Dickens was born in 1812 in Portsmouth. He had an unhappy childhood since his father went to prison for debt and he had to work in a factory at the age of twelve. By 1832 he had become and successful reporter of the House of Commons and began work as a newspaper reporter. His first success was the Pickwick papers, humorous stories about a group of eccentric who meet to tell each other they adventures. He had success with the novels Oliver twist, David Copperfield and Little Dorrit. He exposed the terrible lives of children in the slums and factories, and also the conditions of the poor and the working class. He was also the busy editor of magazines. He died in 1870.
Oliver twist first appeared in installments in 1837 and was later published as a book. The novel fictionalizes the economic insecurity and humiliation Dickens experienced when he was a boy. The name Twist, though it is given to the protagonist by accident, represents the outrageous reversals of fortune that he will experience. Oliver Twist is a poor boy of unknown parents; he is brought up in a workhouse in an inhuman way. He is later sold to an undertaker as an apprentice, but the cruelty and the unhappiness he experiences with his new master get him to run away to London. There he falls into the hands of a nasty gang of young pickpockets, who try to make a thief out of him, but the boy is helped by an old gentleman. Oliver is eventually kidnapped by the gang and forced to commit burglary; during the job he is shot and wounded. It is a middle-class family that adopts Oliver and shows kindness and affection towards him, at last. Investigations are made about who the boy is and it is discovered he has noble origins. The gang of pickpockets and Oliver’s half-brothers, who paid the thieves in order to ruin Oliver and have their father’s property all for himself, are arrested in the end.
Dickens attacked the social evils of his times such as poor houses, unjust courts, and the underworld. With the rise in the level of poverty, workhouses run by church sprang up all over England to give relief to the poor. However, the conditions prevailing in the workhouses were appalling. The workhouses were usually very sever places: children were separated from their families, and put into forced labor, food was rationed and clothing inadequate. The idea upon which the workhouses were founded was that poverty was the consequence of laziness and that the dreadful conditions in the workhouse would inspire the poor to get better their own conditions. Also, as Dickens wrote, instead of alleviating the sufferings of the poor, the officials who ran workhouses, abused their rights as individuals and caused them further misery.
The most important setting of the novel is London, which is depicted at three different social levels. First, the parochial world of the workhouse is revealed. The inhabitants of this world, belonging to the lower-middle-class stratum of society, are calculating and insensible to the feelings of the poor. Second, the criminal world is described with pickpockets and murderers. Poverty drives theme to crime and the weapon they use to achieve their end is violence. They live in dirty, squalid slums with fear and generally die a miserable death. Finally, the world of the Victorian middle-class is presented. In this world live respectable people who show a regard for moral values and believed in the principle of human dignity.