by Charles Dickens
Oliver Twist Society and Class Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Chapter.Paragraph)
The laced coat and the cocked hat, where were they? He still wore knee-breeches and dark cotton stockings on his nether limbs, but they were not the breeches. The coat was wide-skirted, and in that respect like the coat, but oh, how different! The mighty cocked-hat was replaced by a modest round one. Mr. Bumble was no longer a beadle. (37.2)
They say that clothes don’t make the man, but we’ve already seen that, in Oliver Twist at least, they kind of do. And Mr. Bumble is no exception – he’s been a pompous, self-important jerk for the whole book, but now that he’s changed clothes, and is no longer a beadle, suddenly his ego is totally deflated, too.
A field-marshal has his uniform, a bishop his silk apron, a counselor his silk gown, a beadle his cocked hat. Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle of his cocked hat and gold lace, what are they? Men,– mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine. (37.3)
Dickens comes right out and says it here: social rank and station – for people in the army, the church, or whatever – is marked more by clothes than by anything else. Everyone, at bottom, is the same. Like the orphaned Oliver in the first chapter – he could have been a prince. But then they "badged" him with his parish clothes, and he became a pauper and a parish boy, and fell into place accordingly.
But struggling with these better feelings was pride, – the vice of the lowest and most debased creatures no less than of the high and self-assured. […] even this degraded being felt too proud to betray one feeble gleam of the womanly feeling which she thought a weakness, but which alone connected her with that humanity, of which her wasting life had obliterated all outward traces when a very child. (40.52)
This passage shows, once again, how superficial class distinctions are – pride is another characteristic that’s common to people on any rung of the social ladder. Even Nancy is too proud to admit to a feeling that she considers weakness.