Childhood in Novels by Charles Dickens

Childhood in Novels by Charles Dickens



Childhood in Novels by Charles Dickens

Daniela Němcová


The main topic of my thesis is the theme of childhood in the novels Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations. Each of the novels has one main child protagonist and many other child characters which play subordinate roles in the plot and in the construction of the whole novel. The novels were selected because of the fact that the theme of childhood is crucial for them.  Let me now briefly introduce and describe the structure of the thesis.
The aim of this thesis is to examine the approaches to childhood in the novels mentioned. Certainly the reader will be interested in the way in which Dickens depicts the main heroes of his novels. How he portrays them in their childhood and at the beginnings of the stories can tell us quite a lot about the future development of their characters. In the pages that follow it will be shown that the story of the main protagonist in each novel is formed by his family situation which is the key factor which determines the approach to the child in the novel. However, not only the description of the hero´s family is important in Dickens. The contrast between families in different social strata may tell us a lot. Some similarities can be found among all three protagonists Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Pip. They are orphans and this fact predestines their fates. However, the family situation and family background from which these characters originate differ in the novels. Oliver Twist is an orphan born in the workhouse and lives without any relatives from the very beginning of the story. He is portrayed as abandoned orphan without any living siblings or other relatives. However, David Copperfield´s family situation at the beginning of his story is different. Although he is born as a child without a father, he spends part of his early childhood with his own mother and at the very beginning of the story his aunt is present on the scene. Similarly, Pip has his own family around him. He lives with his older sister and her husband Joe. We will see that the family situation and social status have a big influence on the development of the stories.
It seems clear that we cannot look at the main protagonists separately and that we must at least briefly point out some other child characters that play important and relevant roles in the stories. The character of Oliver Twist is certainly related to other children in the novel. The gang of young thieves and children in the workhouse in Oliver Twist play as important role as for example the character of Estella does in Great Expectations. Therefore also these characters will be briefly mentioned and commented on.
The analysis of the characters in the novels should not be done without regard to a wider context. All the characters are related to the environment in which they exist and behave in some ways. The settings of the novels, as well as the social status of the children, are probably related to the main characters and therefore some space will be devoted to these aspects of the novels.
When analysing the aspects of childhood in the novels it might be useful to mention the social situation in the Victorian society and mainly its consequences for the children. Due to the fact that Dickens´s works were extremely popular and widely read in his time, it might be useful to take into account the socio-historical context of the period. There might be some connections between the literature and reality and the writer might be influenced by the reality to some extent. Therefore a chapter dealing with historical background of Victorian England is included. Moreover, the first chapter of this thesis examines the concept of childhood because it might be useful to see how the concept of childhood has been created and how it has changed.
The whole thesis includes four chapters. These are divided into smaller parts in accordance to the topics. The following chapters seek to introduce the historical context of Victorian England and consequently to show that the child characters are depicted in relation to other characters and that the author depicts his heroes in relation to their family background and examines their family situations. The first chapter is called “The Concept of Childhood and Historical Background” and deals with the society of Victorian era and especially with the living conditions of children.  My sources dealing with the historical situation are used for this chapter. I have used Reader´s Life in Victorian England and The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800   by Lawrence Stone. This chapter also contains a brief view on concepts of childhood and family and on the changes which these concepts had to undergo. The three following chapters deal with the novels in chronological order and are named after the novels they deal with. At the beginning of each chapter the novel and plot are mentioned in general to provide a general overview of the novel and to introduce specific aspects of the childhood in particular novel, which are relevant to the topic. Then the secondary sources related to the chapter concerned are mentioned and evaluated. Mainly printed books and electronic sources such as articles are used.  The chapter called “Oliver Twist” shows how Dickens criticised society in his novel and the main protagonist is depicted in relation to the description of society in which he exists and with which he has to struggle. The following chapter deals mainly with the development of the main protagonist David, because the theme of his maturing plays an important role in the novel. Similarly, the chapter “Great Expectations” deals with the topic of one´s maturity and development. In this chapter, the power of an adult influence on children characters is emphasised. Finally, in the conclusion the approaches to childhood in the novels selected are compared and contrasted.



As already mentioned in the introduction, in this chapter the concept of childhood and the way of life of children in Victorian England are examined. It is very difficult to define the concept of childhood, but it might be at least useful for the reader to mention some ideas concerning childhood. Chris Jenks´s book Childhood is used in this chapter. Jenks is primarily a sociologist and although we do not attempt to examine childhood from a sociological point of view, it might be interesting to see how sociology defines it because sociology examines society, and literature is an inseparable part of society and culture.  Then we focus on how the concept of childhood has changed and these changes are well described in the work Centuries of Childhood by Philippe Ariès. Ariès was a medieval historian who focused on childhood and although his book primarily deals with French culture, his notions are applicable to western culture in general. Another source used in this chapter is the book The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800 by Lawrence Stone. This book is used because it is focused on England and it explains the changes in family life in the period leading up to the nineteenth century. Despite the fact that the reader must be aware that this book does not deal with the Victorian era, it is useful for us. If we want to examine life in Victorian England, we should know what changes preceded the situation of the Victorian era. A lot of useful information about the social situation can be found also in Life in Victorian England by W. Reader.

The concept of childhood and its changes

The image of childhood has changed over time as well as the modes of the recognition and reception of childhood. The recent approaches to the study of childhood suggest that childhood should be understood as a social phenomenon (or cultural product) not as a natural (or biological) one. And Jenks in his study proposes that: “The social transformation from child to adult does not follow directly from physical growth and the recognition of children by adults, and vice versa, is not singularly contingent upon physical difference” (Jenks 7).
When we examine childhood and its changes we should always bear in mind the relation between child and adult because the attitude towards children has changed in accordance to the way in which the adults have recognized children. As Stone points out there were several different attitudes towards new-born children in the seventeenth century. The traditional Christian view saw children as sinful creatures. Stone explains how these children were treated according to this view:
The first, and the most common, was the traditional Christian view, strongly reinforced by Calvinist theology, that the child is born with Original Sin, and that the only hope of holding it in check is by the most ruthless repression of his will and his total subordination to his parents, schoolmasters and others in authority over him. (Stone 255)
The environmentalist view considered children not to be bad and not to be good. The child was viewed as tabula rasa which is formed by future experience.  “In the eighteenth-century England the environmental theory tended to supersede the Calvinist in middle- and upper-class circles, before it was overwhelmed again in the nineteenth century.” (Stone 256). Others claimed that character qualities and abilities are genetically determined and that education can only strengthen the good ones and restrain the bad ones. And finally utopians suggested that the child is born good and is corrupted by its experience in the society.
The sources used for this chapter suggest that the manner of children´s recognition by adults and patterns of child care changed through the passage of time. Accordingly we might have the impression that in the Middle Ages until the twelfth century there was no place for childhood in art and in society in general. It seems that society was not aware of the existence of the concept of childhood. When it is suggested that the concept of childhood did not exist in early medieval society, the adults were not fully aware of the difference between them and children. The first evidence that the society became aware of the children´s difference is the fact that children came to be portrayed and depicted in paintings and literature. With the only exception of Jesus children were scarcely portrayed in medieval paintings. And they were not portrayed as children in modern times, but they looked like adults.
They were apparently considered of such little importance that they did not warrant representation in a unique and particular form. Where such images do occur, as by necessity in the motif of the Madonna and child, the baby Jesus appears uniformly, from example to example, as a small shrunken man, a wizened homunculus without the rounded appeal and vulnerability of the latter-day infant. (Jenks 64)
Ariès explains that the situation changed in the seventeenth century when children became central themes of family portraits:
No doubt that the discovery of childhood began in the thirteenth century, and its progress can be traced in the history of art in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. But the evidence of its development became more plentiful and significant from the end of the sixteenth century and throughout the seventeenth. (Ariès 47)
Another important change concerning childhood took place in the seventeenth century. Until the seventeenth century children had been dressed as adults. However, from the seventeenth century onwards we can see portraits of children dressed in children´s clothing. In this we can see another aspect in which the children were distinguished from adults. This change was more observable in boys clothing because girls were dressed from childhood as little women. Clothes worn by adults looked very similar to children clothes. Children wore on their clothes special ornament which distinguished their clothes from the clothes of their parents. In case of little babies it was hard to distinguish between boys and girls with reference to their clothes. It should be mentioned that all these differences in clothing were related only to middle and upper classes of the society. Children in the lower classes were dressed in the same way as adults.
We can see that the seventeenth century played a crucial role in the changes of attitudes towards children in some ways. The eighteenth century was even more important in some aspects. The development of the notion of childhood is manifested by the fact that in the second half of the eighteenth century and in the early nineteenth century we can already find writers who produced books for children. Jigsaws, games and various toys became available for children. In the eighteenth century we can also notice that a great change in parent-child relations took place in the upper classes of the society. More and more children in the upper classes started to call their parents “mother” and “father” instead of “Sir” or “Madam”. Until the eighteenth century parents had not spent much time with their children and these were often left to their governesses and wet-nurses. As Stone claims, in the eighteenth century relations between parents and children in higher classes became more affectionate, more permissive and families became more child-oriented. Mainly mothers changed their priorities and became strongly attached to children:
Many wives and mothers, when faced with the choice of personally supervising their children, or leaving them to servants, nurses and governesses and accompanying their husbands on pleasure or business, unhesitatingly chose the former, despite the recognized probability that the decision would drive their husbands into the arms of a prostitute or mistress. (Stone 288)
We should bear in mind that this was the case of upper classes. In lower-middle class families strict discipline was demanded and we might gain the impression that the children were not treated so affectionately in lower class families throughout the whole eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It might seem reasonable to presume that in families of the poor the situation was even worse. The poor were much more affected by their living conditions and consequently their attitudes towards children were different. As Stone suggests, cruel behaviour towards children was not exceptional. “They were in the habit of treating their children occasionally with rough, even extravagant affection in good times, and with casual indifference, and not infrequently with great brutality, when in drink or in bad times.” (Stone 295). In these families contraception was not widely used. Women who had to look after the children were unable to work and earn money. Consequently the poverty of these families increased and children were often exposed to malnutrition. It might be like that the children were often needed to increase the income of the family and therefore they were forced to work from their early age. Many illegitimate and also legitimate children were left abandoned in the streets. Therefore foundling hospitals and workhouses were established to look after them. Stone proposes that despite the fact that these institutions saved the children from the death in the streets, their life in these institutions was miserable:
During the eighteenth century rapidly increasing numbers of infants were simply abandoned in the streets, and left to become a charge on the parish. Most of them were sent off to the parish workhouses, which were built after 1722, and where the death rate was almost as high as if they had been in the streets. (Stone 297)
The prospects of these children were miserable. Girls were sometimes used for prostitution and boys could be enslaved by various criminals. The atmosphere of these miserable conditions is depicted in Dickens´s novels, as will be shown.
Another contribution of the eighteenth century was that it also brought change to teaching methods. These were less brutal and less violent. Flogging and other brutal practices were not recommended any more.
From what we have known about the situation of children in the eighteenth century and beginning of the nineteenth century, we can probably understand why Stone claims that the eighteenth century is recognized as “Golden Age of Childhood”. All these changes that took place in the eighteenth century pre-empted the development in the nineteenth century.
Theme of childhood also appeared in English literature. The first poets who brought it into literature were William Wordsworth and William Blake.
The theme of child care and education was also subject of philosophical writings of the whole seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One of the philosophers who were interested in this topic was John Locke. He published his Some Thoughts Upon Education in 1693. Stone points out that beyond other issues he expressed his opinions on physical punishment:
He approved of physical punishment, in moderation, at an early age                 before a child had developed powers of reasoning.  After that, however,               he insisted on the almost exclusive use of psychological stimulus of                 competition and emulation and the psychological punishment of shame                at failure. He flatly declared that flogging was wholly ineffective as a                 means of moral or intellectual improvement. (Stone 280)
In the eighteenth century Jean Jacques Rousseau produced another important and influential work on educational theory. In his Émile: or, On Education he recommended education for children adapted to their age. Rousseau was not an advocate of corporal punishments and he preferred learning through experience as we have already mentioned (Stone 256).
We can see that many changes concerning the attitude towards childhood and child rearing practises took place in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Therefore when we talk about the Victorian period and nineteenth century this development should be taken into account.

Children in Victorian England

  Let us move on and examine the conditions to which children were exposed in the Victorian era. By Victorian era we understand the period of Queen Victoria´s reign from 1837 until 1901. Also in the nineteenth century the living conditions of people were dependent on their social status. The prospects of children from well situated families were different from the expectations of children whose parents were at the bottom of the social scale.
From reading about life in Victorian England we might have the impression that the gentry could afford to live quite a comfortable life. Their children were educated privately at home or they attended local grammar schools. During Victoria´s reign boarding schools became very fashionable.
School education was a part of life for middle-class children as well. They also attended grammar schools and private schools and the educational institutions varied according to their prestige. Cheaper schools naturally considered to be worse than the more expensive ones. J.W. Reader remarks that attitudes towards education for boys and girls were different. Requirements for girls´ education were specific in some ways:
They were generally supposed to be less in need of “mental cultivation” than boys, and less capable of it, and too much education was thought to ruining their prospects in the marriage market. On the other hand they were expected to have certain “accomplishments”, particularly music and drawing, and a smattering of ill-assorted, undigested general knowledge, ranging from the dates of the Kings of England to the origins of guano. (Reader 121)
Children coming from working class families also attended schools if their family situation allowed them to do so. In many cases the education meant better start for their lives and future careers.
Children from poor family backgrounds were not usually so lucky and they could not spend their time at schools. Both parents usually had to work and support the family and therefore small children were often looked after by their older siblings. Also the work of small children in poor families was needed. They had to work to earn money and also at home. We might notice in various sources that children were often employed for example in textile industry. In the 1840s this work was regulated by law, but there still remained unregulated trades exploiting children. Young boys were often employed as chimney sweeps. The profession of chimney sweeper is mentioned also in Oliver Twist. According to Reader, only young and tiny boys were suitable for this work and the job was very dangerous and hard. “The job meant climbing up long, twisting soot-covered flues, and the brutality required to get a boy to do it was sickening.(Reader 87).
As will be shown in the following chapters, Dickens´s children characters are set into similar conditions and therefore the world of his books stood very close to the world of the readers in his time. This fact probably helped to increase his popularity among his contemporaries.




Oliver Twist

This chapter deals with the novel Oliver Twist which first appeared in the magazine Bentley´s Miscellany in 1837. An immense and quite complicated plot is developed in this book as well as in all Dickens´s novels. Characters of the novel come from all classes of society and mainly the lots of people living in the lowest positions in society and the reality of their daily life are presented in the novel. In this novel the readers might witness author´s strong social commentary. Particularly the conditions of living in the streets and workhouses or other charitable institutions are depicted and criticised. On the other hand, country life is strongly idealized and the picture of the countryside seems to be very contrastive to that of the city life. The main protagonist of the novel is Oliver Twist, an orphan born in an unnamed workhouse in an unnamed town.
The chapter aims to elaborate on the relationships among the characters and to show how they influence each other. It also attempts to explain how Dickens works with child´s perspective and the portrayal of the family. All these aspects are analysed to provide a wider insight into the approaches to childhood in the novel mentioned. The analysis presented in this chapter is divided into several sections and each section deals with its own topic. Firstly the observations have been made and these are shown on the textual evidence from primary literature. Also the information from secondary sources support the ideas presented in the chapter.
Because Oliver´s story is related to many other characters and it might be useful for further analysis of the novel to outline its plot very briefly at first. Oliver´s story begins in a workhouse where he is born and where his mother dies giving a birth. There he spends the first nine years of his life and later he is apprenticed to Mr Sowerberry, an undertaker. After his escape from Sowerberry, he fleets to London where he joins a gang of young thieves overmastered by an old Jew, Fagin. After being caught at picking pockets, he lives at Mr Brownlow´s where he recovers from an illness and where he experiences kindness and love for the first time in his life. Consequently he is kidnapped back to Fagin´s gang and involved in a burglary. When injured and almost killed, the inmates of the house which he tried to rob take him inside and they all live together for some time. Then many things from his past are revealed and the reader is told about Oliver´s background. It is brought to light that one of the thieves is Oliver´s half-brother and that he tried to destroy all evidence about this fact. The story of a girl from the gang, Nancy, is finished when she is killed by one of Fagin´s pals. At the end, Oliver comes to a big fortune, he inherits some money from his father and is adopted by Mr Brownlow. It also comes to light that Rose Maylie, the girl who takes care of Oliver in the country, is his aunt (a younger sister of his deceased mother). Fagin is imprisoned and consequently hanged. Oliver lives together with Mr Brownlow in the country near to their friends.
The whole story is set into the 1830´s England, so time of the story is closely related to the time in which the novel was written and published.


The main protagonist and other child characters

The first section of this chapter examines the depiction of the main character and also some interesting issues related to secondary child characters. Unlike in the novels David Copperfield and Great Expectations, the main protagonist´s story in this novel does not continue to his adulthood. Oliver´s story begins with his birth and ends when he is yet a boy or a young man. A great deal of space in the novel is devoted to the description of Oliver´s miserable living conditions, his sufferings and inner feelings of terror. When the reader witnesses the scenes from the workhouse also a strong and harsh social criticism should be taken into account. The rules on which the workhouses are based, as well as the laws concerning the poor valid in England, are not only described, but also judged there with irony. “What a noble illustration of the tender laws of England! They let the paupers go to sleep!” (Oliver Twist 13). This quote comments on the end of the day when Oliver goes to sleep after picking oakum together with other children.
A realistic description of the workhouse conditions is gained through describing various kinds of sufferings that children had to undergo. Apart from the fact that they were beaten and had to work hard, they suffered from starvation as shown in the first part of the novel: “Oliver Twist and his companions suffered the tortures of slow starvation for three months...” (Oliver Twist 15). Children were not abused only physically but also mentally. Adults consider Oliver and other children inferior and they often and strongly express that they look down on such beings as children. There is not any hope for children in adult´s behaviour and comments on children´s future destinies. Current social conditions of the orphans in the workhouse are considered satisfactory and Oliver is considered to be of a rebellious character. The child is intentionally terrified about his future and his prospects. Even the authorities do not seem to deal with children as with valuable human beings: “  ̀That boy will be hung,ʼ said the gentleman in the white waistcoat. ̀I know that boy will be hung.ʼ ” (Oliver Twist 16).
Despite these miserable conditions which are described in the former paragraphs, the reader might gain the impression that the character of Oliver Twist does not endure the inner development in the same way as for example the main protagonist of Great Expectations does. Instead of that, Oliver´s moral qualities seem not to be damaged by the influence of his background. Even after his life with thieves he is presented as a naive, pure and innocent child, who, despite his life experiences and tortures, still believes in good:
The darkness and the deep stillness of the room were very solemn; as they brought into the boy´s mind the thought that death had been hovering there, for many days and nights, and might yet fill it with the gloom and dread of his awful presence, he turned his face upon the pillow, and fervently prayed to Heaven. (Oliver Twist  98)
The main protagonist does not seem to undergo significant changes of character. The reader might have the impression that the author seems to be concerned in the description of protagonist´s living conditions and injustices rather than in the portrayal of his character development.
From this point of view, the character of Nancy can be interpreted in a similar way. She is a girl whose life is also miserable, she lives among the thieves and she is something like a prostitute for Sikes. However, her good character qualities do not seem to be much harmed by her surroundings. She is presented as a compassionate young girl, who tries to do her best to protect Oliver from beating and who dares to disobey Fagin: “ ̀I won´t stand by and see it done, Fagin,ʼ cried the girl.  ̀You´ve got the boys, and what more would you have? – Let him be – let him be – or I shall put that mark on some of you, that will bring me to the gallows before my time.ʼ” (Oliver Twist 143). In fact, Nancy sacrifices her own life to protect and save Oliver.
On the other hand, some of the child characters seem to be already accustomed to their way of life in bad society and this is the case of the young thieves in Fagin´s gang, who seems to be quite conciliated with their lots and convinced that this way of life is not so bad and uncomfortable after all. Although we do not have much information about their former way of life, it might be supposed that they come from the poor family backgrounds. Lanckford regards them as victims of the society in fact: “By the plot´s subliminal logic these are the workhouse boys again, grown older, no longer asking for more but taking it, and at least partly justified by the corruption and injustice of the society on which they prey.” (Lanckford 22).


The child´s perspective

The narrator of the novel describes the world through child´s eyes in some situations. He is well aware that children do not think in the same way as the adults do and that they do not understand everything. Oliver for example does not know the meaning of the word “orphan” and it must be explained to him simply: “ ̀Boy,ʼ said the gentleman in the high chair, ̀listen to me. You know that you´re an orphan, I suppose? ʼ  ̀What´s that, sir?ʼ inquired poor Oliver.” (Oliver Twist 12). The narrator can put himself in child´s place and accept his way of thinking. Consequently also the reader can easily identify himself with the child.
The author emphasizes child´s feelings and his point of view in the novel very much. As Lanckford points out, the narrator is focused on child´s feelings especially at the beginning of the novel:
Throughout the early chapters Oliver has been the psychological and moral center of the action. While the other characters are presented almost exclusively in a theatrical mode, their identity established only as it is indicated by their actions and appearance, Oliver´s inner feelings are described directly by the narrator. (Lanckford 23)
As an example, the author shows how children are terrified in the environment that is not suitable for them. And Oliver has to face many situations that are not convenient for child´s psyche. When he is left at Sowerberry´s to sleep among the coffins, a feeling of horror and scare appears: “Oliver, being left to himself in the undertaker´s shop, set the lamp down on a workman´s bench, and gazed timidly about him with a feeling of awe and dread, which many people a good deal older than he, will be at no loss to understand.” (Oliver Twist 36). The author´s concentration on Oliver´s feelings might be an attempt to show how children´s feeling and thinking are different from adults. And if children think differently they should not be treated as adults.

The portrayal of the family in relation to childhood

The picture of the family is closely related to the theme of childhood. A portrait of an ideal and functional family cannot be found in Oliver Twist. The main hero comes from the workhouse and when the reader learns something about his family background he realizes that Oliver can be called a bastard. In fact he is a child born out of an extramarital relationship. In addition, there does not appear a typical family consisting of two parents and children in the whole novel. Instead of this classical family model, other types of “families” can be found there. Other people attempts to substitute parents and play their roles for Oliver Twist. The authorities in the workhouse, Mr Bumble and Mrs Mann, substitute the parents in some aspects. They have a big influence on children in the workhouse and try to bring them up. However, it is clear that this substitution is not successful at all. Mr Brownlow and Mrs Bedwin, who take really parental care of Oliver when he is ill, also substitute his parents for some time. However, their tender care seems to be very contrastive to the behaviour of the authorities of the parish workhouses. As a result of their devotion, Oliver´s feelings change from fear and misery into grace and feelings of tranquillity. His sojourn at Mr Brownlow´s is depicted as something completely different to his up to now life experience: “They were happy days, those of Oliver´s recovery. Everything was so quiet, and neat, and orderly; everybody was kind and gentle; that after the noise and turbulence in the midst of which he had always lived, it seemed like Heaven itself.”(Oliver Twist 116). As Frederick suggests in his article, the same feeling of safety are typical for Oliver´ sojourn at Mrs Maylie´s: “We recognize at once the crucial role of Mr. Brownlow´s and Mrs. Maylie´s homes as havens in the uncompromisingly dichotomized world of the novel. Only here can Oliver breathe, only here does he know kindness and civility.” (Frederick 465). These quotes demonstrate how important the author considers even the illusion of a functional home for a child.
From one point of view it might be said that although there are not typical families in the novel, groups of people who might be regarded as families in some aspects can be found there. The inmates of the house that is robed can be regarded as a kind of family. Also Fagin´s gang of thieves might be regarded as a substitution of a real family for the boys. Frederick considers Fagin´s gang to be “a parody of domestic life”. (Frederick 467)
The marriages in the novel are unhappy and damaged. Oliver´s first experience of domestic life is represented by Sowerberry´s family. The marriage and subsequently the family life of Mr Bumble and Mrs Corney are presented is a similar way. The tone of its description is strongly ironic. Their marriage is not the marriage based on mutual love and respect. It rather looks like a constant fight for supremacy. This indicates that the marriages which are not based on love and could never be happy and satisfactory. Even the relationship of Oliver´s parents is depicted as problematic because of external influences and the reader might suppose that the split-up of Oliver´s parents brought his mother to the life on street and consequently this background destroyed a happy start of his life. 
The theme of the importance of blood ties among the relatives and family ties generally seems to be presented in the novel as well. Two people to whom Oliver inclines became his relatives at the end of the novel. The reader realizes that Rose Maylie is in fact Oliver´s aunt and Mr Brownlow adopts Oliver as his son. From the development of the novel it seems that a real value of human relationships is not dependent on blood ties. It seems that more important are the opinions shared and social and family background in which the characters live. Despite the fact that Monks is Oliver´s half-brother, they do not share any positive emotions for each other. On the contrary, Oliver´s warm relationship with Rose and Mr Brownlow are formed on the basis of his life experience with them.
In conclusion, it could be said that in Oliver Twist the author examines the way of life of the orphans, who are dependent on social institutions, and their living conditions are strongly criticised. Although the novel is narrated by the omniscient narrator, the main hero´s point of view is crucial and the whole society is depicted in relation to the main child character and its story. The classic model of the family is broken in the book and the uneasiness of life without functional family background and support is depicted. Therefore it might be reasonable to presume that by this the importance of family for children is emphasized. Through the description of Oliver´s feelings the importance of a child and its point of view are highlighted. The main child protagonist seems not to be so active in life than for example Pip in Great Expectations. Oliver´s adventures and experiences seem to happen more or less without his active participation. The ending of the novel, that is totally different from the destiny of a poor child at the beginning, might lead the reader to an agreement with Lanckford who suggests that Oliver might be seen as an allegoric character rather than a real boy (Lanckford 20).

David Copperfield

This chapter considers the novel David Copperfield which was published in its serial form in 1849 and a year later published as a novel. Many literary critics consider this novel to be based on Dickens´s own life experiences and the most autobiographical one of all his novels. Likewise other Dickens´s novels it gives an elaborated depiction of childhood as it shows a life progress of the main child character. This chapter attempts to show the depiction of childhood, child characters and their family background. Although the social institutions are not criticised in the novel so openly and directly as they are for example in Oliver Twist, still a disorder of the world and its rules are presented here. The main character is a boy named David, who is also a narrator of the whole story. The novel follows his life experiences from his childhood till his maturity and deals with his adulthood as well as with his childhood.
The analysis of the novel aims to examine the development of the main protagonist, the relationships among him and other important characters and also the portrayal of the family in David Copperfield. Separate sections deal with the topics mentioned and textual evidence supporting the ideas and coming from both primary and secondary literature are employed.
Obviously David´s story is related to many secondary characters which influence his development and therefore the plot of the story might be briefly outlined. The novel begins when David is born as a fatherless child and lives with his childish young mother and with his nurse Pegotty. This period of David´s life is portrayed as a very happy and cheerful period. The situation changes when his mother marries Mr Murdstone and he and his sister begin overmastering his mother and a whole house. David is separated from his dear Pegotty and sent to a school where he is not treated very kindly. His mother is exhausted from the living with the authoritative Murdstones and she dies soon after the birth of David´s younger brother. David is sent to work in wine-bottling industry. Because he cannot bear the conditions there he escapes to his aunt Miss Betsey Trotwood who had visited his mother on the day of his birth and disappeared after the recognition that David is a boy. Surprisingly, this woman takes care of him and settles their affairs that David can stay with her forever. He lives together with his aunt and Mr Dick for some time and then he goes to a school run by Doctor Strong. While at school he is lodged at Mr Wickfield and his daughter Agnes. There he also meets Uriah Heep. After his graduation David goes to Yarmouth to visit Pegotty and her family with which he is associated. On his journey he meets Steerforth, a schoolmate from his first school. He still dotes on him, visits him at his home and then persuades him to join him on the journey. After their return David is apprenticed at Mr Spenlow, a lawyer, and falls in love with his daughter Dora. Then some space is also devoted to the destinies of Tommy Traddles, a schoolmate of his and Steerforth, and Little Emily, David´s childish love. Emily runs away with Steerforth who promised her to make her a lady. Mr Pegotty who brought her up is grief-stricken and decides to find her and bring her back. Mr Wickfield, Miss Betsey and other people fall into financial problems because of a cheater Uriah Heep. David marries Dora and feels generally happy despite their troubles. Mr Pegotty and David find Emilly with her friend´s help. Steerforth live at an unknown place. At the end of the novel Steerforth is killed by the sea storm, Mr Pegotty, Emilly and the Micawbers go to Australia. Dora dies as a result of her miscarriage and David marries Agnes with whom he lives in a happy family. An unfortunate boy Tobby Traddles makes a fortune and lives quite comfortably with his wife and family, too. Both he and David reach successful career.

David´s childhood and his development

A pretty detailed description of David´s childhood experiences and feelings is depicted in the novel, mainly in its first twenty chapters. These chapters are narrated from a child´s point of view and this might be the reason why they have a strong emotional impact on the reader. David has a very warm relationship with his mother and he considers their living alone only with Pegotty to be the happiest time of his life. Although his mother is regarded as a very naive and girlish person, she devotes all her life to David and his upbringing. It is David´s mother who represents home for him and in the opening chapters her irreplaceable role in David´s life in emphasized. When David returns home from his trip with Pegotty and thinks of their home, he becomes aware that without his mother his home would mean nothing: “...and I felt, all the more for the sinking of my spirits, that it was my nest, and that my mother was my comforter and friend.” (David Copperfield 39). However, their relationship is very soon harmed by David´s step-father and his sister. It is shown how the child suffers from forthcoming changes in his life. His mother marries without letting him know about it and he is very surprised and even frustrated by the changes in her approach towards him which he cannot understand at all. Although she always behaved affectionately, when David returns home from the trip, he is welcomed in a surprisingly stoic manner: “On one side of the fire sat my mother; on the other, Mr Murdstone. My mother dropped her work, and arose hurriedly, but timidly, I thought.” (David Copperfield 41). From this moment onwards everything in David´s home and life is changed. David´s life with Mr Murdstone and their relationship is depicted as a horrible experience for a small boy. He is treated with disregard to his person and later also physically punished. For Murdstone David has the same value as an animal, maybe even worse, and their conflicts become more and more important. “ ̀David,ʼ he said, making his lips thin, by pressing them together, ̀if I have an obstinate horse or dog to deal with, what do you think I do? ʼ  ̀I don´t know.ʼ  ̀I beat him.ʼ”(David Copperfield 43). From this quote it is evident that David is worth for nothing in Murdstone´s eyes and his existence is compared to the existence of an animal. However, despite all these problems and sufferings with the Murdstones, David has another person who cares for him beside his mother, and that is Pegotty. The reader might notice that David realizes her importance for him when they have to separate for the first time in his life:
From that night there grew up in my breast a feeling for Pegotty which I cannot very well define. She did not replace my mother; no one could do that; but she came into a vacancy in my heart, which closed upon her, and I felt towards her something I have never felt for any other human being. (David Copperfield 55)
Early in his childhood David has a very strong feeling of guilt as well as some other Dickens´s child characters. When he bites Mr Murdstone in a self-defence, he is aware of the meaning of this action and reflects on in this way: “My stripes were sore and stiff, and made me cry afresh, when I moved; but they were nothing to the guilt I felt. It lay heavier on my breast than if I had been a most atrocious criminal, I dare say.” (David Copperfield 53).
David´s suffering in childhood continues at school where the boys are frightened by Mr Creakle and where David is humiliated by the sign he has to wear on his back as a result of biting Mr Murdstone.
Although the deathbed scenes are not depicted directly in the novel, the reader might probably feel that happy time of David´s life and the feeling of safety ends with his mother´s death. It can be also interpreted as an end of one period and start of his new life. “The mother who lay in the grave was the mother of my infancy; the little creature in her arms was myself, as I had once been, hushed for ever on her bosom.” (David Copperfield 117)
Then the description of his life in a wine bottling factory follows, but the reader is not informed about the horrors of this work in details. It is only pointed out that David does not like it and decides to change his current situation. David´s life at his aunt´s seems to be quite comfortable and here the story moves to his adulthood.
To sum up, the terror of David´s life with the people who do not care about him and who does not love him is depicted with all its horrors and misery.
What should be commented on is David´s development. It might be interesting to mention that, in comparison to the other novels elaborated on in this thesis, in David Copperfield the bigger part of the book deals with David´s maturity than with his childhood experiences. The childhood is depicted colourfully with all its horrors and suffering. However, David´s graduation at the age of seventeen is the turning point of the novel. Although he is already a young man physically, David is not mature in terms of his behaviour and thinking. Throughout the whole novel his mental development into an adult man is described. Therefore we witness the development from a naive, innocent and pure child into an adult who knows how to behave in the society and how the world is ordered. As Hornback points out in his essay, this development is characterized by the fact that as a boy “David is required to relinquish his innocence” (Hornback 663). Also secondary characters have an influence on this development, but some of them are more important than others. Steerforth definitely represents a negative influence on David. Even as an adult, he admires Steerforth unlimitedly and it seems that he is not aware of Steerforth negative qualities such as snobbery, arrogance etc. The following quote, which contains David´s reaction on their meeting, demonstrates how David dotes on Steerforth: “ ̀I never, never, never, was so glad! My dear Steerforth, I am so overjoyed to see you! ʼ” (David Copperfield 248). On the other hand, Agnes, who is depicted as an innocent creature warns David against Steerforth. However, David is still very boyish and naive in his thinking about other people and he rejects all these warnings: “  ̀Then, Agnes, you wrong him very much. He my bad Angel, or any one´s! He is anything but a guide, a support, and a friend to me! ʼ ” (David Copperfield 313).
The novel ends when David has a functional and happy family with Agnes, when he has realized that Steerforth was not honest with him and only exploited him.

The child´s perspective

This novel is narrated in the first person instead of the omniscient narrator. It is evident that the first part of the novel, which is narrated from the child´s point of view, deals with the child´s feelings and impressions more than the chapters in following parts of the novel. Sometimes, the narrator comments on the events from his adult point of view.
In the beginning of the novel our attention is directed toward the “Adventures” of young David because they are his, and David the narrator is telling us about himself as a child in the world. Later, our attention is redirected, and the narrator tells us to look at the world as David grew to look at it, and as it affected him. (Hornback 664)
In the narrative, the child´s perspective is juxtaposed with the adult´s point of view. The narrative of David as a boy is changed with David´s retrospective commentaries. And as Worth points out, they differ in some ways: “Young David´s clear-eyed but necessarily imperfect perception of what is happening alternates with the mature David´s retrospective musings in the significance of these childhood events.” (Worth 99). Dickens for example shows that children reflect the world differently to adults. At the beginning of the novel when the narrator informs us about the relationships among Doctor Strong and his young wife Annie, child narrator is without any suspicion that Annie might have another relationship with her cousin. On the contrary, the adult reader can immediately recognize the hints of suspicion such as a “lost” ribbon.
That the chapters describing David´s work are depicted differently than the rest of his childhood is evident from Worth´s commentary:
Dickens´s treatment of David´s awful period “in service of Murdstone and Grinby” is handled somewhat differently. We know it was awful because the mature David tells us so (and because we know about its real-life analog), but beyond a rather tame paragraph or two in Chapter 11 he actually shows us nothing of its horrors. (Worth 101)
The fact that the episodes about his work at the factory are narrated from a somehow detached point of view and the chapters of his early childhood are more focused on his feelings and emotions might indicate that the author wants to emphasize the meaning of emotional support and family background for a child.

The portrayal of the family and its function

The pictures of the families in David Copperfield are not the portrayals of the typical family units. The main character himself becomes an orphan. Little Emily and Ham living with Mr Pegotty are orphans as well. Also Tommy Traddles and Steerforth as well as other boys in school are children without parents. Steerforth and Uriah Heep live only with their mothers and their characters are influenced by that. The adult characters as Miss Betsey, Pegotty, Mr Dick live alone without their own children and husbands or wives. It is clear that the ideal of a typical family construction is broken in the novel. The only complete family represented by the parents and children is Mr Micawber´s family. A great deal of attention is focused on the relationship between parents and children in the novel. These can be divided into several types. The first group is represented by the relationships between Agnes and her father and between Mr Pegotty and little Emily. Although Emily is Mr Pegotty´s niece, he adopted her and treats her like his own daughter. These relationships are both full of love and devotion between a daughter and a father. It is evident from Mr Pegotty´s reaction to Emily´s runaway: “ ̀Anywhere! I´m a going to seek my niece through the wureld. I´m a going to find my poor niece in her shame, and bring her back. No one stop me! I tell you I´m a going to seek my niece! ʼ” (Dickens 387).
The situation is different in the case of relationships between Uriah and his mother and between Steerforth and his mother. During his visit at Steerforth, David sees that Steerforth´s mother is devoted to her son in a dangerous way:
It was no matter of wonder for me to find Mrs Steerforth devoted to her son. She seemed to be able to speak or think about nothing else. She showed me his picture as an infant, in a locket, with some of his baby-hair in it; she showed me his picture as he had been when I first knew him; and she wore at her breast his picture as he was now. All the letters he had ever written to her, she kept in a cabinet near her own chair... (David Copperfield 254)
From the quote it is evident that Mrs Steerforth´s love toward her son is almost an obsession and later in the novel it is pointed out that this kind of care does not do him good. Steerforth character qualities are probably spoilt as a result of his mother´s approach to him.
Consequently, it can be seen that in the novel the reader´s attention is directed to the four different approaches to children. The first one is represented by the Murdstones and Mr Creakle who neglect children and treat them in a bad way. A completely different approach is that of Pegotty and David´s mother to David. Their care is tender and very affectionate. However, a motherly care can be also different and this is the case of Steerforth´s mother. Her fondness of her son creates negative character qualities in him and his character is consequently spoilt. And finally the attitude of people who are not biological parents to “their” children is shown in the story. Mr Pegotty and Miss Betsey treat children as well as they can and they attempt to fulfil all their needs.
It might be probable that the obstacles in the life of the characters are caused by their damaged family background. As Hornback suggests, the family is a basic unit of the society and its failure has negative consequences: “This basic unit of love and order, the family, is almost non-existent in David Copperfield, and it is against this symbolically significant disadvantage that the characters all react.” (Hornback 654). The decomposition of the family unit might help to create a chaotic world without any stability in David Copperfield. And the characters must face these changes: “In order to overcome this disadvantage, and to make contact again beyond this symbolic isolation of orphanage, the characters must create new orders, new forms in which to live.” (Hornback 654).
To conclude, it is evident that the child characters in David Copperfield come from incomplete families, some of them are even orphans. Their lives are much influenced by their family background. Some similarities can be found between the characters of David and Tommy Traddles. They both suffer in their childhood, they both experience cruel behaviour from the adults and they both have to fight for their place in the society. In the end, both of these characters succeed in life, they both create happy and functional families and they have successful jobs. It might be reasonable to presume that their suffering strengthened their positive character qualities and their happy life in adulthood might be seen as a reward for the suffering they had to undergo.
However, the family has another function in the novel. As mentioned, David´s development into an adult man is depicted in the novel. In the end, two new and complete families are created and this might be related to the complement of David´s development. Only as a mature man, who gave up all his naivity, he can start new life.

Great Expectations

This chapter considers the novel called Great Expectations. This novel was published in weekly magazine All the Year Round between 1860 and 1861. When the readers look at the novel from a general point of view, they will probably notice that there are several main themes in the novel that link smaller episodes together. Ambitions and desires to improve one´s life might be considered as the main theme in this novel, because from the beginning we observe main character Philip Pirrip (called Pip) on his way to his “great expectations” and great future.
This chapter aims to examine the family backgrounds of the characters and to show whether they are influenced by their family backgrounds and to what extent. In addition, this chapter attempts to examine how the child characters are depicted in the novel. We will also mention the development of the main character and ways in which it is influenced by other characters in the story and by its social position. The approach to family and home will be also examined. The ideas are supported by textual evidence either from primary or secondary literature.
For better orientation in the story it might be useful to outline the plot of the novel briefly. The main child character–Pip lives with his sister and her husband who works as a blacksmith.  From the beginning the reader is persuaded that Pip has a much better relationship with Joe than with his own sister Mrs Joe Gargery. The story begins with Pip´s adventure with a convict who escaped from prison and whom Pip helps. Soon after Pip is hired to entertain Miss Havisham, a rich and eccentric lady from the neighbourhood living in a strange dilapidated brewery, he meets a girl called Estella that lives together with Miss Havisham. Pip falls in love with her and admires her instantly. Estella is the main cause of Pip´s wish to become a gentleman. After an anonymous person provides Pip with a large sum of money for Pip, he goes to London, begins his education and hopes to become a real gentleman. His manners are changed and he feels that he is emotionally and financially far away from his poor Joe. Pip and his young friend Herbert start to have financial problems and debts. One day the convict from Pip´s childhood reappears and Pip realizes that it was not Miss Havisham who had provided him with the money. The real benefactor is Magwitch, the convict. In the course of time they become friends and Pip helps him to evade the police. After meeting in the marshes where Magwitch´s enemy is killed, Magwitch is sentenced to death and dies in prison. It also comes to light that Magwitch was Estella´s father. Estella is unhappily married and after some time when her husband is dead, she again meets Pip in the garden where they met each other in their childhood. At the end of the novel, they leave the garden hand in hand.

Pip´s development

We can observe Pip´s destiny in this book from his childhood till his adulthood. The story does not begin as the previous novels when the child is born, but Pip is already a small child when we meet him for the first time. This character undergoes quite a complicated development that might be influenced by the environment in which the character lives. At the beginning of the story we see Pip living with his sister and Joe. Joe is a very important character for Pip when he is a boy. From certain hints we can see how important Joe is for him. Apart from Joe the child is not treated warmly at home. His sister and friends who visit them treat him as inferior. The situation of the child in the company of adults who are not his loving parents is described for example in this way:
They seemed to think the opportunity lost, if they failed to point the conversation at me, every now and then, and stick the point into me. I might have been an unfortunate little bull in a Spanish area, I got so smartingly touched up by these moral goals (Great Expectations 22).
From these lines we can see the insecurity the child feels and unhappiness caused by his family. Only Joe represents safety for Pip. However, when he meets Estella and falls in love with her, we can see that his character starts to change and suddenly he feels that he is not noble and good enough for Estella. And although he considered Joe his true friend he begins to feel ashamed for him: “...I thought long after I laid me down, how common Estella would consider Joe, a mere blacksmith: how thick his boots, and how coarse his hands.” (Great Expectations 60). These lines indicate that from this moment Pip is ashamed for his social status and tries to see the world through Estella´s eyes. Estella stands higher in the society and he wants to be at the same position as she is. However, he is well aware of his ungratefulness and he regrets his feelings when he is already a man. Then we can see how he realizes that Joe was his true friend and that Joe´s uprightness is nothing to be ashamed of. He expresses this when comparing Joe to Mr Pumblechook: “I have never been struck at so keenly, for my thanklessness to Joe, as through the brazen impostor Pumblechook. The falser he, the truer Joe; the meaner he, the nobler Joe” (Great Expectations 356).
When Pip is already an adult, he is well aware of the fact that his character is changed and that his new life has not improved his character qualities:
As I had grown accustomed to my expectations, I had insensibly begun to notice their effect upon myself and around me. Their influence on my own character, I disguised from my recognition as much as possible, but I knew very well that it was not all good. I lived in a state of chronic uneasiness respecting my behaviour to Joe. My conscience was not by any means comfortable about Biddy. (232)
Therefore we might have the impression that Pip undergoes the development from a naive small child to a boy who wants to enter higher society and thinks that society measures people only by their possession and wealth. And then he develops into an adult man who realizes that human qualities are more important than wealth, money and social position. This is evident from the fact that he still loves Estella although when they are adults it is clear that Estella is Magwitch´s daughter and consequently she has more miserable origin than Pip himself. Despite this fact his feelings towards her remain unchanged.

The relationships between Pip and other characters

We can observe that the main character does not stand alone in the novel and is widely influenced by other characters that play subordinate and different roles in the plot. Relationship between Pip and Joe has been mentioned in the previous section. Joe seems to be a true friend and companion for Pip. At the end Pip realizes that Joe´s advice were true and well-meant. Biddy, a servant in Pip´s home, stands in a similar position to Pip as Joe does. She also represents for Pip another loving person in his cheerless home. Later he feels also ashamed of her and her rural manners and way of life. In Pip´s eyes she stands in contrast to Estella. Pip sees Biddy as his loving friend, but he is so charmed by Estella that he is not satisfied with his life at all. “I asked myself a question whether I did not surely know that if Estella were beside me at that moment instead of Biddy, she would make me miserable?” (Great Expectations 110). From this quotation it seems to us that Pip is well aware that Biddy is a part of his safety at home and Estella comes from another world that might not be suitable for him. Therefore he stands on the edge of two different worlds.
The relationship between Pip and Miss Havisham is no less interesting. When Pip is a small child and meets Miss Havisham for the first time, he is terrified by her and her house. Apart from the terror, he feels abjection, because he is often insulted by Estella according to Miss Havisham´s orders. However, when Pip is a grown-up man his position in this relationship is changed. Pip is not a terrified child and Miss Havisham longs for his forgiveness for her cruel behaviour towards him. She regrets and feels guilty for that Pip loves Estella who is already married: “  ̀What have I done! What have I done!´she wrung her hands, and crushed her white hair, and returned to this cry over and over again.” (Great Expectations 338).
Also Pip´s relation to Magwitch undergoes some changes in the course of time. When they meet for the first time in the marshes and Pip is a small boy, he feels terrified by Magwitch and describes him as “the horrible young man” (Great Expectations 7). After Pip finds out that Magwitch had provided him with the money and comfortable living as a gentleman, he decides that he must help him. And when Magwitch is dying in the prison, the reader can witness the scene when Pip feels as his true friend and prays for him. “Mindful, then, of what we had read together, I thought of the two men who went up into the Temple to pray, and I knew there were no better words that I could say beside his bed, than  ̀O Lord, be merciful to him, a sinner!ʼ” (Great Expectations 391). In his notes in the edition of Great Expectations that is used for this thesis John Bowen explains that this quote is adopted from Luke 18:13 and that its original wording is “God be merciful to me a sinner.” (423). This commentary might lead us to the idea that Pip expresses not only his compassion with dying convict, but also that he feels guilty about what he had done throughout his life and it might be interpreted as an expression of guilt for judging people based on their appearances. He had considered Magwitch to be a cruel wretched convict but throughout his life he realized that this unfortunate convict gave him a chance to start a new and “better” life.
It is evident that the child hero in Great Expectations is largely influenced by other characters. His ambition to lead a better life in higher classes of the society begins with meeting Estella and Miss Havisham. Through Miss Havisham´s behaviour towards him, we see that the child hero in Great Expectations can be easily manipulated by an adult person. Miss Havisham uses Estella to revenge her own betrayal in love and poor Pip is a child that can be easily manipulated, ill used and bad treated. Also Estella is just an object in Miss Havisham´s game, because she is dependent on her and must do what Miss Havisham wants. However, Miss Havisham is not the only person who treats children as inferior creatures. In chapters that describe Pip´s childhood with his sister we see that her behaviour towards him is not motherly and not unselfish. Her behaviour and her friends´ treatment of Pip indicate that a child is not very important to them and they do not care much about him.

The portrayal of the family in Great Expectations

When we look closer at Pip´s family background we see that he does not live in a happy functional and typical family. He is an orphan without parents. It might seem surprisingly, that the only person Joe who cares about him is not his blood relative. However, Joe´s role in the family is not substitutable for Pip. It seems to us that he plays the role of Pip´s mother in some aspects. This can be supported by the scene from the novel in which Pip wants to leave Joe and go to London and he describes Joe´s reaction: “Joe laid his hand upon my shoulder with the touch of a woman. I have often thought him since like the steam-hammer, that can crush a man or pat an egg-shell, in his combination of strength with gentleness.” (Great Expectations 120). In this quote we can recognize Pip´s need of motherly care of which he is deprived. Also the families which Pip sees are not as functional as they should be. For example in Pocket´s family the mother is more interested in her books and other affairs than in her own children. She is presented as a mother who is not very familiar with childcare and when the children are with her, they are not as safe as they should be with their mother:
I was made very uneasy in my mind by Mrs Pocket´s falling into discussion with Drummle respecting two baronetcies, while she ate a sliced orange steeped in sugar and wine, and forgetting all about the baby on her lap: who did most appalling things with the nut-crackers. (165).
From this the reader might have the impression that Pip is not surrounded by happy and functional family models. We cannot find a child who lives in a functional family in the whole story. Magwitch himself indicates some of his childhood experiences and he advocates his crimes by saying that his position of an orphaned child was extremely difficult: “But what the devil was I to do? I must put something into my stomach, mustn´t I?” (293). This part of his speech can be also interpreted like that he thinks his crimes were only a consequences of his living conditions.
Another child character that is influenced by her family background and living conditions is certainly Estella. She is also manipulated by Miss Havisham and she also claims that her character had been formed in living conditions inconvenient for a child. In addition, also Joe admits Pip the truth about his own complicated childhood and relationship with his father: “  ̀I´ll tell you. My father, Pip, he were given to drink, and when he were overtook with drink, he hammered away at my mother, most onmerciful.ʼ ” (Great Expectations 38).

Approches to childhood

The story of Great Expectations is narrated by the first person narrator. The narrator of the whole story is Pip and he tells about his life from his perspective. His narrative is full of his own recollections and the reader might have the impression that the book is narrated from a child´s point of view intentionally. The fact that the novel is narrated from first person´s perspective might evocate deeper impression of authenticity. And as Rawlins suggests the points of view of adults and children are presented as different in the novel. He points out that it is Pip – a small child who can see the world and the society in their real appearance:
Miss Havisham and her household seem psychotic; the world sees only eccentricity. And so with Jaggers, Pumblechook, and the entire crew: Pip sees what is - and sees that things are terribly wrong; the world looks and sees that all is well – but we know that they see with lying eyes. (Rawlins 670).
Dickens shows how a child character reflects the world. This reflection shows that Pip is described as sensitive character that is well aware of his situation and feeling despite the fact that he is just a child:
My sister´s bringing-up made me sensitive. In the little world in which children have their existence, whosoever brings them up, there is nothing finely perceived and so finely felt, as injustice. It may be only small injustice that the child can be exposed to; but the child is small, and its world is small, and its rocking-horse stand as many high, according to scale, as a big-boned Irish hunter. (Great Expectations 53)
In addition to what has been mentioned above, from this extract we can see that Dickensian child in Great Expectations considers his own world as important as the world of adults is although they are not the same. From the quote above we might observe that Dickens portrays children as beings who are valuable for the world and who deserve fair treatment. Rawlins points out how the children in Great Expectations struggle with life and how Dickens appreciates their value:
In most literature, children are things for molding and shaping; in the opening chapters of Great Expectations, this child is a thing for defending – a thing that must battle with guts and spite against the adult forces that constantly demand a renunciation of the self. (Rawlins 672)
So far it has been mentioned that the child character in Great Expectations struggles with his ambitions to leave his contemporary way of life. He also fights against his ungrateful behaviour and he feels guilty. He feels guilty for being born as a child without parents who has been “brought up by hand” by his sister. As Leavis suggests this view characterizes parent-child relationship in Victorian society:
Pip´s initial sense of guilt was inevitable, the result of the Victorian (or Evangelical) theory of the relation between parent and child: Mrs Joe is supported in her demand for gratitude from Pip by public opinion. Pip is made to feel that he has committed a sin in being born... (Leavis 380).
Later he feels guilty for helping the convict and in adulthood he is ashamed of his behaviour towards Joe and Biddy. However, these feelings are not caused only by his behaviour. Pip realizes that his social status is much different from Estella´s position and this finding makes him even more displeased with his life. Leavis suggests that “... shame as a product of social distinctions, is really a further complication, deepening the guilt and moral confusion by which Pip is already ravaged”. (385).
In conclusion, we can see that neither of the characters in this novel has (had) a happy childhood and neither of them lives in an exemplary family.  Therefore it might seem reasonable to presume that many of their troubles in life may come from their suffering in childhood and in their own families. Social distinctions are shown as overestimated by society. At the end of the story Pip realizes that a family background and human feelings are more important than wealth and social position. This might indicate that the author might want to emphasize the importance of the family. Although the narrator tells his own story with distance the reader will probably feel that Dickens emphasized child´s feelings, ideas and attitudes in the story. And as Leavis suggests Dickens´s approach to childhood and family values is mostly visible from the character of Pip: “Dickens is really showing the evolution of a self from the contradictory influences of the various social, moral, religious and psychological forces present in his age, and the daunting problems of adolescence like Pip´s.” (Leavis 394).


The aim of this thesis was to examine the approaches to childhood in three different novels by Charles Dickens. We have come to the conclusion that there are some similarities and some differences among these novels and therefore the approaches to childhood in the novels will be summarized, compared and contrasted in the pages that follow.
All three novels contain a similar stratification of the adult characters which are somehow connected with the children characters. The thesis has argued that the adults usually treat children as inferior creatures and cause them many troubles. And on the other hand, all three protagonists have also the adults who take care of them and who either are (Joe, Miss Betsey and David´s mother) or become (Mr Brownlow) their family members and who represent the relics of their domestic stability.
The following similarity is also connected with the theme of family. The author focuses on the portrayals of the families and he depicts the relations between the members of the families mainly from the “inner” point of view.  The real families are usually broken in the novels examined and the groups of people who are not related by blood ties substitute the families for children. Blood relationships influence children as well as these “substitutes” of the real families.
Although the protagonists either are or become orphans at the beginnings of the plots, the theme of motherhood and the relations between mothers and children are depicted differently. In Oliver Twist and Great Expectations the main characters are orphans from the beginning of the stories and the readers could not learn much about their mothers. Children commemorate them with devotion and their life stories are veiled by mystery. However, the evidence from David Copperfield revealed that the theme of motherhood is depicted completely differently in this novel. David has a living mother as well as some other important children characters in the novel have. In addition, the influence of mothers on their children is shown there. These findings suggest that the author wanted to show how mothers (or parents generally) can influence and form their children and how their influence is important for forming their character qualities which can be either improved or totally spoilt. The mothers can be also interpreted as basic elements for the family.
The novels also differ in the way of describing the living conditions of children. Generally speaking it can be said that the author reflects on the situation in society and he describes it in his novels. However, the description of the living conditions of children is different in each of the novels. In Oliver Twist mainly the poverty and the awfulness of child labour are depicted. As an illustration that children had been apprenticed from their early age Dickens employed the episode with chimney sweep or the description of the work in workhouses. The situation in schools and different approaches to the pupils in different schools are described in David Copperfield for a change.  The difference between living in the rural areas and in the cities is depicted in allthree novels. The description of the society corresponds with the facts mentioned in the first chapter. In other words, the reality of the contemporary society is depicted in all three novels and this might lead the reader to the conclusion that it helped to increase Dickens´s popularity among his contemporaries.
The differences among the novels can be found in the manner in which they are narrated. The narrator in David Copperfield changes his perspectives and his narrative is sometimes closer to the child´s point of view and sometimes to the adult´s perspective. In this novel the narrator seems to be more persuasive than in other novels.  Oliver Twist is the only novel narrated by the omniscient narrator and not in the first person. However, in all novels child´s feelings, psychic and point of view are taken into account.
The development of the main characters is also worked up in different manners. In Oliver Twist the author is not focused on Oliver´s inner development and we might have the impression that he makes Oliver´s story improbable intentionally and he aims to criticise the society. Oliver remains innocent in his manners despite bad society in which he is forced to live for some time. On the contrary, Pip and David are strongly influenced by their environment and they go through the development of their character qualities. The main heroes in Great Expectations and David Copperfield therefore go on the way full of various obstacles to find their real identity and their place in life and society.
In summary, the theme of childhood appears in all the novels mentioned in many aspects. Dickens shows his man child characters in relation to their family background, in relation to their social position and he depicts their development. Although the novels differ in some ways as mentioned, from all of them it is evident that the emphasis is put on family background and its importance for children.


Primary sources
Dickens, Charles. 1992. David Copperfield. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 2000. Print.
---. Great Expectations. 1992. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd, 2007.     Print.
---. Oliver Twist. London: Penguin Classics, 1994. Print.

Secondary sources
Ariès, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: a social history of family life. Trans.       Robert Baldick. New York: Vintage Books, 1962. Print.
Frederick, Kenneth C. “The Cold, Cold Hearth: Domestic Strife in Oliver Twist.ˮ College English 27. 6 (1966) : 465-470. JSTOR. Web. 1 April 2011.
Hornback, Bert G. “Frustration and Resolution in David Copperfield.” Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 8. 4 (1968) : 651-667. JSTOR. Web. 1 April        2011.
Jenks, Chris. Childhood. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Lanckford, William. “ ʻThe Parish Boy´s Progressʼ: The Evolving Form of   Oliver Twist.” PMLA 93. 1 (1978) : 20-32. JSTOR. Web. 1 April 2011.
Leavis, F. R., and Q. D. Leavis. Dickens: the Novelist. London: Faber and          Faber, 2008. Print.
Rawlins, Jack P. “Great Expiations: Dickens and the Betrayal of the Child.”         Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 23. 4 (1993) : 667-683. JSTOR.          Web. 25 March 2011.
Reader, William J. Life in Victorian England. London: B. T. Batsford, 1964. Print.
Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500 – 1800. Abr.   ed. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977. Print.
Worth, George J. “The Control of Emotional Response in David Copperfield”.     The English Novel in the Nineteenth century. Ed. George Goodlin.         Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1972. 99-108. Print.


This thesis examines the approaches to childhood in the novels Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens. These novels are analysed with attention to the central characters Oliver, David and Pip, their development and their relations with other characters and society. Also the portrayal of the family in the novels selected is analysed in the thesis because it is closely connected with the theme of childhood. The main aim of this thesis is to describe, compare and contrast the approaches to childhood in the novels.
The first chapter assesses the historical background of Victorian England and it depicts the situation in the contemporary society and particularly the living conditions of children. It is also focused on the concept of childhood in the society and its development. Then the chapters containing the analyses of the novels follow. The first chapter deals mainly with the main character Oliver Twist and his progress in life during his childhood. The second chapter examines the development of David´s character, in particular. The chapter is focused on the inner development of the main character and on the process of his maturing. The chapter dealing with Great Expectations is focused also on the main protagonist in the novel and it examines his life from childhood till adulthood. However, in this chapter the analysis of the changes of Pip´s character is most important.

The approaches to childhood in all three novels are compared and contrasted in the conclusion.

Reader, William J. Life in Victorian England. London: B.T. Batsford, 1964. Print.

Stone, Lawrence. The Family, Sex and Marriage in England 1500-1800. Abr. ed.                                    Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977. Print.

Jenks, Chris. Childhood. London: Routledge, 1996. Print.

Ariès, Phillipe. Centuries of childhood: a social history of family life. Trans. Robert                                 Baldick. New York: Vintage Books, 1962. Print.

Lanckford, William. “ ʻThe Parish Boy´s Progressʼ: The Evolving Form of Oliver Twist.”
PMLA 93. 1 (1978) : 20-32. JSTOR. Web. 1 April 2011.

Frederick, Kenneth C. “The Cold, Cold Hearth: Domestic Strife in Oliver Twist.ˮ College           English 27. 6 (1966) : 465-470. JSTOR. Web. 1 April 2011.

Hornback, Bert G. “Frustration and Resolution in David Copperfield.” Studies in English
              Literature 1500-1900 8. 4 (1968) : 651-667. JSTOR. Web. 1 April 2011.

Worth, George J. “The Control of Emotional Response in David Copperfield”. The English        Novel in the Nineteenth century. Ed. George Goodlin. Urbana: University of Illinois         Press, 1972. 99-108. Print.

Dickens, Charles. Great Expectations. 1992 Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd,                               2007. Print.

Rawlins, Jack P. “Great Expiations: Dickens and the Betrayal of the Child.” Studies in                           English Literature 1500-1900 23. 4 (1993) : 667-683. JSTOR. Web. 25 March                            2011.

Leavis, F. R., and Q. D. Leavis. Dickens: the Novelist. London: Faber and Faber, 2008.                         Print.


Source: https://is.muni.cz/th/331017/ff_b/BACHELOR_THESIS.doc

Web site to visit: https://is.muni.cz

Author of the text: indicated on the source document of the above text

If you are the author of the text above and you not agree to share your knowledge for teaching, research, scholarship (for fair use as indicated in the United States copyrigh low) please send us an e-mail and we will remove your text quickly. Fair use is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work. In United States copyright law, fair use is a doctrine that permits limited use of copyrighted material without acquiring permission from the rights holders. Examples of fair use include commentary, search engines, criticism, news reporting, research, teaching, library archiving and scholarship. It provides for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in another author's work under a four-factor balancing test. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_use)

The information of medicine and health contained in the site are of a general nature and purpose which is purely informative and for this reason may not replace in any case, the council of a doctor or a qualified entity legally to the profession.


Childhood in Novels by Charles Dickens


The texts are the property of their respective authors and we thank them for giving us the opportunity to share for free to students, teachers and users of the Web their texts will used only for illustrative educational and scientific purposes only.

All the information in our site are given for nonprofit educational purposes


Childhood in Novels by Charles Dickens



Topics and Home
Term of use, cookies e privacy


Childhood in Novels by Charles Dickens