An analysis of Charles Dickens's criticism of Victorian society through the use of the symbols of the prison and the criminal

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1955

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The intention of this thesis is to investigate the symbols of the prison and. the criminal in the works of Charles Dickens. Dickensian criticism of the past twenty years has established, the centrality of these symbols in his novels, and. this investigation will be conducted, within the framework of that criticism. Dickens was very much at odds with Victorian society, and it is the purpose of this thesis to show how he utilized the prison and the criminal as symbols of the injustice of Nineteenth Century industrial society. However, although Dickens was a social reformer, he was not a revolutionary. He never at any time indicated that he desired a change in the structure of society. His indictment of Victorian society was purely moral. This thesis will conclude by emphasizing that Dickens's answer to social injustice was a plea for a change of heart on the part of those in authority. The first chapter will be concerned with pointing out the ironic fact that Dickens, a bitter critic of Victorian society, in time came to typify that period. It is a curious literary phenomenon that Dickens was accepted as surrogate for the very times he denounced. The second chapter, will examine some of the recent critical work that has been published concerning Dickens. In addition, it will also point out some pertinent biographical material recently made public, which indicates that Dickens, during his lifetime, actually experienced the modes of his symbols: the prison and the criminal. The third, and. fourth chapters will examine the symbols as they appear in the novels. The prison will be seen as one of the conditions of man’s existence. The criminal will be investigated as a symbol of the murderous character of a harsh and inhuman society. The concluding chapter will deal briefly with the motif of the change of heart, a recurrent theme in Dickens's novels.

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