Parody

Oliver Twist

by

Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist: Parody 1 key example

Definition of Parody
A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually for comic effect. Parodies can take many forms, including fiction... read full definition
A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually for comic effect. Parodies can... read full definition
A parody is a work that mimics the style of another work, artist, or genre in an exaggerated way, usually... read full definition
Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Parish Boy's Progress:

The full title of the novel, Oliver Twist, Or, the Parish Boy's Progress, is an allusion to John Bunyan's wildly popular Pilgrim's Progress (1678). Bunyan's text describes the trials its main character, the aptly-named Christian, undergoes on the way to the Celestial City. Christian's trials are an allegory for the spiritual trials all Christians must undergo on the way to heaven.

Bunyan's book sparked what is arguably one of the original best-seller franchises, inspiring an array of collectors' items that people kept in their houses. It was still extremely popular in the 19th century. Dickens's readers would have recognized Oliver Twist's full title as a sign that this novel would describe a series of trials through which Oliver, as a representative of "parish boys" more generally, would gradually ascend to some kind of salvation.

In the broadest sense, the novel does describe Oliver's ascent out of poverty through a series of trials. But the title also evokes popular parodies of Bunyan's allegory, such as William Hogarth's Rake's Progress, a series of paintings that depict the moral downfall of a man who moves to London and gets involved in gambling and sex work. In Dickens's novel, Oliver has just as much potential to be corrupted as he does to be saved when he goes to London. The dual allusion to Pilgrim's Progress and its parodies contributes to Dickens's critique of Victorian England's social and legal systems: in this world, a virtuous but poor child like Oliver is in a precarious position. He may rise or he may fall, and it is mostly up to chance.

The novel goes so far as to parody Bunyan's text, as well as other popular sentimental fiction that suggests that the world is an obstacle course of temptations to test good Christians' character. For instance, in Chapter 3, Oliver manages to escape apprenticeship to a man who seems very cruel, but his fate nonetheless remains out of his control:

The next morning the public were once more informed that Oliver Twist was again to let, and that five pounds would be paid to anybody who would take possession of him.

Oliver is buffeted around the world like a piece of junk no one wants: the parish does not even try to sell him but in fact offers to pay anyone who will take him. The future trials he will face are not divine tests of characters, like they are for Bunyan's Christian. Instead, they are the result of bad luck and discrimination by a world that doesn't see him as human. Whereas Christian and characters in sentimental novels can control their fate by acting in morally upstanding ways, Oliver can only beg magistrates and other powerful people to take mercy on him.