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Oliver Twist

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Oliver Twist is one of Charles Dickens’ most famous novels and a classic poor-to-rich story about an orphan who was born into a workhouse and must navigate his way around the criminal underworld to avoid being corrupted. Literature incorporates the history of the workhouse and reflects the concerns of both paupers and ratepayers, and it also challenges the dehumanizing effects of the Law’s administration. The time period of Oliver Twist was still under the time of the Old Poor Law, but it was mainly seen as criticizing of the New Poor Law. Felix Driver writes, “The account of the starving child who asked for more was almost certainly based on the earlier system, although the extent to which the old survived in the new does not entirely invalidate the criticism”. Scholars tend to focus on the scene where Oliver asks for more food as indicative of the meagre portions that the inmates received. These scholars identify hunger as the main threat of the workhouse, but that approach neglects the larger threat of death, which shapes Oliver’s character.

When the opening chapters of the novel are considered more broadly, the workhouse is actually a site where the poor carry an obligation to one another. High death rates within the workhouse encourage solidarity as seen by the behaviours of the orphans. While providing charity carries the risk of supporting idlers, and Dickens is consistently critical of charity, he also writes the poor as recognizing common risks and finding their own ways to overcome those risks, even within a system that continually removes their individuality and separates them from one another.

The precarious nature of life in the workhouse is foregrounded by the opening of Oliver Twist, which shows Oliver’s mother coming to the workhouse to give birth to the boy. The narrator pushes the point that this place of birth was in Oliver’s favour, since he receives more care than if his mother had not been brought there. With the use of litotes, characteristic of Dickens, he ironizes the difficulty of Oliver’s first breaths. Matters of life and death are conveyed as administrative tasks, and this method is used to remind the audience that how the Board ran the workhouse had powerful implications for its inmates.

Death is familiar to the surgeon, he recognizes the need for care and he knows that these difficult moments and narratives are part of the workhouse system. After the birth of Oliver Twist, his mother says, “Let me see the child and die,” to which the surgeon says, “Oh, you must not talk about dying yet.” He says this in order to encourage the mother to fight and stay alive for as long as possible, yet he acknowledges her impending death, which only serves as a reminder to the audience that death comes quite easily. Though the surgeon and the pauper nurse try to encourage the new mother’s fight for survival, they are clearly accustomed to these series of events. After finding that she did not wear a wedding ring, he shakes his head at this “old story”. Within a very short time after her death, the surgeon is already out the door.

This balance between compassion and acceptance sums up the necessities of his profession generally, but especially what he does within the workhouse. As a representative of the ratepayers and those who have an obligation to the poor, the physician is relatively unconcerned about the woman’s life. He has completed his duty and is able to carry on. While he may disapprove of the woman’s choices, he does not let that judgement interfere with her care. Dickens’ treatment of the physician is far less scathing than that of the board, later in the novel, and that is likely because of the compassion required of a workhouse physician.

As a pauper herself, the nurse is more affected by the scene, but Dickens’ uses her familiarity with such loss and her compassion to ease the connection between death and the workhouse. While the doctor’s response to the mother’s sureness about her death is brief, he is presumably sympathetic to the poor, which is why he is able to respond at all. The nurse responds so quickly after the doctor’s statement, that the content of her response and her quickness reveal how powerful the threat of death is, and this exchange reveals what the workhouse represents to the poor: “Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all on 'em dead except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she'll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it is to be a mother, there's a dear young lamb do.” (Dickens)

The nurse simultaneously contradicts and confirms the nearness of death as she accurately counts her living children as exceptions to the typical predicament of infant inmates. For her, this is “what is it to be a mother”. The child death rate was startlingly high inside the workhouse, much higher than outside of it. The nurse’s demeanour brings power to the association between death and the workhouse. Not only professionally, she is also intimately familiar with death in the workhouse, and it holds emotional value for her, unlike for the doctor. The nurse is not portrayed as a professional staff, but as a woman with an intimate knowledge of suffering, because she has suffered, and thus cares for others.

That the New Poor Laws assumed the poor to be lazy and immoderate is reflected in Oliver’s interaction with the Board. After his mother dies, he spends a few years at a baby farm, where he is constantly kept hungry and dirty. When he is called back into the workhouse to learn a trade, he is employed to pick oakum, or to remove fibres from old ropes. Dickens gives voice and mocks the belief that indoor relief was even probable for the poor in his depiction of Poor Law administrators: “The members of this board were very sage, deep, philosophical men; and when they came to turn their attention to the workhouse, they found out at once, what ordinary folks would never have discovered—the poor people liked it! It was a regular place of public entertainment for the poorer classes; a tavern where there was nothing to pay; a public breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper all the year round; a brick and mortar elysium, where it was all play and no work. 'Oho!' said the board, looking very knowing; 'we are the fellows to set this to rights; we'll stop it all, in no time.' So, they established the rule, that all poor people should have the alternative (for they would compel nobody, not they), of being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it.” (Dickens)

This scene not only blames the board for the death of the poor, but it also implies joyful and wilful engagement in the mistreatment. The workhouse is aligned with places of amusement (the tavern and Elysium), and to end that association the board adheres to the letter, though not the spirit, of their obligation to care for the orphans. The passage ends with the poor starving either way, which serves to articulate the tremendous failure of the system. Starving is a frequent mention in the novel, and the continual return to death by starvation reinforces the severity of the Poor Law board and highlights their unwillingness to provide their inmates with enough provisions.

Because the boys in the workhouse were given so little and they were already malnourished, one of the larger boys say that he would even eat the small boy who sleeps near him if he does not get more food. In one of the most famous scenes in English literature, little Oliver asks for a refill of his bowl of gruel. This is a tense scene because the boys are so hungry that they would resort to cannibalism or worse, stand up to the workhouse authorities. The authorities are not pleased with Oliver asking for more, and given the importance of workhouse discipline, Oliver’s plea is shocking in its departure from respectability. The response to his audacity is predictable, and it reinforces the consequences not only of that act, but also the simple fact of being poor and asking for what he needs: “that boy will be hung,’ “that boy will be hung,’ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. ‘I know that boy will be hung.’” (Dickens) Being put into such a desperate situation, for Oliver (added to starving quickly outside of the workhouse or slowly inside of it) introduces the overt risk of criminality and intensifies the spectre of death and suffering.

Even as Oliver moves out of the physical structure of the workhouse, his job at the Sowerberry’s, the undertakers hired by the workhouse, maintains his connection to that world through embodied experiences of hunger. When he was there on his first night, he was given a meagre meal and told that his sleeping area would be with the coffins. Alone in a room filled with coffins, with so many reminders of death all around him, Oliver wishes for death. Noah Claypole, a charity and Oliver’s workmate, calls him first by “my work’us brat” and then just “work’us,” solidifying Oliver’s connection to that institution by making it his name. Arguably, this could be Dickens’s attempt to undermine his critique of the workhouse through the world outside of that space, but it is significant that Oliver is placed with the Sowerberrys through the workhouse board. He is here because the board refuses to care for him any longer, and rather than educating him or apprenticing him in a better situation, they send him out to the lowest bidder. Gail Turley Houston connects his time with the Sowerberrys to his request for more, comparing Oliver to a ‘hungry pig’ amidst these fatted porkers, for in fact, the board’s answer to Oliver’s desire for more is death,” point out that Sowerberrys “hires Oliver in the first place because his diminutive size indicates his ability to live on the sparest of diets”. The workhouse discipline instilled in him is expected to make him an ideal apprentice, one who is cheap to feed and with no alternative but to work. The willingness of the Sowerberrys and others to take advantage of Oliver does not fit into the image that constructs the workhouse, as it signifies, instead, the complexity of the obligation to the poor.

Only when he is taken into the upper classes is he able to escape the constant threat of death. When Oliver falls into Fagin’s gang, he seems to be destined for the very future that was predicted for him, death by hanging. In a turn of events, the other gang members are the ones who fulfil that prophesy as Sikes, a murderer trying to escape an angry crowd, accidentally hangs himself. Nancy is beaten to death because Sikes believes she betrayed him. Fagin himself is condemned to death for his crimes. Oliver’s involvement in the gang is quite passive, not unlike his involvement with the boys who put him up to request for more food in the workhouse, and a link is established between the workhouse and criminality, which usually leads to more suffering and death. However, in the end, we know that Oliver was not hung, but was given quite a big sum of money. Oliver’s extraordinary escape from his plight was only possible through the fortunate coincidence that a gentleman who has the power to save him recognized his resemblance to his father. Oliver’s increase in status from workhouse boy to gentleman reveals the differences between social classes. Deaths among the upper classes in the novel are less violent and are not inherently associated with any state institutions, much less caused by them. In contrast, the deaths and the constant threat of death in the workhouse is mirrored by Fagin’s death in prison. In both spaces, death is the expected consequence of poverty and criminality, and Oliver is not able to escape the symbolic associations of the physical space of the workhouse.

Moving on to Thomas Hardy’s “Tess of the D'Urbervilles”, the novel is unified by the simple aim of telling every important event in Tess’s life from the age of sixteen to her death when she is roughly twenty-three years old.
Hardy does not use developmental or complicated narrative devices. Thus, it makes it easier to read and understand the text as we can identify and respond to all the elements of a story. It is easy to tell who are the main characters in the story are and what their characteristics might be. Tess is the key figure, we as readers learn about her suffering and sympathizes with her. Alec is introduced as a villain and Angel is a lover and, as his name indicates, a possible saviour for Tess. Besides a few moments in the text, we are able to accurately predict most of their actions. The more a story is easy to understand, the more easily we are able to relate, and thus form an emotional connection. The best part about the novel is the emotional power it is able to draw out from us as we lament Tess’s suffering.

What primarily interests Hardy in Tess is the juxtaposition of a significant number of incidents. Hardy created a situation where no matter what Tess does, she would not be able to escape her suffering, or if she did she would begin another part of her suffering. Typical of a classical tragedy, the entire world is against her, even if she’s innocent and no matter what she does, she will not achieve happiness.

It is not difficult to determine that Tess suffers. But is it difficult to find out the reason of her suffering, which without it we would not be able to understand the meaning of the text. J. Hillis Miller has suggested that the reason for such difficulty is to be found in the novel's being woven out of repetitions that "produce similarity out of difference and are controlled by no centre, origin, or end outside the chain of recurrent elements" (Miller). As certain episodes repeat others (from inside or outside of the text) a pattern of violence and suffering is drawn on Tess's life. This pattern, though, is not generated out of a first cause but, rather, works to generate meaning out of itself. Furthermore, because this pattern is made up of a sequence of numerous episodes which are related by difference, the possible meanings arising out of the text are, likewise, several and often incompatible. Hence the problem with deriving meaning from the novel, and with deciding upon the cause of Tess's suffering, "is not that there are no explanations proposed in the text, but that there are too many" (Miller).

There are numerous repetitions made of the Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but they don’t give a reason as to why Tess’ suffers or to put it another way, there are way too many explanations out there to determine the real cause. This proves difficult because each and every character plays a different role in her suffering, oftentimes being both the cause for salvation and the reason for her suffering (Devito).
There are many reasons for her suffering as we all know. She suffers both when Angel is with her and also when he is not. She also suffers because Angel is similar to Alec d’Urberville and dissimilar to him. Tess constantly suffers because Angel is protecting her and when he is not. As an example, Tess herself was killed because of Angel’s safeguard, but simultaneously, because of her demise, is saved from her sorrows. In essence, the more Angel acts, the more explanations there are for Tess’s suffering, thus, having more meanings of the text become clear. Nonetheless, it could be said the more explanations there are for Tess’s suffering, the more she suffers from them. There could be any number of reasons to explain her suffering due to Angel’s characteristics and actions and the more he does, the more explanations there are vice versa. In conclusion, the more recurrences there are in Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Angel is the best example in this case), the harder it is to determine the reason for Tess’s suffering. Be that as it may, it is for that very reason, the overabundance of explanations that make many other possibilities for her continuous suffering.
Bibliography

Driver, Felix. Power and Pauperism: The Workhouse System, 1834-1884. Cambridge:
Cambridge UP, 1993. Print.

Dickens, Charles, and Kathleen Tillotson. Oliver Twist. Oxford New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Hardy, Thomas. Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Miller, J. Hillis. "Tess of the D'Urbervilles: Repetition as Immanent Design." Fiction and Repetition. 1981. 116-146.

Devito, Jeremy. "J Hillis Miller, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and a Host of Angel(s)." The Essay Exchange at I Love Literature. iloveliterature.com, 25 Aug. 2011. Web. 3rd March 2015 ‹http://www.iloveliterature.com/tess_essay.html›.

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...------------------------------------------------- Top of Form 1 Điền số vào dấu chấm hỏi: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, ? 32 28 26 34 40 43 2 Điền vào dấu ba chấm: "Tre già ... mọc". măng ngô trúc liễu 3 Hiện nay bạn 10 tuổi, 8 năm nữa bạn sẽ gấp đôi tuổi em ruột bạn bây giờ, hỏi bây giờ em bạn bao nhiêu tuổi? 8 9 10 12 18 Không phải các đáp án trên. 4 Một sản phẩm được hạ giá 40%, hỏi sản phẩm đó phải tăng giá lên bao nhiêu % để trở về giá ban đầu? 40% 53,3% 66,7% 83,3% 25% 33,3% 5 Một số A là B, không có B nào là C Khẳng định: Một số A có thể là C là: Đúng Sai 6 8 người sơn được 3 cái nhà trong 6 giờ. Hỏi với 12 người sẽ sơn được bao nhiêu cái nhà trong 12 giờ? 3 cái 5 cái 7 cái 8 cái 9 cái 10 cái (Đáp án = 9) 7 Điền số vào dấu chấm hỏi: 4312, 5420, 6530, 7642, ? 3232 2867 2655 3234 8756 9647 (Đáp án = 8756) 8 Bạn cho biết cái nào sau đây không cùng loại: Mặt Trời, Trái Đất, sao Chổi, Mặt Trăng, ngôi sao, sao Hỏa. Mặt Trời Trái Đất sao Chổi Mặt Trăng ngôi sao sao Hỏa (Đáp án = Ngôi sao) 9 Bạn có 84 quả táo đựng trong 12 rỏ, nếu muốn ăn 1/3 số táo trong mỗi rỏ thì bạn cần ít nhất bao nhiêu lần cắn, biết rằng mỗi lần bạn cắn được 1/3 của 1/2 quả táo. 108 lần 121 lần 144 lần 168 lần 196 lần 225 lần (Đáp án = 168) 10 Một con sóc nhẩy theo một rỏ hạt dẻ nằm trên tay bạn. Giả sử rằng cứ mỗi cú nhẩy con sóc tiến được 30cm, mỗi bước bạn đi là 20cm. Hỏi cần tối thiểu bao nhiêu bước nhẩy để con sóc lấy được hạt dẻ nếu khoảng cách giữa bạn và con sóc lúc đầu là 1,8m và......

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