Publication Date


Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

James Heldman, George McCelvey, Nancy Davis

Degree Program

Department of English

Degree Type

Master of Arts


As a social critic, Charles Dickens carries an attack against the mistreatment of children throughout his career. At first reacting in the defense of wronged children, he develops a view of the process of social breakdown that results from mistreating children. Adults fai3 in their duty to children because they fail to recognize the needs of children as children and even fail to recognize the human rights of children. This mistreatment is implemented by social institutions that are supposedly dedicated to caring for children. The family fails to bring up the child with love and care. The child's education rarely teaches him anything of use and often abuses him. An orphaned child, if he has no friends or relatives to take him in, may receive empty gestures of support from an institution but most often does not and is ignored or openly mistreated by society. Indeed, whether cast upon themselves or not, most of the children in Dickens have lost one or both parents, and this loss symbolizes the lack of care they receive. In his early novels, Dickens uses philanthropy to bring about happy endings, and in later works philanthropy continues to be the only alternative to the failed social institutions; however, Dickens later sees that society's failure is too great to be neatly corrected by individual philanthropy. In destroying its young citizens, society is slowly destroying itself. This study examines the breakdown of the family, education, and care for orphans in Dickens's novels Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Bleak House, Hard Times, and Great Expectations.


Arts and Humanities | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, British Isles