Comparative Analysis Of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist And Mark Twain's The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

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As one looks at past authors in British and American literature, two authors stand out among the others. These two authors are Charles Dickens and Mark Twain. Both of the authors lived during the Victorian Era (Lane 1). Their writings are very interesting and entertaining to readers because of the themes and writing styles that these authors used to convey their thoughts.

Charles Dicken’s childhood which consisted of poverty and poor working conditions had a great impact on Dickens’ writing. “His own story is one of rags to riches. He was born in Portsmouth on 7 February 1812, to John and Elizabeth Dickens. The good fortune of being sent to school at the age of nine was short-lived because his father, inspiration for the character of Mr[sic] Micawber in 'David Copperfield', was imprisoned for bad debt. The entire family, apart from Charles, were sent to Marshalsea along with their patriarch. Charles was sent to work in Warren's blacking factory and endured appalling conditions as well as loneliness and despair. After three years he was returned to school, but the experience was never forgotten and became fictionalized [sic] in two of his better-known novels 'David Copperfield' and 'Great Expectations'” (BBC 1).

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Dicken’s early life also influenced one of his very famous works, Oliver Twist. “The primary theme in “Oliver Twist” is the age-old battle between good and evil” (enotes 1). The small child Oliver in Oliver Twist demonstrates the survival of good through horrible circumstances. Some of the characters in Oliver Twist were either good or bad: “Characters like Oliver, Mr. Brownlow, and the Maylies are virtuous and those like Fagin, Monks and Sikes are evil” (1). Dickens, himself, stated that he wanted the character of Oliver “to represent the principle of good surviving through manifold adversity and “‘triumphing at last’” (2). Dickens also created characters who had good characteristics but because of bad circumstances, these characters exhibited bad behavior like Nancy and Artful Dodger. “A second theme in the book is the effect of British laws during the first half of the 1800s on the poor. This was the law of the land in England during the 1800s [sic] These laws affected the writings of Charles Dickens in Oliver Twist and many of his other novels. “Reasoning that the enactment of “Poor Laws” would save much money on the care of the indigent, the government confined those mired in poverty in workhouses, where they were starved and mistreated with no avenue of redemption” (1). Anyone who had to go into the workhouses had to live there for twenty-four hours a day, “separated from their children, parents, and spouses, and subject to rigorous discipline and arduous labor” (Gradesaver 1, 2).

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. With this view, they contracted with the waterworks to lay on an unlimited supply of water, and with a corn-factor to supply periodically small quantities of oatmeal, and issued three meals of thin gruel a day, with an onion twice a week and half a roll-on Sundays. They made a great many other wise and humane regulations . . . kindly undertook to divorce poor married people . . . instead of compelling a man to support his family, as they had theretofore done, took his family away from him, and made him a bachelor! There is no saying how many applicants for relief, under these last two heads, might have started up in all classes of society, if it had not been coupled with the workhouse; but the board were long-headed men, and had provided for this difficulty. The relief was inseparable from the workhouse and the gruel, and that frightened people (Sparknotes 1, 2).

This description of workhouses serves to “provoke our sympathy for young Oliver and his fellow unfortunates,… and …to register Dickens’s protest against the welfare policy and practice of charity in …England…. (2). As a result of these laws, lawlessness and crime spiked many times. This had a large influence on the writings of Oliver Twist.

Thievery was another major theme throughout Oliver Twist and other Dickens’ novels. Many times, poverty drives people to commit crimes, “especially petty theft.” Dickens shows how “greed leads to petty theft” in the character of Mrs. Corney. Fagin’s mischievous boys pick-pocketed, broke into houses and even murdered. Fagin corrupted the young boys and directed them to live lives of crime. These young characters accepted thievery as a way to make a living, but most of these “criminals find betrayal and murder detestable” (Coursehero 2).

“Alienation” (1) is another theme found in Oliver Twist. “Each of the characters are alienated both from each other and society. As an orphan, Oliver is the stereotypical outcast, and, with the possible exception of Dick, the people in his life are only out for themselves” (1). Sometimes, the people who were not evil did show “moments of community and trust” (1). This did not happen very often.

The writing style of Charles Dickens is very distinct. Dickens writes poetically using “a lot of satire and consequently humor” (Severin 1). Dickens’ literary career began by writing papers for newspapers in “episodic form” (1). Severin says that Dickens used “cliff hanger endings …to keep his readers interested in his story” (1). These episodes also allowed Dickens and opportunity to “modify the plot and develop the characters” if needed (“The Victorian Era…” 4). Not only was Oliver Twist a monthly serial in Bentley’s Miscellany from February 1837 to April 1839, David Copperfield was “featured from May 1849 to November 1850” (7, 8).

Dickens not only used episodes to write his novels, but he also created “idealized characters,” who had very little “room to grow throughout…the book” (1). Dickens used these “idealized characters to contrast the other side of life...” (1). Oliver, an idealized character, goes through many trials that include an “evil orphanage and a small training center for thieves” (1). Throughout the story, Oliver is “naïve” (1). He never compromises his values even though he has to go through difficult situations (1). Those who read Oliver Twist fall in love with the character because Dickens idealized him.

Another writing style that Dickens uses in his novels, especially in Oliver Twist, is the use of “incredible circumstances” (1). For example, Oliver, grew up with a gang of thieves but eventually, he turns out to be a “nephew of a rich, high class family” (1). Dickens uses this particular writing style differently than other authors during this time period. “While other authors of the period would use the method to further their plot in their simple picturesque stories, Dickens's took the approach that good will triumph over evil sometimes even in very unexpected ways and he used the method of incredible circumstances to show his outlook” (1).

Dickens uses symbols as a writing style “to represent abstract ideas or concepts” (“Oliver Twist...” 1). He uses the names of characters “to represent personal qualities” (1). One of the most obvious examples is Oliver Twist. Even though his last name, “Twist,” was given to him by accident, it reveals “the outrageous reversals of fortune” that will come to him later on in life (1). Rose Maylie’s name brings about images of “flowers and springtime, youth and beauty” (1). Toby Crackit’s name is lightheartedly referring to “his chosen profession of breaking into houses” (1). Mr. Bumble’s name is used to show his “bumbling arrogance” (1). Mrs. Mann’s name distinguishes her “lack of maternal instinct” (1). Mr. Grimwig’s name hints that his “superficial grimness… can be removed as easily as a wig” (1).

Bill Sikes’s dog, Bull’s-eye, has “faults of temper in common with his owner” and is a symbolic emblem of his owner’s character. The dog’s viciousness reflects and represents Sikes’s own animal-like brutality. After Sikes murders Nancy, Bull’s-eye comes to represent Sikes’s guilt. The dog leaves bloody footprints on the floor of the room where the murder is committed. Not long after, Sikes becomes desperate to get rid of the dog, convinced that the dog’s presence will give him away. Yet, just as Sikes cannot shake off his guilt, he cannot shake off Bull’s-eye, who arrives at the house of Sikes’s demise before Sikes himself does. Bull’s-eye’s name also conjures up the image of Nancy’s eyes, which haunts Sikes until the bitter end and eventually causes him to hang himself accidentally (1, 2).

Dickens deliberately uses London Bridge to symbolize Nancy’s decision to speak with Brownlow and Rose on London Bridge. Just as a bridge links two different places together, London Bridge “represents the collision of two worlds unlikely ever to come into contact – the idyllic world of Brownlow and Rose, and the atmosphere of degradation in which Nancy lives” (2). Even though Nancy is given the opportunity to alter her lifestyle, she refuses to make that change.

Just as Dickens was considered to be the “literary colossus” of the Victorian Era in England, Mark Twain was considered to be the “literary colossus” of the Victorian Era in America (Charles Dickens – The…1). Mark Twain’s early years greatly influenced his “classic American novels” (Biography.com Editors 1). After the death of Mark Twain’s father, he and his family struggled financially – “a fact that would shape the career of Mark Twain” (1). Twain grew up in the town of Hannibal, Missouri located on the Mississippi River, “a splendid place to grow up” (2). Hannibal had steamboats, circuses, minstrel shows, revivalists and blacksmiths. Violence, however, was very common in Hannibal. In fact, when Mark Twain was nine years old, he saw a cattle rancher murdered. At the age of ten, he saw an overseer kill a slave with an iron rod. All of these life experiences, as well as “needing a source of income,” (2) influenced Mark Twain to write the “first great American novel, inspiring writers for generations, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Lane 2). The themes in this novel reflects the life experiences of Mark Twain.

The theme of slavery had a big influence on Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The setting for this novel was before the Civil War when “slavery was still legal” (The Adventures of 1). Many characters in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn “are…white slave holders, like Miss Watson, the Grangerford family, and Phelps family” (1). There are other characters in the novel like duke and the king who make money from slavery by “turning Miss Watson’s runaway slave Jim into the Phelpses in exchange for a cash reward” (1). Mark Twain demonstrates very well the theme of slavery and racism. Twain deliberately shows how the slaves were “oppressed, exploited, and physically and mentally abused” through the character of Jim (1). He gives the example of Jim who is “inhumanely” (1) taken away from his wife and children. The “white slave holders rationalized the oppression, exploitation, and abuse of black slaves by ridiculously assuring themselves of a racist stereotype, that black people are mentally inferior to white people, more animal than human” (1). A good example of this is when Jim, a very good man, was suspected to be Huck’s murderer simply because he was a black man. The following quotes show examples of racist stereotyping: “Well, he [Jim] was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a nigger” (2). “When they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed [sic] out. I said I’ll never vote again…I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger put up at auction and sold?” (2). At the beginning of the novel, “Huck himself buys into racial stereotype…” however, by the end of the novel, Huck becomes friends with Jim and “realizes that he and Jim alike are human beings who love and hurt, who can be wise or foolish. Jim proves himself to be a better man than most other people Huck meets in his travels. By the end of the novel, Huck would rather defy his society and his religion – he’d rather go to Hell – than let his friend Jim be returned to slavery” (1).

Another theme one finds in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the theme of “society and hypocrisy” (1). From an early age, Huck Finn observes that the societal “rules and traditions” (4) were many times “ridiculous and inhuman” (4). For example, Huck’s guardian, the Widow Douglas, tries very hard to impose certain “manners and Christian values” (4) on Huck in order to “sivilize” [sic] him. Huck, however, “recognizes that these lessons take more stock in the dean than in living people, and they do little more than make him uncomfortable, bored, and, ironically enough, lonely” (4). Later on, Huck meets people who do “ridiculous, illogical things, often with violent consequences” (4). Another good example of this is when Huck meets a supposedly good family who “bloodily, fatally feud for no reason” (4). He also becomes a witness to a “drunken man get [sic] shot down for making a petty insult” (4). Huck vividly sees how hypocritical the justice system is when his father obtained custody of him. His father, Pap, was anything but a fit father. His father refused to educate Huck, beat him and put him in an “isolated cabin” (4). Mark Twain used the actions of Pap to show “a more widespread and deeply engrained societal problem, namely the institutionalized enslavement of black people” (4). By the end of the novel, Huck realizes that slavery is oppressive and that “no truly “sivilized” [sic] society can be founded on” (4).

One of the major themes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the theme of growing up or “a coming of age story” (7). The main character, Huck, begins “as an immature boy who enjoys goofing around with his boyhood friend, Tom Sawyer, and playing tricks on others” (7). He has been raised with societal norms by Miss Watson and sees some inconsistencies with rules and regulations.

As the novel develops, however, so do Huck’s notions of right and wrong. He learns that rigid codes of conduct, like Christianity, or like that which motivates the Grangerson and Shepherdson’s blood feud, don’t necessarily lead to good results. He also recognizes that absolute selfishness, like that exhibited by Tom Sawyer to a small extent, and that exhibited by Tom’s much worse prankster-counterparts, the duke and the king, is both juvenile and shameful. Huck learns that he must follow the moral intuitions of his heart, which requires that he be flexible in responding to moral dilemmas. And, indeed, it is by following his heart that Huck makes the right decision to help Jim escape from bondage. (7).

In contrast to Tom Sawyer, Huck becomes very “morally mature and realistic” by the end of the novel (7). Just as Mark Twain’s novel themes reflect his life experiences, so does his writing styles. Mark Twain spent most of his life living in the south around the Mississippi River; therefore, Twain was very familiar with the dialect that the people used during this era. This is one reason why Twain writes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn using the dialect of “the 19th century south” (Mark Twain…1). Twain uses dialect “very cleverly throughout the book” (Twains Use of…1). The character of Jim uses a great deal of dialogue throughout the novel; his speech is “full of improper words and phrases” (1). On another occasion, Jim says, “Yes. You know that one-laigged n**** dat belongsto old Misto Brandish? Well, he sot upa bank, en say anybody dat put in a dollar would git fo’ dollars mo’ at de en’er de year” (1). Another example of this is when Jim talks about King Solomon. Jim says, “King Solemon” instead of King Solomon. These quotes show that Jim has very little education and the “inability to pronounce some words correctly” (1). Mark Twain’s “use of dialect in this novel …is truly a work of art” (1).

Another characteristic of Mark Twain’s writing style is his use of humor. In fact, Mark Twain uses different types of humor in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The first type of humor found in the novel is satire. “Religion is the most common example of Twain’s satire, which he communicates through the character Huck Finn” (Humor in Huck…1). In Chapter One and throughout the book, Twain continually ridicules prayer. Widow Douglas, for example, tries to teach Huck the importance of praying and being religious. The Widow Douglas read the Bible story about Moses to Huck. He seemed fascinated by the story and “broke into a deep sweat as he waited to find out more about the biblical figure” (1). It does not take long for Huck to lose interest in the Bible story once he finds out that Moses is dead. This example shows “Twain’s opposition to the blind faith found in church teachings” (1). Another type of humor Twain uses in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is parody. The best example of this parody is when Tom Sawyer is describing to his gang of robbers how he was able to “think of such a “‘beautiful’” oath” (1). The robbers wanted to know if Tom had gotten the idea of the oath from “‘his own head’” (1). Tom told the gang that some of it was from his head, but the narrator says that “the rest was out of pirate books and robber books, and every gang that was high toned had it” (1). This illustration shows that Tom Sawyer lives his life based on “adventure novels and in this case created an oath out of them” (1). Another type of humor in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is burlesque, “specifically through caricature” (1). Twain lampoons Huck’s father by saying that his father was “most fifty, and he looked it. His hair was long and tanged and greasy, and hung down, and you could see his eyes shining through like he was behind vines” (1).

Charles Dickens and Mark Twain unknowingly followed a similar career “route” (1). Dickens and Twain “used their stories to highlight the plight of the downtrodden, and both used the skewer of humor to deflate puffed-up authority figures” (1). Their writings were very popular because the themes and writings styles they used were extremely interesting and entertaining. Charles Dickens and Mark Twain were undoubtedly the most outstanding writers of the Victorian Era in England and in America, respectively.

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Comparative Analysis Of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist And Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 30, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-charles-dickens-oliver-twist-and-mark-twains-the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/
“Comparative Analysis Of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist And Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-charles-dickens-oliver-twist-and-mark-twains-the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/
Comparative Analysis Of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist And Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-charles-dickens-oliver-twist-and-mark-twains-the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/> [Accessed 30 May 2024].
Comparative Analysis Of Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist And Mark Twain’s The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 May 30]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/comparative-analysis-of-charles-dickens-oliver-twist-and-mark-twains-the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/
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