind of people who read Dickens' books, can be snatched up by the workhouse system.

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In England in the late 1820s to the early 1830s, most factories used large numbers of child laborers. With the economy weakened by ongoing warfare and reduced trade with Europe, Europe could not pull out of a depression. In the industrial cities, business closures left many unemployed. The still-functioning factory owners discouraged organizing for better working conditions and higher wages for both child and adult workers. The government response to the crisis was the passage of the 1834 Poor Laws. Among other provisions, these laws established workhouses and made them mandatory residences of all those who would receive food and money (alms) from the church parishes. The appalling living conditions kept many people from claiming this public assistance, but many others had no options.

Oliver Twist, which was completed in 1838, was inspired in part by the Poor Laws and related media coverage of workhouse conditions.

Charles Dickens, who was born in 1812, had spent his whole life amidst the wartime atmosphere and postwar economic crisis. Although his father had a relatively secure job as a naval clerk, even he was unemployed for part of Charles’s childhood. Dickens learned firsthand about dreadful child labor conditions because he went to work at age 12 during a period when his father was imprisoned for debt. Fortunately, his father was released. The boy was able to resume his studies, but the indelible impression of these experiences stayed with him as an adult.

After entering journalism as a court reporter, he began writing fiction alongside newspaper accounts. His own experiences and his knowledge of current events fueled his interest in the hard lives of the poor. His genuine empathy for working children combined with his tremendous talent for creating colorful characters and intricate plots resulted in this now-classic novel.

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Charles Dickens's objectives for writing Oliver Twist were to raise awareness about the conditions that some children had to live in and to make money doing it. Dickens published the work in installments; it was his second novel.

Dickens was intimately familiar with the hard life that children endured when they didn't have enough money or family to keep them afloat. His father, a man who was bad with money, was sent to the debtor's prison before Dickens was a teenager. Dickens had to go work in a factory. This mirrors the life of Oliver Twist, who has a difficult life of poverty and turns to crime. In the book, Dickens exposed how children were often abused by being forced to work. This was something that many people with money and security may not have been aware of.

Dickens also wrote to make money. It's famously said that he was paid by the word and that's one reason he uses so many of them. When he published Oliver Twist, he likely intended for it to make money to help support himself and his family. Though his intentions in choosing the subject matter were probably very good, he also had to believe that the story could be popular and entertaining enough for the average reader to enjoy.

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Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist to make his readers aware of the living conditions of the poor.  By using a child character, Dickens symbolizes the helplessness and potential corruption inherent in the system.  Dickens specifically targeted the Poor Law, the law that created debtor’s prisons and workhouses, and the inequities of the legal system.

Through satire and loveable characters, Dickens made real the elements of a life of poverty and crime.  Oliver, Jack Dawkins (The Artful Dodger) and Nancy are sympathetic characters, and Dickens uses them to encourage his reader’s to consider the human cost of ignoring poverty.

Dickens personally experienced some aspects of the life he describes.  He lived in London and worked as a court reporter, and he saw pickpockets and prostitutes on a daily basis.  Dickens was known the walk the streets at night for most of his life, where he saw things as they were and took pains to describe them in ways that would move his readers.  His father was also poor, and as a youngster Dickens experienced debtor’s prisons and child labor firsthand.  It made a profound impression on him, and influenced his choice of content throughout his career.


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