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.