Social Distinction Everyone’s position dictates what they can and cannot do, there are barriers to one’s actions. Charles Dickens lived in a troubling time. He grew up poor and even left school to work in a factory as a child when his father was imprisoned.
Dickens’ experience greatly affected him and this can be seen in his books such as Oliver Twist and Hard Times. He discusses how poverty and social class limited the people and how their status affected them; he also discusses fact versus fantasy. Dickens discusses the advantages of being wealthy and disadvantages of being poor. Social class and poverty is definitely conveyed in his books and works. Dickens was “born on February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, Charles Dickens was to become the most successful and influential writer of the Victorian period” (Cregan-Reid).
His life as a child impacted him greatly which is what led Dickens to become a very influential character in his period. He is so influential that his novels “are widely available and have been much studied” as they continue to influence people to this day.(Cregan-Reid). His books were just one way that he influenced the people of his time and gained an audience. Living as a poor child and not having a father made him have to leave school and work as a child. As a boy, Dickens worked in a factory.
He was only there a few months but life was so terrifying there that he never spoke of the factory again once he left (Cregan-Reid). Dickens did not want to end up like his father that was in prison, so he began to write and his “pathology of ceaseless work was surely driven by the need to stay out of the debtor’s prison and to stay out of the factory” (Cregan-Reid). Dickens worked as a child in a factory in order to support his family because his father was imprisoned for debt. Dickens shares an idea in his novels, that a child should believe in their own capacity to achieve (Brackett). His suffering ultimately paid off when he began to be noticed in a couple of London newspapers. His early success launched his career. His books made him known, not only the novels, but the social position they enshrined–populist and anti-establishment–had made Dickens a hero of liberals across the world” (Callow). Of course later life circumstances also affected him as well, such as fame.
His later books conveyed different ideas than his early books. Dickens visited America and hoped it would be a lot better than London. He then realized that the two places were quite alike. His visit there inspired part of Oliver Twist and another novel of his. He found many differences and similarities between America and London. There were many things that made Dickens want to visit, “part of the reason that he was in America in 1842 was to renew and refresh his imagination by exposure to hitherto unexplored territory” (Callow).
Charles Dickens wanted to visit America partially because he wanted to be inspired by it and have new ideas from a place he had never been before (Callow). He went seeking inspiration and got it, except it brought out the worst in him. It was Dickens “at his deepest, his darkest, his most unflinching, and to witness his genius surging into life in Martin Chuzzlewit is nothing short of thrilling” (Callow). Dickens traveled to America to be inspired and from it came an entire novel and part of Oliver Twist. There are bibliographies that all have different information about Charles Dickens’ life. Much of the information varies and needs to be credible. Given information at the time that Dickens lived in, such as the poor laws and workhouses, it is easy to see where he got much of his inspiration for his books.
. The sources include criticism of some of his works and sources that show disagree on what Dickens was arguing in his books. These sources can give more information of Dickens and incite on him. These all convey different opinions that people have on him. Like many authors, Dickens expresses what he sees and how he feels through his books. A book that really emphasized his thoughts, as well as his childhood, is Oliver Twist. It is seen how Oliver reflects Dickens because “Oliver searches for his own identity and for hope and purpose in life, and yet one in which all the most forceful scenes are of guilt, loneliness, and betrayal” (Timko). The diction that Dickens uses to describes London at this time makes it easy to picture.
Oliver Twist addressed many important problems of its time such as child labor and the criminal underworld (Timko). One could even see themselves living in this time era. A person’s instinct is to survive and to do what is best for themselves and this was portrayed a lot in this book.
Dickens’ focus in Oliver Twist was to paint a picture of London and how it was for a person to grow up there and to show everything that it represented. He could relate to most people because Oliver’s story is just like many children in London that grew up poor. And it was the same situation for Dickens when he was child. It represents Dickens because much of it was similar to his own life. Many often do not see this as one of his serious books because it is one of his earlier books, it “is often cited as an entertaining story published before his later, more ‘serious’ novels” (Timko).
It talks about the theme and ideas that are represented in this book and many others. As well as good versus evil that was shown through the use of three major characters. Mr. Brownlow is the character who represents good. His fiance died before they got married but he is not a bitter man.
He is a character that is pure and believes in people and does not think they are all bad. Fagin who is the evil, is a criminal. He trains kids to pickpocket people and corrupts them.
He tries to do this to Oliver which is why he played a major in Oliver’s story. Mr. Bumble ran the workhouse where Oliver grew up at the first nine years of his life. He was an important character at the beginning of the story and later on because he always had a soft spot for Oliver. Oliver’s mother, whose name is revealed as Agnes Fleming later, had an affair with her father’s friend and from that came Oliver.
He dies in Italy and she dies after giving birth and Oliver is left an orphan. In this book that Dickens wrote, he was arguing about the battle between logic and imagination. The book, Hard Times compares the real world to the world of fantasy. Dickens used characters in his book to represent what is real and to represent what is fantasy. He made a character that was a product of the system to show what is real. And he used the protagonist to show imagination. Thomas Gradgrind is a character in Hard Times.
He is a wealthy merchant who believes in rationalism. This is the character that lives his life only believing what he can see. Perhaps representing many people of the Victorian era that were serious and criticized much of his work.
Dickens claimed people like this lacked imagination. Gradgrind had two children that he never allowed to have an imagination, continuing a cycle. Dickens “immediately reveals the harsh contrast between the undesirable, although necessary, world of ‘fact’ versus that of ‘fancy'”(Brackett). His son grows up to because just like his father, self-interested. But his daughter grows up feeling and realizing that there is something that is missing in her life. She ends up marrying a man that is twice her age and is more like her father than she would want. She eventually realizes that she cannot live this way and cries to her father Gradgrind.
Seeing this, Gradgrind sees the flaws in his philosophy of rationalism and self-interest. He now sees his errors but it is too late for them. He and his children live unhappy lives and alone. While Sissy Jupe, a girl that Gradgrind took under his wing but was not raised but him, lives a happy and fulfilling life.
Here Dickens could be arguing that imagination is important factor to living. Because Gradgrind’s family all were raised with the philosophy of rationalism and were self-interested. Their attitudes make them almost mechanical. They were wealthy and had all they wanted. But they only cared about themselves.
Dickens himself “disliked any organization and his promotion of the value of individual responsibility in its purest form” (Brackett).Sissy, who had different ideals than them, was happy. Dickens argues that fantasy is just as important for a person as fact. This is shown through Sissy Jupe. She grew up with the circus and was full of fantasy. But Gradgrind took her in and gave her guidance.
She had a balance of fact and fantasy. Dickens wrote about fact vs fantasy in many of his novels. Dickens wrote the fantasy novels because many were outcomes that could have been his own.
Much like what he realized, in his books the “hero comes to realize that even the longest train is not doomed to travel in the same direction forever”, which is why Dickens envisioned many of his characters’ lives as his own (Douglas-Fairhurst). Dickens’ early fiction explored his characters’ lives the most because it was closer to his childhood and because at that period in his life many things were uncertain. This is why “Dickens’ interest in lives that are stymied or knocked off course was more than theoretical, it was personal” (Douglas-Fairhurst). But thinking about how his life could go had an affect on him, “he remained obsessed by ‘what might have been and what was not’ and his fiction teems with characters who are granted the power to change their lives” (Douglas-Fairhurst).
Showing possibilities of his life through his characters (Douglas-Fairhurst). His many novels represent his life and his characters represented lives that he thought he could have had. These were all ideas that he had for himself but in the end there was only one result. Marking the fine line between fact and fantasy. Dickens himself was very limited of what he could do as a child.
He was poor and he was a child, that alone greatly narrowed what he could do. He was just like many others who grew up in the Victorian age. He grew up poor, worked in factories, and was mistreated. His attitude was what made him persevere. It did not matter that he was poor or that his father was in prison, he was determined and that’s what mattered.
He climbed his way up the social ladder by writing. Soon through his novels, he became very wealthy and influential during his time. He was able to do this because of fact and fantasy. His imagination lead him to be very successful and happy but it was fact that gave him guidance because there were many advantages he got when he came up in social class.