Thematical Lives of Dickens’ CharactersCharles Dickens’ literary works are comparable to one another in many ways; plot, setting, and even experiences. His novels remain captivating to his audiences and he draws them in to teach the readers lessons of life. Although each work exists separate from all of the rest, many similarities remain. Throughout the novels, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, the process of growing up, described by the author, includes the themes of the character’s ability to alienate themselves, charity given to the characters and what the money does to their lives, and the differences of good and evil individuals and the effects of their influences.
Collectively, these major novels overflow with orphans, adoptive parents, guardians, and failed parent-child relationships. Oliver, the main character in Oliver Twist, must forget about his “infantile past” (Marcus 182) in order to seek “the idyllic future” (Marcus 182). He gets hurled from orphanages to foster parents and so on until he finds himself a portion of the “wrong crowd.” The pickpockets take him under their authority and attempt to show him the ropes of the embezzling operation. The orphan
adapts well to the swindling lifestyle of Fagin and the boys, and through a series of mischievous choices, authorities apprehend him for stealing (although Dodger was the true felon), and Oliver must live with the consequences. Great Expectations also emphasizes the process of growing up through Pip, the main character. Pip’s mother and father passed away while he was young, and he was forced to reside in the house of his older sister and her husband.The boy obtains many idealistic fathers, including Joe, Magwitch, Jaggers and Pumblechook, but none of these men can give him what he needs from a predecessor. Dickens demonstrates to the reader the consequences that bad parenting has on children. Some children are warped by the “knottiest roots” (Lucas 141). Pip, Estella, and Magwitch are all examples of hurt children. The bitter children dwell on their past, or “what has been forgotten” (Marcus 182), and blame the parents for their sufferings. Other children such as Joe and Herbert survive bad parents and go on with their lives, not letting the history affect the outlook.
Personalities in the novels became cut off physically or spiritually from human companionship. Oliver suffers from a sense of estrangement. He fears being abandoned by foster parents and friends, even though the relationships are not healthy for him. Consider his relationship with Dodger. The orphan was told to “take Dodgers advice and do what he does” (Oliver 138) by Fagin in order to succeed. Oliver knew that his new
friends were bad influences on him, but yet he remained with the clique to keep from feeling a hint of isolation. In Great Expectations, Ms. Havisham, resembling Pip, Estella, and Jaggers, acquires a sense of mutilation from her locked up feelings. In her past, she was abandoned by her fianc? at the altar on her wedding day. Ironically, the old woman, so terrified of the idea of being alone, alienates herself from most human contact. After the horror of her love’s departure, she does not allow anything in the house to change. Wedding cake still sits on tables, clocks unexpectedly stopped at the exact time that she was deserted, and she lives in the past and denies the future. Desperately, she withers away “corpse-like” (Great 54) in solitude. Largely through Joe, Warwick, Herbert, Wemmick and Wopsle, Pip learns to form bonds of love. Bound to Estella through his affection for her, he does not realize her teasing games. She does not seem to display the same feelings towards him, but he believes that he will win her emotions. This relationship matures into the destruction of Pip, but his fear of existing in seclusion keeps his helpless, constant infatuation burning. This “twist of fate finds Pip sadly and searchingly wanting” (Sucksmith 186).
Dickens suggests that charity, like love, will earn integrity only if honest. Indicated in Oliver Twist, is the impression that true concern for people dwells in individuals, not in institutions. From the beginning, in the orphanage, Oliver was the
object of people’s benevolence. He obtained food, clothing, and shelter, but lived in horrible conditions and his guardians treated him as though he was not deserving. In one case, at a workhouse, the operator of the institute was given government money to tend to the children but “however she kept most of the money for herself” (Oliver 10). When Oliver encountered the pickpockets, he felt as though he belonged, but Dodger and his group helped Oliver only when they believed they could profit from the innocence of the boy. These associations showed no real compassion for Oliver as a human, but thought of him as a way of benefitting themselves instead. The orphan finds true kindness in charity when he encounters the generosity of Brownlow and Mrs. Maylie. They offer love and forgiveness for past mistakes along with meeting Oliver’s basic needs. In Great Expectations, money has tricky value. Coin is not bad in itself, since it helps Herbert and prevents Pip from getting placed into debtors’ prison. From the beginning, Pip received endowments from which he thought were gifts to him from Ms. Havisham, but in the end he found it was from the convict he encountered while playing in his parent’s graveyard as a child. He had provided the felon with extra food and in turn, he was given money and a good life. Coin eventually became dangerous to Pip. He evolved into prey for greedy individuals, and those that would “marry for wealth” (Great 392). He also began to lose his moral bearings. If he did not love money in itself, he adored the power that it
brought him in life.
Several of Dickens’ publications, like most excellent literature, depict the struggle between opposing forces of good and evil. The living conditions of the characters determine what will become of them in their future. Those who are deprived of good influences as a child are doomed to lead bad lives, and suffer, while those who grow up in good environments, full of love and security, will flourish in adulthood. Oliver, for example, gets rescued in time from the wickedness of bad influences. He lands in the hands of “righteousness before death” (Lucas 253). Nancy, however, must pay the price for sin; she can not escape demise. Dickens illustrates the results of poverty, especially hunger, which has the ability to turn humans into malicious animals. The author may also continue to argue in his books that criminals are made, not born. Great Expectations portrays kindness and immorality as inseparably intermingled. Pip and his childish and strict moral views, partitions life into absolutes: Estella is good, Magwitch is bad; Jagger’s world is evil while Herbert’s is good. Later in life, Pip sees that he must accept that all life is interwoven together, and that he must search for good in people as well as seeing their corrupt behavior and “self-deception” (Sucksmith 186).
Celebrated writers all tend to use a specific style to their literature. Some use the same setting, other use similar ideas. Charles Dickens illustrates the importance of childhood and what
occurs to a human as a child potentially has the power to change their lives forever. Parents, or guardians exist as role models for their children. Either the young ones see what their parents accomplish and mock them, or they become the opposite. Emotions of a child affect emotions as an adult. Essentially, Dickens characterizes the idea that a person’s adulthood is a reflection of their past.
Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc.1992.
Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1990.
Lucas, John. Charles Dickens: the major Novels. New York: Penguin, 1982.
Marcus, Steven. Dickens: from Pickwick to Dombey. New York: Basic Books, 1965. CLCvol. 3, p. 182.
Sucksmith, Harry – Peter. The Narrative Art of Charles Dickens: the Rhetoric of Sympathy andIrony in his Novels. London: Oxford University Press, 1970. CLC vol. 3, p. 186.