Sunday, February 03, 2013

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

My latest read is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Goodreads link to the book is located here: I, many years ago, read the abridged version of the book, and since then have been wanting to read the unabridged “real edition” of the book. And now, finally I got the chance to do so.

Charles Dickens is an author who needs no introduction of any sort as he has become a household name for many of us. This is my second Charles Dickens book, the first one being Great Expectations. I have read quite a few classical books, several abridged versions while others were unabridged versions. And out of classical authors, Charles Dickens is my favourite. Why? Well, the reason is that these classical books have a tendency to be based in the elite class or at least what the author imagines the elite class to be like. Charles Dickens is different, he is not like that. I like to refer to his works as “the voice of the common man”. He describes how it was for the common person, not a bunch of spoilt elite peoples. We are given a window to the real world through Dickens’ work. Some, myself included, like to call him a sociologist of his time.

Oliver Twist is written as a fictional biography of a fictional kid called Oliver Twist. Poor orphan kid who was made to go through the “system”, but later on manages to escape the system, and even though he finds his benefactors and friends along the way, it seems as if harm and danger is always lurking. He happens to get involved in a criminal gang, and no matter how many times Oliver manages to escape, and in what ways, and with the help of what people, Oliver still somehow ends up back in the hands of the criminal gang.

Even though the story can be a bit of a drag at points, its a book for where the pages turn itself. You keep on wanting to know what is happening to Oliver. Its a sad book as Oliver is facing some quite tough times, and one goes, “Oh God, don’t tell me he has to deal with another low point!”. For me personally, the lowest point of them all was the death of Oliver’s best friend, Dick. This was the part of the story where I did cry. Dick was sick and dying and Oliver always knew that one day he will rescue Dick from the orphanage so that Dick can live his last days in quiet peace and dignity, unfortunately Dick died before Oliver could rescue him. Despite being such a sad book, there is a positive happy ending to it.

I find Oliver’s own personality and nature to be quite admirable. You normally would expect someone who has gone through such experiences to be a very bitter and angry person. But this is not the case. Oliver happens to be a kind hearted who tries to do his share of good in the world.

Through Oliver’s eyes and experiences, we bear witness to many of the evils that plagued society at that time. We learn about the Poor Laws and the “system” that goes along with it. Children are left in orphanages where they are mistreated, underfed and malnourished. Inspectors do come and visit the orphanages, however the inspectors do not do surprise checks. They inform one day before. So everything looks in good order to the inspectors. Even when it comes to the hospices of the time, the sick and the dying are not given good care and are usually left on their own to simply die off.

We even learn about the underworld of criminal gangs and how they recruit orphan children who have nowhere else to go. On the streets of London live many orphan children. Oliver, too, was one of them, until he ended up getting recruited by a criminal gang. The criminal gangs give the children the impression that they are being cared for and looked after, in return they just have to run some errands. While in reality the criminal gangs just want the children to carry out their criminal activities for them.

Thirdly, child labour. Oliver himself was a child labourer. Firstly being put to work as a chimney sweep and then later on as a coffin maker. And these people actually preferred child labourers because of their smaller size and their requirements of less food.

To sum up, Oliver Twist is a sad book with a happy ending. Yes, the book does have its slow points, but overall it is as if the pages are turning itself. You get entwined in the story and you really want to know what happened next, hoping Oliver finally gets to see the light. And like all other Charles Dickens books, we get excellent insight into how the society and the world was like for the common person and we get to know, through Oliver’s eyes, some first hand accounts about the evils that plagued the society of the time.

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