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ANTISEMITISM AND SOCIAL CRITIQUE IN DICKENS'S OLIVER TWIST

  • Susan Meyer (a1)
Extract

WHEN SIKES AND NANCY RECAPTURE OLIVER, in Dickens's Oliver Twist, intending to return him to the gang of thieves, Sikes warns Oliver against crying out to passersby, announcing that his dog will go for Oliver's throat if he so much as speaks one word. Looking at the dog, who is eyeing Oliver and growling and licking his lips, “with a kind of grim and ferocious approval,” Sikes tells Oliver, “He's as willing as a Christian, strike me blind if he isn't!” (109; ch. 16). Sikes of course simply intends to say that his dog is as good as human, but Dickens's joke, in the context of the novel, is a chilling one. Sikes's bloodthirsty dog is as willing as the novel has shown many a professed Christian to be to exercise brute power over the weak and helpless, to drive Oliver into a life of crime, and to commit physical violence against him. In the course of the novel, Dickens shows what professed Christians have been willing to do to the poor and invites his readers to contemplate what they as Christians should instead be willing to do. Oliver Twist is of course deeply concerned with the condition of England's poor, and Dickens invokes the idea of Christianity as a rhetorical tool through which to make the social commentary that is at the novel's moral center.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
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