The Mid-19th Century Britain in Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist, a movie adapted from the novel of the same name written by Charles Dickens and published in 1838, reflects the social reality of Britain in the mid-19th century. By watching this movie, we may not only get better knowledge about that age but also value the social development more.
A Summary of Oliver Twist
The first version of Oliver Twist was produced in 1948, and the second in 2005, which is mostly seen on line nowadays.
The story centers on an orphan Oliver Twist, born in a workhouse and sold into apprenticeship with an undertaker. After escaping, Twist travels to London, where he meets "The Artful Dodger", a member of a gang of juvenile pickpockets led by the elderly criminal, Fagin.Many things happen and at last, those bad guys are severely punished and little Oliver begins to be raised by a kind gentleman and obtains happiness.
In the movie, it can be noticed that when the children are wearing dirty clothes and eating only porridge, the leaders of the workhouse are neatly dressed and having a hearty dinner.
At that time, the law was ready to punish any unfortunate pauper who was brought to face “justice”. Without enough evidence or witness, the judge still convicts Oliver and sentences him to three months of hard labor.
In summary, Oliver Twist is notable for its unromantic portrayal by Dickens of criminals and their sordid lives, as well as for exposing the cruel treatment of the many orphans in London in the mid-19th century.
Oliver Twist and Social RealityOliver, the principal character, is virtuous, kind and innocent. Most of the time, he is portrayed as sweet, docile, and naïve. Through the description of the bad treatment from the workhouse and various experience of Oliver, dark realities are exposed.
Oliver Twist mainly reflects the life of citizens at the bottom of society in England. Three years before the publication of the novel Oliver Twist, the British Parliament passed the New Poor Law which was very controversial. The law stipulated that the poor could receive public assistance only if they took up residence in official workhouses, the places which were supposed to rescue the poor from the immoral condition of filth. However, in this work, the workhouse is a place full of filth. In fact, poor people's lives were still poor and had no social security. When Oliver is in the courtroom, his inability to speak at his trial caused by his exhaustion and sickness, indicates the lower class’s lack of political power and ability to voice their own problems and troubles in the public.
The Victorian Age, when the story happened, was the most prosperous age in the British history. During this period, Britain was faced with the rapid economic development and at the same time serious social problems. Because of Industrial Revolution, powerful industrialists and merchants expanded the British middle class, the group that would represent the age. In the meantime, the class divisions were severe, which led to the difficult situation of those people who were at the bottom of the society. As is shown in the movie, children would be compelled to join in the gangsters and became thieves.All of the conditions Dickens describes are exactly the social reality of that time. In the 19th century, Britain, where the first industrial revolution occurred and was known as World Factory, advocated the western capitalism, With such a social background, people tended to be mammonish and egoistic. Humanity seemed to be buried by the economic development. In a word, the social reality of the mid-19th century, which is reflected by Oliver Twist, was truly dark.
We can say that Dickens’ works reflect the reality, or the reality influenced Dickens’ creation. Furthermore, maybe Oliver Twist really urged the government to take measures to deal with the social reform so that the poor’s living condition had some improvement.
Today’s Britain is a typical nation of social welfare. As people of modern society, we need to reconsider these social problems. In such civilized age, poverty still exists. What measures can the government take to improve the current situation? It can be a question to be thought about.
Although today’s British society is totally different from that of two hundred years ago, the movie Oliver Twist, an accurate portrayal of British society in the mid-19th century is still worth watching.