Published on March 3, 2014
Leyte Normal University Tacloban City “A Literary Analysis Essay” March 5, 2013 – Tuesday Vanessa Anne Z. Oliva BSEd 2 – 2 (English) Mr. Chris Rey Q. Macasil TFri 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. A/N: *My introduction covers a lot of paragraphs and my conclusion is of a short one but a meaningful one. I assure you that most of the words and ideas written in here are products of my mind. Those that are not, are given the right citations with all due respect that I could muster.I ask for forgiveness if ever I failed (again) to make my own voice known within the essay. I am working on it and also with my wordy sentences (I tend to write whatever idea comes up to my mind and goes on with it - resultinginto many hyphens, commas and compound-complex sentences). “F and M” 1 I suppose, just by reading the title of my little literary essay, one would think of so many things. Guessing, perhaps and associating as to whatever the brilliant mind – with its natural complexities – brings its owner various results upon this little conjecturing game. The riddle is quite simple. You just need to read on till in a brief stroke of genius – as what is made of a humanmind – you, my dear reader would be able to understand what these “F and M”truly signifies. 2 For this literary analytical essay, I chose Charles Dickens’s novel, Oliver Twist. I chose it partly because I quite know something about Dickens (since I had once reported about him for this same subject) and partly because it is the first classical book that presented itself to me – when we were told to bring these types of volumes to school by our English-American teacher. 3 Oliver Twist is said to be the first Victorian novel with a child protagonist. According to Edgar Johnson (as was written at the back cover of the said novel), it is “a clarion peal announcing to the world that in Charles Dickens, the rejected and forgotten and misused of the world had a champion”. The introductory chapters verify it: Chapter 1: Treats of the place where Oliver Twist was born; and of the circumstances attending his birth; Chapter 2: Treats of Oliver’s growth, education and board and so on. These chaptersdoes not merely tell – for it might defeat its purpose – rather, it shows (what one might immediately perceive like what I did upon reading it) – that the very text – the usage of perfectly well-chosen articulated words – plainly conveysto the readers the injustice works and deeds of authorized persons endowed with both money and power – quite enough to control and verdict those of the lower class’ lives: a bold attack to the governing society at Dickens’s time. This abuse of power leading to further problems of the general publicis grotesquely pictured in the seedy backstreet slums - places so poor that the very rats, which here and there lay putrefying in its rottenness, were hideous with famine.
4 Political problems were equally tackled with Economical problems alongside which marginalized gender is also existent all the way through the story; especially between the married Bumble couple. However, if we would start regarding the existing subplots within: the story of the two lovers: Rose Fleming and Harry Maylie; the beadle, Mr. Bumble’s comical marriage with the workhouse’s matron, Mrs. Corney; the lives of the gang of robbers and the delinquency of Nancy’s death carefully interwoven with young Oliver’s adventurous life makes the readers ask themselves as to what genre does Oliver Twist really belong?Is it a crime story, fairy tale or a social melodrama? The only sensible answer would be that it is all of these together, mixed up with Dickens’s usual disregard for the boundaries of genre.(Irving Howe) 5 In my opinion, the best way to read Oliver Twist would be to take the time (even just a little spare amount would suffice) to know and delve into Mr. Dickens’s historical background – from the moment his infant eyes settled its unknowing gaze into the prospects of human society in the 1810s, up till the moment he closed it again and went on to whatever awaits this eminent literary writer of all times, in the land beyond all this living existence we currently have. 6 Reading his life story, we would know that Mr. Dickens grew up in the harshness of society and was forced to be a man eventhough he was just a boy of eleven years; the cold hands of fate that made their way through his warm heart and scarred him forever till death. These scars are visibly opened again within his works. That is why, with this little history of his, us readers would be able to reason out why he used such grotesque picture of society with fervor and intelligence of one who experienced such things. 7 In this literary analysis, I would be hitting on with Dickens’s desire to challenge the power structure in contemporary society during his time and the equally marginalized gender of men and women within his novel Oliver Twist, using two types of literary criticisms: Marxism and Feminism – however, keep in mind that I also used (or rather, depicted) a bit of Biographical criticisms along the way. These theories (Marxism and Feminism) explain my usage of “F and M” as the chosen title for this literary essay. “F” stands for either “Feminism” or in general terms: Females/Feminine, while “M” on the other hand stands for either “Marxism” or in a Feministicpoint of view: Males/Masculine. I would first like to start with Marxism… 8 Over centuries, Marxism became known as a type of criticism that views literary works as the product of work. Its practitioners emphasize the role of class and ideology as they reflect, propagate, and even challenge the prevailing social order. It is based upon the political and economic theories of German philosopher, Karl Marx and thus generally focuses upon the unresolved tensions within works of literature. Marxist criticism is materialist and has more in common with theories that focus upon how literature functions within social, political and economic structures than it does with theories that focus only upon the text.(Literary Criticism Notes. 2013)
9 As I am a Marxist critic in here, it cannot be helped to say that I refuse to separate literature and language from society. I firmly think that Mr. Dickens pertains to the society of his time and got most of Oliver Twist’s plots and subplots from it. All kinds of mundane problems (for there is no such thing as a perfect society as there is such a thing as a perfect man) that can be founded in a society – poverty, political glitches, social crimes, discrimination between classes etc. – is present mostly within its very text. However, I must say that he practically exaggerated things and descriptions of as to how the lower class life really works. More or less, it did not hinder the story from blooming up till the very end wherein a lot of characters were met with their tragic ends; artistically portrayed by Mr. Dickens. 10 These exaggerations are made for example during the time when Oliver was taken by Mr. Sowerberry in a professional mission of an undertaker – as what Sowerberry naturally is – and described the place where they went as the most crowded and densely inhabited part of the town… Miserable than any they had yet passed through. Gradually, describing more areas at the same state as the young Oliver goes on with his adventures and goes into a much more miserable place – Fagin’s place. Oliver thought of it as a dirtier or more wretched place he had never seen, describing more of its neighborhood as a place where drunken men and women were positively wallowing in filth. Each place gets its collection of muck and poverty as to what the author wants – from a bad state to a much worse state than the latter one and so on. It might be that these descriptions are of true nature and nothing but the fact: that there will always be a place where the effects of the exploitation of powers are much worse – making the latter a milder case than the one at hand. 11 Thus, with these repulsive descriptions of the lowest class, Dickens indirectly blames those with power; pointing out and showing his readers what these authorities – these higher class people – does with their “Hands of Justice, Mercy and Righteousness”. 12 Mr. Dickens had written a lot of upper and middle class characters that showed cruelty to Oliver: the Parish Authorities, the members of the board in the poorhouse, the parochial officers which includes the beadle, Mr. Bumble and the matrons of the workhouses, Mrs. Corney and Mrs. Mann, and the wife of the undertaker, Mrs. Sowerberry. Those of which who are in so much concern as to where to get the expenditures for the likes of Oliver and in so much regret as to wasting even a quartern loaf and a pound of cheese for a poor family. Yet they themselves eat mouthfuls of delicacies and drink glassful of spirits without even a pinch of guilt every day. Still, they had the nerve to blame and reprimand the unfortunate creatures for being so poor and asking for more aside from what these officershad given. They are the ones who established the system to help paupers by letting them work in a poorhouse and providing them shelter, clothes, foods and other necessities. However, good and generous were their aims might be (to help those in need) it is just as bad, deceitful and egotistical as these officers of society can be. Yes they provide shelter for these deprived people, but that shelter is a filthy poorhouse where the paupers work for their so-called free lodgings, meals and everything. The meals, if I may add, were just “three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week, and half a roll on Sundays”.
13 This English Poor Law of 1834 was established during Dickens’s time. It is inspired by Malthusian economists who believed there must always be a segment of the population in destitute condition; its purpose is to prevent or minimize breeding among paupers. Thus Dickens – having experienced the consequences of being in the lower class – tried to target this law through Oliver Twist. Its inhumane acts were however, not quite as brutal as Dickens imagined. The passage of time has improved the conditions of the poor, so that it would be an error to take literally Dickens’s version of the poorhouse. (Irving Howe) 14 The abuse of powers and injustice of it all is also present secondly, within the very existence of the character: Mr. Fang – an overbearing police-magistrate in London. His hurried judgments about mundane cases, often resulting to three months in prison and hard labor – as what almost happened with Oliver’s case – represents the discriminative decisions of the court when it regards to a lower class versus upper class; middle class versus lower class; middle class versus upper class; or seldom, upper class versus another upper class cases. If not for the help and mercy of Mr. Brownlow, young Oliver would have experienced much misery that he ever had. Therefore, whichever side has the most money, power and connections of strings within the game would automatically win. The court is merely a puppet of high class society – a dog that merely wishes to please its master and gain profits of its own. It is the most standard thing to say, that most of the states’ justice officials like Mr. Fang, often sets aside those cases concerning poor unfortunate people (who, in my opinion, needs more attention and justice than the rich ones) and regards them as useless cases that is not worthy of time and effort to indulge the Hands of Justice with. 15 With all these Marxist elements present and condensed within the pages of Oliver Twist, Dickens’s work serves as a good propaganda for the English society. The tension of social struggle shown within his work verifies a Marxist’s refusal to separate literature and language from the world and its unending link with social powers. His desire to challenge the power structures in contemporary society shares almost the same concept with Feminism. Though in Feminism, the issue is generally, anostracized gender. After Marxism, I would then like to talk on about the Feminist aspects within Mr. Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist… 16 Feminism or gender criticism is concerned with the impact of gender on writing and reading. It includes a search for a feminine theory or approach to texts. There is also a type of feminism called, French Feminism/Criticism which got much of its inspiration from Simone de Beauvoir’s book, The Second Sex (1949). This type of criticism focuses on language as a tool of male domination – analyzing the ways in which it represents the world from the male point of view and arguing for the development of a feminine language and writings. (Literary Criticism Notes. 2013) 17 As aforementioned, knowing Mr. Dickens’s historical background helps in discovering the mysteries beyond his literary works. Mrs. Mann and Mrs. Sowerberry are all representations of Dickens’s mother when he was but a child. The very
experimental philosopher, Mrs. Mann; the liberality of Mrs. Sowerberry to Oliver, all pertains to Elizabeth Dickens, who (according to Wikipedia) corrupts whatever the young Dickens earned in the Blacking warehouse and had no care with whatever will happen to him.This all came to the point that even when their family finances improved, Mrs. Dickens failed to request for Charles’ return from the hell like boundaries of the warehouse. The horror and suffrage of everything, made a permanent mark in Charles’ life. That is why, it can be inferred that his bitter view of women are always portrayed in his works. 18 Though these female characters within Oliver Twist are somewhat dominant than the male characters (especially in the case of Mr. Corney, formerly known as Mr. Bumble), they are still described and portrayed in a negative way: Mrs. Mann is a woman of wisdom and experience but she is deceitful and very selfish indeed. Mrs. Sowerberryon the other hand is that of a squeezed-up woman with a vixenish countenance that is very prideful and treats her husband like a child to be always reprimanded. Same thing goes with Mrs. Corney. She is presented like that of a mutton because of her surprising strength – an expert lady, clasping him (Mr. Bumble) tightly round the throat with one hand, inflicted a shower of blows… and defied him to talk about his prerogative again, if he dared – that slowly subjects her husband to inferiority. 19 Other notable female characters that are also presented in an undesirable light within the story were: Charlotte, which Fagin remarked with delight as a well-trained one during his resounding conversation with Mr. Claypole. This obstinate girl is very dumb that she does not complain of whatever Noah commands and even thanks him – for he is like a dear for letting Charlotte carry the robbed money. In which it is later stated that he did this because if they were pursued, the money might be found on her: which would greatly facilitate his chances of escape. Nancy however is not as pig-headed as Charlotte was. In fact, she is very much regarded as an honour to her sex and Mr. Sikes even cheered and wished that they was all like her. These are all but good compliment but beneath it what does it convey, for women to be generally deceitful? Miss Rose Fleming was a different story itself. She portrays all the sweet values of a true lady but in my opinion, fails to imprint the strong pointsof her own sex as a liberal woman within society. Why must she bring all the sufferings and misfortunes of her family to herself, to the point in which she tried to sacrifice her very love, Mr. Maylie? This focal point in her character made women seem like weak creatures that are under the leash of society and cannot move freely unless told. Lastly, we have Miss Agnes Fleming. Miss Agnes is the mother of Oliver who died of a broken heart and another victim of love. Like Nancy, she died because of love. Her eternal devotion to Oliver’s father and her – like her sister Rose – weakness of being a dog of society judgments, was the main causes of her misfortunes. 20 These women all have one thing in common. If the previous women were made with inconceivable brute dominance, this subsequent batch fails in that area. They are of mild, dog-type maidens who are inferior to men and blind with love. These characteristics made their very lives complicated – especially in the case of Nancy, who even died by the very hands of her chosen love; proclaiming women, to be weak hearted creatures blinded by the thorny chains of love.
21 Charles John Huffam Dickens is indeed, a very gifted man. His literary works convey much of what is going on in the contemporary society at his time and had done a very illustrious and splendid work at it. His Oliver Twist mainly attacks the system of government and variety of one sex’s power among the society. From the very first page up till the last, his portrayal of the ruggedness of the public under an economic power and inequality of both sexes are craftily intertwined with his memories of a ruthless past and his ability to make his fictions real but unreal. Marxism, Feminism and all other literary theories all together is quite not enough to justify the intelligence and craftiness in which Mr. Dickens madeOliver Twist.
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Marcuse, Herbert - Marxism and Feminism. by antropologia24. on Nov 12, 2014. Report Category: Documents. Download: 1 Comment: 0. 87. views. Comments ...