Monday, May 01, 2017

Further thoughts on reading Oliver

Oliver Twist dares you to be uncomfortable as a reader, to look head-on at another's pain and misery. The novel places you in horridly unjust situations time and time again. Will you look away? Will you shrug off another's burden or struggle? Or will you open your eyes, your ears, your heart? Can you stand to stand witness? Or will you cling to Dickens dark and slightly inappropriate humor? If Dickens can find much to laugh about, I can too, right? But is poverty, hunger and starvation, homelessness, and abuse something to make light about...then or now? Just because Oliver Twist gets a happy ending doesn't wipe away the injustices--the deep embedded injustices. Are you willing to think about injustices, specific injustices? Are you willing to do more than think? Are you willing to act? It is easy, it is natural to not dwell on subjects that make us uncomfortable, situations that just don't seem to be 'our problem'. Problems don't disappear because you ignore them; problems don't go away because you ask nicely.

Is the novel still relevant? Domestic abuse happens. Every day it happens. There are women whose lives are in danger. Nancy is not alone in her situation. Unfortunately. For me, it is harder to witness Nancy's plight than Oliver's. What kind of person is Nancy? Brave certainly. Why? She finds a way to have a voice, to speak out to others, to speak up for another. She finds a way to stand by her conviction despite enormous risk. This is no small thing she's doing--and readers should not presume that it is easy for her. I don't think it is. Speaking up reveals inner strength, but what does staying reveal? Could it ever be anything but foolish? Perhaps inevitable is a second choice. We can imagine Nancy's background, how she came to be under the control of Fagin and Sykes, but we haven't--most of us at least--walked in her shoes. We don't know why her heart was so full of love for Bill, we don't know why he was her everything, her whole world. We see a violent, abusive, cruel, domineering man--she sees him differently. It is easy to conclude she's a fool to stay. But are we quick to think we know her? She's spent her whole life being the property of others, doing what she's told, not questioning orders, not speaking back. What changes Nancy so much that she starts thinking for herself, acting for herself, being bold and risky?

She sees something in Oliver perhaps, or maybe there's a life within her that has her thinking of the future? There has to be a moment when she realizes that this is no kind of life to be living, that there is still a chance for Oliver even if she is all out of chances for her own life. Perhaps she is wishing that someone had stepped up to save her. She may not be able to save every child, but Oliver, he can be saved. Once that decision has been made, there's no turning back. Nancy is fiercely brave.

Hunger and homelessness also still persist in the world. Not to mention the buying and selling of women and children. This isn't a one issue problem novel. It is a dark, bleak novel that is written in a tongue in cheek way at times. I let myself become distant so I wouldn't have to deal with the problems--so long as they weren't real to me, I could forget them, right? Yes and no.

Is it right to dismiss injustice because you don't like to feel uncomfortable or awkward?

Oliver Twist was the medicine that I didn't want to swallow because of the way it tasted.


© 2017 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

3 comments:

Jillian said...

Really excellent remarks on this book. I really should reread. I didn't much like it when I read it (a few years ago), but possibly that is the point.

Paula Vince said...

This post and your earlier one makes me want to re-read too. You've made some excellent points. We put it on as a school production years ago, with all the cheerful musical numbers, but the underlying hurts and injustices do stick in your mind. Regarding Nancy and Bill, I read an interesting article years ago by a psychologist that she had Stockholm Syndrome, but it was so long ago, not sure I'd be able to find it.

Joy Weese Moll said...

There really are lots of modern-day equivalents to the problems that Dickens makes so clear in Oliver Twist.