From adolescence to awakening: portrayal of the ‘urban child’ in Charles Dickens’ novels
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The aim of this paper is to show the representation of the themes of urban childhood in Victorian Literature and the intricate dynamics that lies between family, children and the society. ‘Coming of Age’ genres were immensely popular among the Victorian readers just as much they are with us moderns. Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, David Copperfield, and Pendennis- all archetypal Victorian social novels are also intensely buildungsroman in nature. Victorian literature shows remarkable interest and compassion for such issues. Almost each novel has an orphan or a child protagonist who has been abandoned by its parents and society and is forced to take of care of itself. Harsh living conditions for children such as child labour were also often illustrated in these novels. Most of these and specially the urban novels which were written during the first half of this era show family as a very complicated and yet a powerful unit of the society. It is intriguing to think that a period which valued family most above all and savored the ‘ideal family’ image, would have so many novels written which demonize the families and the relations. So what I hope to do with this paper is to explore the contexts to which these writers responded through the fictional representations. Questions such as the role of the family in one’s life, Victorian family values, and changes of those values, if any, will be researched through this dissertation. For this purpose I have chosen Charles Dickens’s three widely read novels Oliver Twist, Great Expectations and David Copperfield as my primary resources. Dickens’ novels show tremendous empathy, understanding and insight into the Victorian families and the impoverished children. He had an interesting childhood too. Important social changes such as the Poor Act, work houses and child custody law were also addressed in his works. Other than an intense reading of these novels, I have also used various scholarly articles and books to shed further light on the issue.