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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One could not more starkly contrast the one with the other than by the use of
unwise , negligent , or reprobate fathers and delinquent ... This embedded
narrative intensifies the convention by including both prodigal son and prodigal
Recovering from his illness , he discovers that his father , who refused to assist
him while he was in need , has died , leaving Heyling heir to a fortune . Paternal
guilt looms much larger in the tale than Heyling ' s father ' s intransigence ...
There has been much unhappiness among critics with Florence ' s plea for
forgiveness from her sinning father . But Arlene Jackson notes that “ Florence has
need of repentance , for she has rejected her father , and at a most critical time ...
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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