Organized, institutionalized religion—especially the Church of England—gets a pretty bad rap in this novel. Dickens was Anglican himself, but he felt like the Church was too impersonal and institutionalized, and didn’t do enough to take care of the poor and miserable folks who turned to the Church for help.
The whole parish system was responsible for maintaining workhouses, orphanages, and baby farms, and Dickens thought that the whole system was inhumane and just stunk to high heaven. He certainly didn’t shy away from showing the negative side of the parish system in Oliver Twist.
Questions About Religion
- Does Dickens make any distinction between personal piety and institutionalized religion?
- Compare Mrs. Maylie’s response to Rose’s brush with death (Book II, Chapters Ten-Eleven) to the response of the dead woman’s mother in the Bayton episode (Book I, Chapter Five).
- How do Mr. Bumble and the other parish officials use religious rhetoric to justify their treatment of the paupers?
- Are public displays of piety always associated with hypocrisy in Oliver Twist?
Chew on This
The Church of England is condemned in Oliver Twist for its cruel and inhumane policies towards the care of the poor, and there is little optimism in the novel for the implementation of a better system.
Oliver Twist is a novel about crime and punishment, but not about forgiveness or redemption: the final lines of the novel suggest that Agnes might find solace in the church, but only after she is dead.