Dickens and Thackeray: Punishment and Forgiveness
Attitudes toward punishment and forgiveness in English society of the nineteenth century came, for the most part, out of Christianity. In actual experience the ideal was not often met, but in the literature of the time the model was important. For novelists attempting to tell exciting and dramatic stories, violent and criminal activities played an important role, and, according to convention, had to be corrected through poetic justice or human punishment. Both Dickens' and Thackeray's novels subscribed to the ideal, but dealt with the dilemma it presented in slightly different ways.
At a time when a great deal of attention has been directed toward economic production and consumption as the bases for value, Reed's well-documented study reviving moral belief as a legitimate concern for the analysis of nineteenth-century English texts is particularly illuminating.
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As in Oliver Twist , good and evil here are clearly distinguished from one another
. Characters even assume stylized melodramatic postures and deliver stagey
speeches , especially in confrontation scenes . This melodramatic equipment
Evil , the message goes , consumes itself . Quilp is the most profound
representative of evil in this story , but there are others who also require severe
punishment , notably the Brasses and Fred Trent . The Brasses are presented as
It is far less simple a task when the virtuous themselves are implicated in the
ways of evil , which are as insidious as a disease or a wasting rot . One mode of
implication is simply not confronting the evil that is evident . David Copperfield , in
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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