Great Expectations vs. Oliver Twist


During his lifetime, Charles Dickens is known to have written several
books. Although each book is different, they also share many similarities.
Two of his books, Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, are representatives
of the many kinds of differences and similarities found within his work.

Perhaps the reason why these two novels share some of the same
qualities is because they both reflect painful experiences which occurred
in Dickens' past. During his childhood, Charles Dickens suffered much abuse
from his parents.1 This abuse is often expressed in his novels. Pip, in
Great Expectations, talked often about the abuse he received at the hands
of his sister, Mrs. Joe Gargery. On one occasion he remarked, "I soon found
myself getting heavily bumped from behind in the nape of the neck and the
small of the back, and having my face ignominously shoved against the wall,
because I did not answer those questions at sufficient length."2

While at the orphanage, Oliver from Oliver Twist also experienced a
great amount of abuse. For example, while suffering from starvation and
malnutrition for a long period of time, Oliver was chosen by the other boys
at the orphanage to request more gruel at dinner one night. After making
this simple request, "the master (at the orphanage) aimed a blow at
Oliver's head with the ladle; pinioned him in his arms; and shrieked aloud
for the beadle."3

The whole beginning of Oliver Twist's story was created from memories
which related to Charles Dickens' childhood in a blacking factory ( which
was overshadowed by the Marshalsea Prison ).4 While working in the blacking
factory, Dickens suffered tremendous humiliation. This humiliation is
greatly expressed through Oliver's adventures at the orphanage before he is
sent away.

Throughout his lifetime, Dickens appeared to have acquired a fondness
for "the bleak, the sordid, and the austere."5 Most of Oliver Twist, for
example, takes place in London's lowest slums.6 The city is described as a
maze which involves a "mystery of darkness, anonymity, and peril."7 Many of
the settings, such as the pickpocket's hideout, the surrounding streets,
and the bars, are also described as dark, gloomy, and bland.8 Meanwhile, in
Great Expectations, Miss Havisham's house is often made to sound
depressing, old, and lonely. Many of the objects within the house had not
been touched or moved in many years. Cobwebs were clearly visible as well
as an abundance of dust, and even the wedding dress which Miss Havisham
constantly wore had turned yellow with age.9

However, similarities are not just found in the settings. The novels'
two main characters, Pip and Oliver, are also similar in many ways. Both
young boys were orphaned practically from birth; but where Pip is sent to
live with and be abused by his sister, Oliver is sent to live in an
orphanage. Pip is a very curious young boy. He is a "child of intense and
yearning fancy."10 Yet, Oliver is well spoken. Even while his life was in
danger while in the hands of Fagin and Bill Sikes, two conniving
pickpockets, he refused to participate in the stealing which he so greatly
opposed. All Oliver really longed for was to escape from harsh living
conditions and evil surroundings which he had grown up in.11 However, no
matter how tempting the evil may have been, Oliver stood by his beliefs.
Therefore, he can be referred to as "ideal and incorruptible innocence."12
"It is Oliver's self-generated and self-sustained love, conferred it would
seem from Heaven alone, that preserves him from disaster and death."13

Unfortunately, many critics have found it hard to believe that a boy
such as Oliver Twist could remain so innocent, pure, and well spoken given
the long period of time in which he was surrounded by evil and
injustices.14

Pip, on the other hand, is a dreamer. His imagination is always
helping him to create situations to cover up for his hard times. For
example, when questioned about his first visit to Miss Havisham's house, he
made up along elaborate story to make up for the terrible time he had in
reality. Instead of telling how he played cards all day while being
ridiculed and criticized by Estella and Miss Havisham, he claimed that they
played with flags and swords all day after having wine and cake on gold
plates.15 However, one special quality possessed by Pip that is rarely seen
in a novel's hero is that he wrongs others instead of being hurt himself
all of the time.16

Another similarity between Oliver and Pip is that they both have had
interactions with convicts. Fagin the head of a