The Jew In Dicken

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The Jew In Dicken’s “Oliver Twist” Essay, Research Paper Dickens and “The Jew” Was Charles Dickens being anti-Semitic when portraying the character Fagin as “the Jew”, in his classic story Oliver Twist, or was he merely painting an accurate portrait of the 19th Century Jew in England? Some critics seem to believe so. Though there are no indications of neither anti-Semitic nor racist slurs throughout the story, Dickens’ image turned out to follow the path of his time and place in history. The result is an enlightened picture of Victorian England’s image of the Jew. The attitude towards Jews and Jewishness in 19th Century England demonstrates that Dickens was a man of his time. His attitude reflected the common British belief that Jews were villainous thieves.

Fagin, a thief, is described by Dickens as “a very old shriveled Jew, whose villainous and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair”(Dickens 87). This common depiction of the Jew was accompanied by the stereotype that they had big noses and lured orphaned children into their filthy dens and turned them into derelicts. He was a thief because he did not have any skills, nor was he welcome anywhere. On the other hand, to describe Fagin in any other light would have to give the impression that Jews just might be humans after all. In reading this story, I discovered Fagin to be somewhat likeable and misunderstood. Though revolting to look at, having a repulsive disposition, and having manners and hygiene left to be desired I could not help but to feel sorry for

the old guy. All he wanted to have was security in his old age. For example, when Fagin sees Oliver looking at him while admiring his treasures, Fagin asks the boy if he had seen any of his pretty things. Oliver tells him that he did. “Ah!” said the Jew, turning rather pale. “They- are mine, Oliver; my little property. All I have to live upon, in my old age. The folks call me a miser, my dear. Only a miser, that’s all” (Dickens 1961: 91). I also found Fagin to be very charming in instances, almost likeable and having some redeeming qualities. Another example of Fagin’s humanity is seen in the way he treats Oliver. Although Oliver plays a totally utilitarian role to Fagin, he becomes protective of him, even though the motives are purely selfish. When not being watched,

Fagin has great self-control, even under duress. He is always cautioning Sikes against violence. There are some signs that Fagin still has a shade of humanity left in his perverted character. Several times throughout the story he exhibits some kindness towards Oliver. He checks his motives before he acts. Though the reader is still at bay with his actions, he still seems to have some sort of a conscience. It could be argued that Fagin and Oliver are somewhat similar. Though the reader does not see this at first, more in depth reading reveals that Oliver and Fagin mirror each other in who and what they are. Oliver, a boy without a home, Fagin, “The Jew”, without a country. Fagin, in fact, is not seen as an Englishman. He is Jewish, which is a race all its own. Fagin is the

outsider, unlike Oliver. His Jewishness places him at even more a disadvantage than Oliver’s orphaned status. Both characters echo each other in asking for more; they are placed in oppositions so that for Oliver to claim his rightful place in society, Fagin must die. Dickens’ stereotypical association of Fagin with a class of criminal perceived by him as almost invariably Jewish is based on a particular awareness of the commonly accepted wicked practices of this kind of Jew. Dickens’ stereotypical association of Fagin with a class of criminal perceived by him as almost invariably Jewish is based on a particular awareness of the commonly accepted wicked practices of this kind of Jew. In Dickens and his Jewish Characters, Dickens answers a letter from a Jewess woman who wrote