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Published: 27-09-2019

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The Ultimate Problem of Evil in Oliver Twist

Dickens’ Oliver Twist , which eventually celebrates a protagonist who journeys from innocence to knowledge with no capitulating to the evil forces that hinder his progress, addresses the pervasive problem of evil in society and human nature. Dickens presents two dimensions of evil in Oliver’s world by way of the characters of Fagin, the old Jew, and Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle. By transferring Fagin’s criminality to the selfish, hypocritical Bumble, an authority figure who ought to market order and justice, he intensifies his satire on life and society below the Poor Laws of 1834. Bumble and Fagin cackle with delight as they exploit other folks ­ namely the vulnerable Oliver ­ in search of their self-serving objectives. Both characters “glide stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways…seem[ing] like some loathsome reptile[s], engendered in the slime and darkness by way of which [they] move.” (186) The novel’s satire emerges as the reader connects Fagin’s criminal underworld with Bumble’s hypocrisy and selfish plaudits, each of which comprise the malaise of Victorian society exposed via Dickens’ irony, sarcasm, and biting language. Fagin and Bumble, who fester in their cages of evil motives, illustrate the omnipresence of evil in the novel, particularly as it relates to the remedy of the poor, the exploitation of the innocent, and the corruption of society.

Right after successfully luring Oliver back into the chasms of his dreadful crimes, the monstrous Fagin creeps out into “a maze of the imply and dirty streets” (186) to locate Sikes, who will attempt to mentor the young outcast in a life of crime. Fagin personifies humanity’s evil, a satanic underside of the humble compassion exhibited in the novel’s most virtuous characters, namely Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies. Although Brownlow quells “the noise and turbulence in the midst of which [Oliver] had usually lived,” (143) Fagin’s bestial nature threatens the enclosure of Edenic innocence found in Brownlow’s country property with his evil temptations. Fagin’s serpentine qualities extend to the character of Bumble, who embodies an institutional and societal evil that complements Fagin’s criminal schemes. The evil framework erected by Bumble and Fagin forms the path of expertise by which Oliver matures to comprehend his identity.

The way in which Fagin ensares youths like the Artful Dodger, Charley Bates, and Oliver Twist for his own monetary positive aspects parallels the way in which Bumble exploits the rights of poor children who reside in his workhouse in an attempt to boost his power. Dickens employs images of confinement and hopelessness in describing the Jew’s odious headquarters of evil:

It was a quite dirty place. […] In all the rooms, the mouldering shutters had been quick closed: the bars which held them have been screwed tight into the wood the only light which was admitted, stealing its way by way of round holes at the prime: which created the rooms much more gloomy and filled them with strange shadows. (179)

The darkness of Fagin’s lair extends the image of the harsh prison of Bumble’s workhouse from which Oliver escaped. Inside the novel’s discourse on evil lies Dickens’ satire on the situation of the poor brought on by the Poor Laws, which Bumble upholds stringently till they ultimately render him a pauper in a scene of joyous irony. Dickens’ language, namely words like “dirty,” “mouldering,” “closed,” “gloomy,” and “strange shadows” develop a scene of festering unwholesomeness that transfers from the criminal underworld to the scenario of society at big.

The reality that the workhouse in which Oliver and other orphans discover their only refuge resembles the stark nihilism of Fagin’s underworld exposes the brutal mistreatment of society’s poor at the hands of self-serving males like Bumble. Even though Fagin rejects moral and legal laws by indoctrinating adolescents in a life of thievery, Bumble violates the standard code of enjoy and compassion upon which, in a moral sense, human nature rests. Oliver’s famous plea, “Please sir, I want some more” (56) illustrates not only his starvation resulting from Bumble’s sadistic practices, but also his need for the adore and compassion that he finds only outdoors of society’s inadequate provisions for the poor. Ironically, the deviants in Fagan’s fraternity of thieves make Oliver feel more welcome than do the authority figures in his society, which satirizes the decline in society’s ability to efficiently appropriate, or at least recognize, the issue of poverty. Bumble’s acerbic rigidity in dealing with the orphans parallels Fagin’s animalistic dominion more than the subordinate members of his pack. Bumble leads Oliver from “the wretched residence where 1 type word or look had never ever lighted the gloom of his infant years” (53) to a renewed agony that causes him “to burst into an agony of childish grief.” (53) Dickens captures Bumble’s sadism in a pitiful summation of his “care” for Oliver:

As for workout, it was nice cold climate, and [Oliver] was permitted to perform his ablutions, every morning below the pump, in a stone yard, in the presence of Mr. Bumble, who prevented his catching cold, and caused a tingling sensation to pervade his frame, by repeated applications of the cane. As for society, he was carried each other day into the hall exactly where the boys dined, and there sociably flogged as a public warning and example. (59)

The beadle’s determination to preserve his sense of authority at the expense of innocent orphans illustrates the shallowness of his character, which is defined solely by his capability to exert energy over defenseless characters like Oliver and Mrs. Corney. Dickens’ sarcasm elicits Bumble’s harsh, excessive cruelty even though his realistic rendering of these pitiful events connotes their apparent regularity within the workhouse operations. Oliver, whose physical health Bumble protects with swift “applications of the cane,” becomes an emblem of the victimized pauper left helpless by society’s villainy. Dickens uses Oliver’s physical torment to evoke the reader’s sympathy and incite his or her awareness of society’s corruption.

Exactly where Bumble impedes Oliver’s physical and emotional growth, Fagin, at his very best, requires an invested interest in Oliver driven by potential monetary reward, whilst at his worst, exploits Oliver and endangers his life. He represents the temptation of evil dangled prior to the growing Twist, who must find out to overcome the attractiveness of criminal fraternity. Bumble, nonetheless, represents what takes place when one particular succumbs to a life of greed and exploitation he represents what Oliver will never turn out to be. Dickens characterizes Oliver as “a close prisoner in the dark and solitary area to which he had been consigned by the wisdom and mercy of the board.” (59) The dark enclosures to which Oliver has been confined, specially the coffin in Mr. Sowerberry’s home and the ditch outside the home in Chertsey, grow to be metaphors for his vulnerability, as they “protect” him from “the gloom and loneliness which surround him.” (59) Dickens also criticizes “the board,” as the phrase “wisdom and mercy” drips with verbal irony that effects his satire on its imprudent and selfish philosophies. Ironically, Oliver does greater to remain in the ditch at Chertsey than to resume a life as “the new burden imposed upon the parish.” (48)

Bumble and Fagin delight in their operations as officers of evil. Fagin’s philosophy unfolds toward monetary incentives Bumble’s operates toward personal fulfillment gained by asserting energy more than paupers. After Sikes abandons Oliver in a ditch following the unsuccessful burglary at Chertsey, Fagin says, “What is it? When the boy’s worth hundreds of pounds to me, am I to shed what possibility threw me in the way of acquiring safely?” (240) Later, when he “trains” his newest pupil, Noah Claypole, Fagin exposes the utter selfishness that undergirds his motives:

Each and every man’s his personal friend. … In a little neighborhood like ours, my dear, we have a common number a single that is, you can’t contemplate your self as number one, without having taking into consideration me also as the exact same, and all the other young individuals. … You can not take care of your self , number a single, without taking care of me, number a single. … I’m of the identical value to you as you are to your self. (387-8)

Fagin and Bumble rule with an iron hand that defines “the magnitude and extent of [their] operations” and inspires “a degree of wholesome fear” (389) within the “pupils” under their tutelage. Bumble prides himself on possessing the authority to exercising unwarranted punishment over the paupers. Dickens captures him “brav[ing] the cold wind of the evening: merely pausing, for a few minutes, in the male paupers’ ward, to abuse them a small, with the view of satisfying himself that he could fill the workplace of workhouse-master with needful acerbity.” (250) This biting portrayal of a character so attracted by his personal energy satirizes the obsessive beadle who neglects his part as a caretaker for the glamour of authority.

The phrase “merely pausing” connotes the pomposity that governs Bumble’s character and tends to make him such a misguided, self-inflating ruler of his own corrupt underworld. He personifies the negative connotations of his name, namely, a state of confusion or a individual who literally “bumbles.” Bumble dwells in a state of “bumbledom,” defined as “beadledom in its glory,” which raises the societal official at the expense of the humble pauper below his care. Dickens’ characterization of the bumbling beadle as one particular defined by “official pomposity” and “fussy stupidity” and absorbed in a Bumble-centric planet paints a satiric portrait of society’s “bumbles,” and illuminates the require to boost the circumstance of the poor.

Soon after Bumble marries Mrs. Corney, he dwells despondently in the realization that due to the fact he married, “[his] mighty cocked hat was replaced by a modest round 1. Mr. Bumble was no longer a beadle.” (322) His cocked hat symbolizes the authority that defines his character. He and Mrs. Bumble “were gradually reduced to wonderful indigence and misery, and ultimately became paupers in that really very same workhouse in which they had when lorded it more than other individuals.” (477) Similarly, Fagin, the strong “godfather” of Twist’s underworld, falls into a state of pathetic failure, as he grovels for Oliver’s loyalty and assistance in freeing him from impending death. Fagin, like Bumble, “struggle[s] with the energy of desperation” (474) and illustrates the failure of evil to endure, in spite of its capacity to temporarily mesmerize.

Dickens’ satire rests partly on his capacity to intertwine the characters of Fagin and Bumble, which unites the corruption of society’s authoritative figures with the behaviors of a notorious criminal. Fagin impedes Oliver’s quest to discover an identity and a place within the macrocosm although Bumble exacerbates this impediment by furthering Oliver’s misery rather than deterring him from Fagin’s entrapment. The novel resolves Oliver’s hardships triggered by these two perpetrators by disposing of them with tidy symmetry. Bumble engages in a pathetic show of false concern as he cries, “Do my hi’s deceive me! Or is that little Oliver? Oh O-li-ver, if you know’d how I’ve been a-grieving for you.” He later asserts, “I usually loved that boy as if he’d been my ­ my ­ my personal grandfather,” (460) illustrating his inadequate comparison by means of his use of “grandfather” rather than “grandson,” the latter greater suiting the generational connection between the two. Even Mrs. Bumble who, like Nancy, emerges as the supplanted female subjugated by male dominance and trained as a subservient pet, recognizes the foolishness of the remark as she retorts, “Hold your tongue, fool.” (460)

Fagin’s confrontation with Oliver on the night ahead of his hanging complements Bumble’s downfall, as he attempts to regain Oliver’s honor and companionship and his former way of life governed by monetary pursuits. Dickens characterizes Fagin, who assumes “a countenance more like that of a snared beast than the face of a man,” as a rabid beast, for the turnkey must hold him down, for “he [like a wild animal] grows worse as the time gets on.” (472) Oliver’s strength in confronting the physical manifestation of his nightmares illustrates his triumph more than evil forces and emergence as a stronger, much more identified character who cries out, “Oh! God forgive this wretched man!” (474) Dickens incriminates the institutions established to support the victims of crime and exploitation by juxtaposing Fagin’s criminality with Bumble’s hypocrisy, corruption and exploitation. In carrying out so, he unearths the difficulty of evil as an ever-present force that dwells not only within the supernatural underworld of Fagin and Sikes but, ironically, looms in the most unsuspecting locations, even in the extremely institutions established to aid society’s poor.
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