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Great Expectations and Oliver Twist
During his lifetime, Charles Dickens is known to have written several books. Although each book is different, they also share many similarities. Two of his books, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, are representatives of the many kinds of differences and similarities found within his work.
Perhaps the reason why these two novels share some of the same qualities is because they both reflect painful experiences which occurred in Dickens' past. During his childhood, Charles Dickens suffered much abuse from his parents.1 This abuse is often expressed in his novels. Pip, in Great Expectations, talked often about the abuse he received at the hands of his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery. On one occasion he remarked, "I soon found myself getting heavily bumped from behind in the nape of the neck and the small of the back, and having my face ignominously shoved against the wall, because I did not answer those questions at sufficient length."2
While at the orphanage, Oliver from Oliver Twist also experienced a great amount of abuse. For example, while suffering from starvation and malnutrition for a long period of time, Oliver was chosen by the other boys at the orphanage to request more gruel at dinner one night. After making this simple request, "the master (at the orphanage) aimed a blow at Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud for the beadle."3
The whole beginning of Oliver Twist's story was created from memories which related to Charles Dickens' childhood in a blacking factory ( which was overshadowed by the Marshalsea Prison ).4 While working in the blacking factory, Dickens suffered tremendous humiliation. This humiliation is greatly expressed through Oliver's adventures at the orphanage before he is sent away.
Throughout his lifetime, Dickens appeared to have acquired a fondness for "the bleak, the sordid, and the austere."5 Most of Oliver Twist, for example, takes place in London's lowest slums.6 The city is described as a maze which involves a "mystery of darkness, anonymity, and peril."7 Many of the settings, such as the pickpocket's hideout, the surrounding streets, and the bars, are also described as dark, gloomy, and bland.8 Meanwhile, in Great Expectations, Miss Havisham's house is often made to sound depressing, old, and lonely. Many of the objects within the house had not been touched or moved in many years. Cobwebs were clearly visible as well as an abundance of dust, and even the wedding dress which Miss Havisham constantly wore had turned yellow with age.9
However, similarities are not just found in the settings. The novels' two main characters, Pip and Oliver, are also similar in many ways. Both young boys were orphaned practically from birth; but where Pip is sent to live with and be abused by his sister, Oliver is sent to live in an orphanage. Pip is a very curious young boy. He is a "child of intense and yearning fancy."10 Yet, Oliver is well spoken. Even while his life was in danger while in the hands of Fagin and Bill Sikes, two conniving pickpockets, he refused to participate in the stealing which he so greatly opposed. All Oliver really longed for was to escape from harsh living conditions and evil surroundings which he had grown up in.11 However, no matter how tempting the evil may have been, Oliver stood by his beliefs.
Therefore, he can be referred to as "ideal and incorruptible innocence."12 "It is Oliver's self-generated and self-sustained love, conferred it would seem from Heaven alone, that preserves him from disaster and death."13
Unfortunately, many critics have found it hard to believe that a boy such as Oliver Twist could remain so innocent, pure, and well spoken given the long period of time in which he was surrounded by evil and injustices.14
Pip, on the other hand, is a dreamer. His imagination is always helping him to create situations to cover up for his hard times. For example, when questioned about his first visit to Miss Havisham's house, he made up along elaborate story to make up for the terrible time he had in reality. Instead of telling how he played cards all day while being ridiculed and criticized by Estella and Miss Havisham, he claimed that they played with flags and swords all day after having wine and cake on gold plates.15 However, one special quality possessed by Pip that is rarely seen in a novel's hero is that he wrongs others instead of being hurt himself all of the time.16
Another similarity between Oliver and Pip is that they both have had interactions with convicts. Fagin the head of a group of young thieves, spends most of his time trying to "demoralize and corrupt Oliver and prevent him from ever coming into his inheritance."17 To Oliver, he is seen as an escape from all previous misery. He also helps Oliver to ease any fears about starvation and loneliness.18
Just as Fagin is Oliver's means of escape, Magwitch, an escaped convict, is Pip's. However, as Fagin provides Oliver with an escape from misery, Magwitch tries to provide Pip with an escape from poverty by becoming his anonymous benefactor.
Obviously, escape is an important theme in both Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Even though they both have different goals in mind, Pip and Oliver are seeking various forms of escape from conditions which make them unhappy: Pip from his poverty, and Oliver from his loneliness and st
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