Oliver Twist: Social Commentary and Identity

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8 Questions

What is the symbolic meaning of Oliver's inability to speak at his trial?

The lack of political power among the lower class

What was the basis of the right to vote in 1830s England?

Wealth

Why is Oliver given the false name 'Tom White' at the trial?

Because of his exhaustion and terror

What does the renaming of Oliver throughout the hearing symbolize?

The power of the upper class

How does the Brownlow household differ from the English legal system and workhouses?

In its emphasis on kindness and forgiveness

What significance does the portrait of the woman have in the novel?

It introduces the central mystery of the novel

What is the theme of the English legal system and workhouses?

Retribution, punishment, and strict morals

What does the novel suggest about Oliver's true identity?

It has been determined by others throughout his life

Study Notes

Social Commentary in Oliver Twist

  • The novel comments on the lack of political power and voice of the lower class in 1830s England, where the right to vote was based on wealth.
  • The upper classes are shown to project their own conceptions onto the poor, redefining their identities without regard for the truth.

Identity and Naming

  • Oliver's inability to speak at his trial, leading to his false naming by a court officer, symbolizes the powerless state of the poor.
  • Throughout the novel, Oliver's identity is constantly defined by others, such as Mr. Bumble, who invents his name at birth.
  • The novel highlights the inauthenticity of imposed identities, as Oliver is falsely labeled a "young vagabond" and a "hardened scoundrel".

Contrasting Value Systems

  • The English legal system and workhouses represent a value system based on retribution, punishment, and strict morals.
  • In contrast, the Brownlow household operates on a basis of forgiveness and kindness, providing a sanctuary for Oliver.

Oliver's True Identity

  • The novel's central mystery, Oliver's true identity, is established when he sees a portrait of a woman he closely resembles.
  • This event marks a turning point, as Oliver begins to question the identities imposed upon him by others.

Explore the themes of social commentary and identity in Charles Dickens' novel Oliver Twist, including the powerlessness of the lower class and the redefinition of identities by the upper class.

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