What were the working-class conditions in London that have affected Charles Dickens' novels about the working-class and life on the streets?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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A social reformer, Charles Dickens viewed the technology of the Industrial Revolution as a threat to culture.  He wrote of a sychophantic rising middle class that perceived wealth as a measure of worth, and aspired to become much like the frivolous aristocracy that ignored the plight of the working class and poor. And, because his father, John Dickens, had been sent to debtors' prison and Charles had to work as a young boy, Dickens felt a certain sympathy for the orphaned, the poor, and those abused by society. Indeed, his sympathies lay with such characters as Nancy of Oliver Twist, Joe Gargery and Biddy of Great Expectations and Bob Crachit and his family in A Christmas Carol. In fact, Dickens was influential in effecting a change to the Poor Laws.

Very much at odds with the corrupt and inefficient legal system of his day, Dickens's Great Expectations points to the inequitable justice for the poor as compared to that for the wealthy in the account of Magwitch's past history as he was given a longer prison term than Compeyson, the gentleman who exploited him in his criminal dealings. Magwitch relates to Pip the injustice of his trial with Compeyson, 

But, when the defence come on, then I see the plan plainer; for, says the counsellor for Compeyson, 'My lord and gentlemen, here you has afore you, side by side, two persons as your eyes can separate wide; one, the younger, well brought up, who will be spoke to as such; one, the elder, ill brought up, who will be spoke to as such....

Another novel, Bleak House centers around the generations-long lawsuit of Jardynce and Jardynce in which "whole families have inherited legendary hatreds.” In this novel Dickens' satirizes the role that the legal system had in disrupting the happiness and harmony of people's lives.

In another novel, Hard Times, Charles Dickens describes with realistic and ironic depictions the industrial town, portraying the deleterious affects of urbanization on the working class, such as the threat to individual freedom with the great division between the capitalistic mill owners and the underpaid workers. Also, as Dickens was in opposition to the Utilitarism of James Mill and Jeremy Bentham, he satirizes with his fictitious town of Coketown and the character of Mr. Gradgrind the Utilitarians who saw "only figures and averages."

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