Many of his characters reflect experiences he had lived directly. He was born in a middle class family, but as his father was always in debt (he was also arrested and sent to prison), little Charles had to leave school and work in a blacking factory. The family conditions improved after a while and Charles was able to go back to school. After starting as a reporter, he began his successful literary career.
In two of his most important novels, “David Copperfield” and “Oliver Twist”, Dickens expressed all the humiliation and the difficulties of a young boy forced to live and work in a harsh world. In the end they, David and Oliver, are able to overcome all the difficulties and to gain a respectable position in society.
Dickens was influenced by the optimism that characterized the Victorian society in which he lived, where everybody received an opportunity to improve their position. Some of his works are set in a realistic contest, usually the poor slums of the industrialized towns and they criticize the working and living conditions of the workers. Dickens only exposed the contradictions of the society he lived in, but never proposed any radical change of the Victorian economic and social system.
OLIVER TWIST: Oliver is a foundling; when he is nine years old, he is taken back to the workhouse in which he was born, where he lives a miserable life and receives no education. He then runs away and on the road meets a young thief; Oliver thinks he has found a friend and follows him to London where he is introduced to other friends, who say they will give him food and a place to stay. The new friends turn out to be a gang of young thieves led by Fagin, an old Jew who is Dickens’ best characterizations. The thieves force Oliver to help them in their criminal activities; Oliver is temporarily rescued by Mr Brownlow, a benevolent gentleman, but some members of the gang kidnap the boy. After many incidents, the gang is caught up by the police and Oliver is discovered to be a relation of Mr Brownlow’s: he has finally found a family.
OLIVER IS TAKEN TO THE WORKHOUSE: this passage is taken from the beginning of the novel; on Oliver’s ninth birthday Mr Bumble, the parish officer, comes to the house where Oliver lives with other children; Mr Bumble is described as a pompous man with an exaggerated and hypocritical sense of his own importance and of the mission he has. The passage is rich in dialogue and characterization, and gives a full portrait of Mrs Mann’s falsity and of Mr Bumble’s superficiality. Poor Olivers appears only in the last part, when he is called in to answer a few questions; he has already learnt what to say in order not to be punished later for telling the truth: he pretends to be sorry at leaving Mrs Mann but he is only sorry at leaving his little friends at the orphanage, though he shared only misery with them.
DAVID COPPERFIELD: on the death of David’s father, his mother, portrayed as a weak woman, marries a man who treats David with severity; when David rebels, he is sent to school in London. On his mother death, he is sent to work in a factory, but then he runs away to Dover, to the home of his aunt, Betsy Trotwood. When she learns how he has been treated, she takes him in and becomes his foster mother.
GREAT EXPECTATIONS: Pip is an orphan brought up by his severe sister; Miss Havisham arranges for Pip to visit her regularly to serve as a companion; she is half-crazed after the desertion of her fiancé right before the wedding ceremony. In a spirit of revenge she has brought up the girl Estella to use her beauty as a means of torturing men. Pip falls in love with Estella and becomes ashamed of his social position.