The Poor Law of 1834 was a piece of government legislation that said that poor people could only get help if they went into work houses, where they had to work for extremely long hours for no money and had hardly any food. There was no heating and many people died of diseases and being unhealthy. The authorities made the workhouses like this because they based them on the principle that the people were only poor because they were lazy, and the conditions would teach them a lesson and make them get out of poverty.
However, because of the Industrial Revolution this was often impossible, and the workhouses offered no assistance for social or economic betterment. Oliver Twist was born into a workhouse after his mother was found on the street and brought in. He was delivered by the parish surgeon who had to do it by contract and a drunken woman. “He was badged and ticketed, and fell into his place at once- a parish child- the orphan of a workhouse” (p3). He isn’t given any care. The parish surgeon just treats him as the next thing to do, and doesn’t care about his welfare, and the woman helping him is drunk.
They don’t help him when he is struggling to breathe. The surgeon leaves soon after the birth and doesn’t want anything else to do with it “You needn’t mind sending up to me if the child cries, nurse. ” (p2) When Oliver’s mother asked to hold the baby, he “deposited in her arms” (p2), like an object. Oliver was very lucky to survive after his birth because he was having difficulty breathing and received no help from either the parish surgeon or the nurse. “He lay gasping on a little flock mattress, rather unequally poised between this world and the next: the balances being decidedly in favour of the latter” (p1).
He was more likely to die than live. However, the fact that he did live suggests that he is a fighter and he won’t give up. This is also suggested in his name: “Oliver Twist”, which represents personal qualities about him. Even though it was given to him by chance, it refers to the huge reversals of fortune he will have. Mrs. Mann is in charge of the branch workhouse where Oliver lives with twenty or thirty other boys. She is supposed to look after them, but doesn’t feed them of clothe them properly. “He should be despatched to a branch workhouse some three miles out, […
], without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing. ” (p4). It was also very cold and they were neglected and mistreated. “for at the very moment when a child had contrived to exist upon the smallest portion of the weakest possible food, it did perversely happen in eight and a half cases out of ten, either that it sickened from want and cold, or fell into the fire from neglect, or got half-smothered by accident; in any one of which cases, the miserable little being was usually summoned into another world. ” (p4).