Charlotte Brontë Charles Dickens

This sample essay on offers an extensive list of facts and arguments related to it. The essay’s introduction, body paragraphs, and the conclusion are provided below. Like any novel depicting the theme of social deviance, the basis of the text is taken from the social and political climate’s that are appropriate to the time that the text is written. Indeed, during Queen Victoria’s reign, the social alienation of the working class as well as societies prejudices towards women helped to spawn literature that exhibited the other side of the so called ‘coin’, with stories that challenged the general social perceptions of these ostracised groups.

These concepts that questioned Victorian social ‘norms’ are best illustrated in the texts Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre, with both texts producing manifestations through the stories protagonists of attitudes that don’t conform to the expected traits of either the working class or women. Furthermore, both Charles Dickens and Charlotte Bronte draw parallel’s in their respective texts to aspects of their own lives by reflecting the prejudices that they personally incurred whilst growing up in Victorian Britain.

One of the central themes common to both texts that echoes the childhood of the authors – particularly Dickens – is the social gap between the middle class and the working class, with both authors embodying these social issues through the presentations of Fagin and Mr Bumble in Oliver Twist, as well as Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre. In my opinion, the bullish attitudes that both authors are able to establish through Fagin and Mr Bumble with Oliver, and Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst with Jane, are a direct reference to the middle-class bureaucrats and their oppressive treatment of the lower class.

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To elaborate, parish beadle’s like Mr Bumble who at the time were said to have believed in the concept of giving charity to the less fortunate, are instead presented by Dickens as the oppressor, as illustrated in the various instances that Mr Bumble punishes Oliver. The only thing that can be done now, that I know of, is to leave him in the cellar for a day or so till he’s a little starved down… and keep him on gruel throughout his apprenticeship. This theory is further illustrated in Jane Eyre, with the depiction of Jane as the poor individual within a higher-class environment throughout the text. Consequently, this notion of inferiority in a social context, like Oliver leads to alienation. I was not quite sure whether they had locked the door; and, when I dared move, I got up, and went to see. Alas! yes: no jail was ever more secure.

However, the significance of these episodes is not only that they show higher-societies contempt for the lower class, but also that they help to display the attitudes of the respective protagonists within these challenging environments. The use of the ‘restrictive’ imagery in the cited extracts, and the noble and intelligent reactions to this harsh treatment that each protagonist gives, in my opinion enables Dickens and Bronte to produce a critique of the working classes vigour in a social context which contrasts higher-societies pre-conceived judgements of the working class as ‘useless’.

By voicing the opinions that the lower class are only ‘helpless’ because the social infrastructure of the Victorian age did not allow them to break away from their working class shackles, both authors transgress social norms by presenting Oliver and Jane as socially deviant to this general public perception. I am running away. They beat and ill-use me, Dick; and I am going to seek my fortune some long way off, I don’t know where.  The theme of slavery and restriction is further highlighted by Jane’s opinion of marriage, through the presentation of Cassy’s relationship with Simon Legree and her own marriage to Rochester, which once again enables Bronte to challenge the norms of society by offering a commentary that exemplifies the oppressive nature of men in a relationship.

Although Jane’s most fulfilling relationship with a male character in the text is with Rochester, Bronte is still able to present Jane’s scepticism towards marriage in an intellectual manner that in my opinion is credible given the Victorian norms of domestic roles. Indeed, Jane only agrees to marry Rochester when she is certain that they will be both financially, intellectually and social equals. No Jane; you must not go… I have little left in myself – I must have you.

It is through the presentation of not only Rochester, but also Mr Brocklehurst and St. John Rivers that Bronte is able to convey the message that women don’t have to be in a submissive position in a relationship and is another example of Bronte’s transgression of social norms. This is illustrated by the fact that Jane escapes Brocklehurst and rejects both St. John Rivers and Rochester before only agreeing to marry Rochester when she feels that they are equals.

I want my kindred: those with whom I have full fellow-feeling. However, the most obvious transgression of social norms from a morale perspective in either text is embedded in the character of Oliver Twist, and to a lesser extent Nancy. It is the moralistic nature of these two characters – which is obviously highlighted by the juxtaposition against the other characters in Fagin’s pick-pocket gang – that reiterates the fact that the values of ‘goodness’ can be common to all human beings, and is not absent in the working class just because they are of lower social standing.

What was Oliver’s horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking on with his eye-lids as wide open as they would possible go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into this old gentleman’s pocket.  Some may argue the point that Oliver’s noble disposition is due to the fact that he is in fact a member of the upper classes because he gains the family inheritance, however, further credence is added to Dickens argument that intelligence and nobility is not restricted to the upper classes through his portrayal of Nancy.

As if to eliminate any uncertainties regarding the intelligence of the working class, Dickens places Nancy in the position of a prostitute – one of the most socially condemned positions of Victorian times – and yet through Nancy displays the most noble act of the novel when she sacrifices her own life to save Oliver. ‘Those were his words,’ said Nancy, glancing uneasily round, as she scarcely ceased to do since she began to speak, for a vision of Sikes haunted her perpetually.

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Charlotte Brontë Charles Dickens
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