In life, many people suffer from demoralizing conditions such as poverty, unpleasant appearance, and unrootedness; these are thought to be qualities of criminals and easy gateways into a life of crime and mischief. This opinion is strongly held in societies such as Victorian England. Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist showcases the habit of criminality in several characters along with their profound actions, which ultimately leads to mistreatment, penance, and death. The Victorian view on the poor has proven to be stereotypical and cruel. The economic and social status of Victorian’s were considered related to moral character. A state of poverty can pressure one into criminality. Spiritual beauty was seen to be directly connected to physical beauty. There are strong correlations between unrooted individuals and crime. The citizens of Victorian England held utmost hatred against the poor, especially those involved in crime.
The poor of Victorian England possessed traits that were frowned upon by many. From having a reputation of laziness, worthlessness, desperation, and pity, the general attitude toward the poor was jarring. Those struggling in poverty were condemned to the workhouses with deliberately harsh working environments with abusive masters, as seen through the protagonist Oliver Twist and several other characters such as his friend Dick. “So they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they,) of being starved by a gradual process in the workhouse, or by a quick one out of it.”(Dickens 25) This quote is a bold example of showing how poverty corresponds to crime; because of one being poor, they have to endure suffering, and once one tries to rebel, they are labeled as a criminal. In the early stages of the Victorian Era, “economic and social status were considered inextricably and directly linked to moral character” (Samples, 7). A clear example of such a statement is shown through divergent father-figures, Mr. Brownlow and Fagin. The two characters are polar opposites, as Brownlow is an affluent and caring person, while Fagin is financially unstable and operates a theft ring with “four or five boys: none older than the Dodger” (Dickens, 64); the novel also portrays the Maylies as gentle people, who are coincidentally wealthy as well.
The concept of beggary in Oliver Twist is showcased as an indirect link into a life of crime. This is easily detectable through the first few chapters, where the orphaned Oliver Twist says, “Please sir, I want some more” (Dickens, 15). This begging led to Oliver being sentenced to death and imprisoned for three months; it was complete asinine for him to make such a request. The pauperism, overcrowding, and filthy conditions of the workhouses drove many poor people to steal to provide for their families. All the criminals in the novel are also scrambling with funds, which strengthens the connection between poverty and criminality. For example, Bill Sikes asks Fagin for funds, Fagin lives in an aged and dirty room, Nancy is a prostitute, and the children live off thieving. Much like the connection between poverty and criminality, things such as physical appearance and lack of family can lead one to crime. An individual’s unpleasant appearance and unrootedness are deemed as criminal qualities in Oliver Twist; “Dickens uses unflattering physical appearance as a characteristic by-product of low moral standards or criminal tendencies” (Samples, 20).
An initial example of this analogy is shown through the death of Oliver’s mother. The doctor comments on her appearance by saying “She was a good-looking girl too” (Dickens, 5); he had presumed she was a ‘good person’ despite being a stranger. This statement essentially directs to another popular Victorian opinion, spiritual beauty equates to physical beauty. Although Dickens does not provide in-depth descriptions of his criminals, they are issued through George Cruikshank’s approved illustrations. One can recognize that characters such as Oliver Twist and Rose Maylie are drawn clear with a light complexion, while villains such as Fagin and The Dodger are drawn with a dark complexion and many lines, indicating dirt. The novel’s sketches can be considered reliable as evidence for Dickens’ intentions. Oliver’s face is a representation of his good nature; it is so powerful that it makes Brownlow question his common sense when pressing charges. As stated before, characters like Fagin and The Dodger are so distinctive compared to other Victorians that it hinders them in crime. The correlation between uprooted individuals and criminality is significantly stronger than one may think. Criminality was seen as a family trait by Victorians. The new idea of family was stressed in the Victorian society; “Oliver’s orphan status presumably condemns him to a life of crime” (Samples, 43). The doctor that birthed Oliver says, “It is very likely it will be troublesome” (Dickens, 5) because he is an orphaned bastard. Criminals’ lack of family roots led to a feeling of ambiguity and the convenience of crime. Oliver’s pseudo-family of Fagin’s gang was compiled of runaways and criminals; even though they somewhat gave Oliver a sense of belonging, they also trained him to be a pickpocket. Fagin held the role of both teacher and father to Oliver, while others such as The Dodger and Master Bates act as brothers. The corruption of this family is inexplicable and essentially set up Oliver for a life of crime until he is taken in by Mr. Brownlow. Overall, the connection between poverty, physical appearance, lack of family, and criminality is strongly represented in Oliver Twist.
The stereotypes of the Victorian era have proven to be cliché and merciless. The foolish standards held on the poor, the ugly, and the orphaned aided in turning them into crime-ridden humans. Many individuals who experience the ill effects of dampening conditions, for instance, neediness, vexatious appearance, and unrootedness eventually assimilate the practice of a crime. Although the relationship between these traits and criminality is firmly proven, one can argue that these people simply chose the life of crime; they ignored the opportunity to rise from the slums to succession like Charles Dickens himself. It can also be said that there is no correlation at all between the list of qualities and criminality and that the Victorian society essentially set these people up for failure. Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist thoroughly depicts the link between poverty, physical appearance, and unrootedness to the habit of criminality, as well as the brainless stereotypes present in Victorian England.
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