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answered : Nurture versus Nature Debates in the Novel by Charles Dickens The defects of the social and economic

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Nurture versus Nature Debates in the Novel by Charles Dickens The defects of the social and economic

Nurture versus Nature Debates in the Novel by Charles Dickens

The defects of the social and economic system provoke the stratification of the society. As a result, a number of individuals have to live in poverty without the sufficient opportunity to improve their financial state. In the novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens discussed the manner, in which the society mistreated orphans and children from low-income families. The author revealed that children were innocent in their nature and had to resort to immoral activities, such as beginning, pickpocketing, and prostitution because they did not have people, who could take care of them, as well as the sufficient opportunities to improve their social status.

Historically, nurture versus nature debate considers the issue whether human behavior is governed by the biological factors or external influences. The debate reaches the period of the medieval French and bothers the minds of the modern scientists, psychologists, and sociologists (Moore 629). Charles Dickens supported the idea that the environment is a key factor that affects children`s behavior in the adulthood. Therefore, he argued that the authors should take into consideration the fact that their works make a significant effect on the mind of young individuals. He suggested that the literature should not only entertain but to educate both children and the entire society. With the help of the novel Oliver Twist, Dickens strived to boost a social reform. He provided a harsh criticism of the social system of contemporary England. The author attacked various institutions, including the government, the legal authorities, education, and the system of punishment. Dickens provided the evidence how these institutions spread the injustice in the society and how social defects affect the lives of young individuals (Udayan 54). Thus, he encourages people to overthrow the established order. For instance, he criticized harshly the system of “baby-farms” that allowed orphans, similar to Oliver Twist, to work for a parish:

the parish authorities magnanimously and humanely resolved, that Oliver should be ‘farmed,’ or, in other words, that he should be despatched to a branch-workhouse some three miles off, where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws rolled about the floor all day, without the inconvenience of too much food, or too much clothing (Dickens).

The aforementioned quote reveals the horrible conditions, in which poor children had to live. In such “baby-farms”, the level of mortality was extremely high. Dickens talked about “poor-laws” that were the policies directed to care for poor individuals. He suggested that those laws prevented the full-fledged individuals from executing the work that could provide financial benefits. In such a way, he ironically called children the “offenders against poor laws” because they were made to work despite their early age.

In the novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens argued that the society is responsible for taking care for and educating poor children, such as Oliver. “It takes a village to raise a child” is a proverb that considers nurture as the prominent factor that affects the development of an individual. The phrase means that the entire community is responsible for communicating with a child to allow him to raise in the safe environment. It is important to mention that Dickens frequently resorted to the description of the environment, in which the orphans and other children of the lower classes had to survive. The following quote demonstrates the attitude of the author towards London:

There were a good many small shops; but the only stock in trade appeared to be heaps of children, who, even at that time of night, were crawling in and out at the doors, or screaming from inside. The sole places that seemed to prosper amid the general blight of the place, were the public-houses; and in them, the lowest orders of Irish were wrangling with might and main (Dickens).

Dickens presented London as a muddy place, full of immoral people and poor children who became the victims of the social system and dysfunctional families. In the novel, the scenes of such type describe the nights or the rain, the weather that is usual for London. On this unpleasant background, Dickens demonstrated the problem of the abandoned children. They seem to wander everywhere, but there is no evident adult individual who may take care of them. Due to the extreme poverty and poor living conditions, a number of children became orphans and others were neglected by their parents who spent their time drinking in pubs. As a result, children who managed to survive became criminals or treated their children with similar neglect. In order to avoid such problem, the community should take care of all children. The advantages of this approach are discussed in the article What “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child” Really Means by Donna Stefano. Basing on her own example, Stefano discussed the positive influence of the education on the development of the individual. Having moved to Palestine with her son, Stefano did not have enough time for her child. As a result, the representatives of at least seven nationalities took care of Stefano`s son. A little boy learned the ways, in which he could demonstrate the respect towards the culture of other people and knew the patterns of behavior, which he had to avoid (Stefano). Add to this, the community dealt with the security of the little boy and created comfortable conditions for his psychological and physical development.

Dickens criticized the English community for abandoning children who did not have any other direction than to become criminals. The example of the character that describes such situation in the best manner is Nancy. A young prostitute who was Fagin`s pickpocket in the past, Nancy remains a strong, brave, and moral individual. After Oliver was stolen from the house of Mr. Brownlow, she treated him compassionately because he reminded her of her lost innocence. Risking her own life, Nancy dared to help Oliver and was punished. The passage that runs about Nancy`s death reveals how women of her kind were abandoned:

She staggered and fell: nearly blinded with the blood that rained down from a deep gash in her forehead; but raising herself, with difficulty, on her knees, drew from her bosom a white handkerchief – Rose Maylie’s own – and holding it up, in her folded hands, as high towards Heaven as her feeble strength would allow, breathed one prayer for mercy to her Maker (Dickens).

The scene of violence demonstrates the vulnerability of women in the society. Covered with blood, Nancy was powerless because of her gender and social status. She could only ask God for mercy and help. Another example that reveals how the society left Nancy and other poor women is observed in the following lines,

When such as me, who have no certain roof but the coffin-lid, and no friend in sickness or death but the hospital nurse, set our rotten hearts on any man, and let him fill the place that parents, home, and friends filled once, or that has been a blank through all our wretched lives, who can hope to cure us? (Dickens).

The aforementioned quote shows how Nancy was failed by the entire community. She did not have anyone who could take care of her, except for Fagin. Therefore, she did not have the opportunity to live in the comfort and had to resort to the immoral activities in order to survive. It is important to highlight that the modern women face the problems similar to the situation of Nancy. The example is the death of the teen girl Mujey Dumbuya who was raped by a maintenance worker of the school district. The girl appealed to the court and later was kidnapped and strangled by the man who previously raped her. This case demonstrates the failure of the legal system of the country that did not take measures to protect Mujey Dumbuya against her offender (Boboltz). The aforementioned situation illustrates the reasons why women refuse to accomplish the legal authorities in the cases of rape or domestic violence. Even the countries with the developed economic frequently do not provide the necessary protection and support for the vulnerable groups.

To conclude, the society makes a significant effect on the psychological and physical development of the individual. In fact, the behavior of a child is driven by the external factors that include the level of comfort, protection, and the examples of other individuals. In the novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens discussed the neglect attitude of the society to orphans and children from low-income families. He revealed that the neglected children resort to the criminal and immoral activities because of the influence of dysfunctional companies and the necessity to survive.

Works Cited

Boboltz, Sara. “Man Accused Of Rape By Teen Now Accused Of Her Murder.” The Huffington Post, 12 Apr. 2018,

Dickens, Charles. “Oliver Twistor The Parish Boy’s Progress.” The Literature Page,

Moore, David. Current Thinking about Nature and Nurture. Springer Science Business Media Dordrecht, 2013.

Stefano, Donna. “What ‘It Takes A Village to Raise a Child’ Really Means.” The Huffington Post, 28 Apr. 2012,

Udayan, Chakraborty. “Child Labour as an Instrument of Social Criticism in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.” IOSR Journal of Humanities and Social Science, pp. 54–56.




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