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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The punishment is equivalent to the offense . But there are crimes for which an
equivalent punishment is impossible . If my neighbor destroys three of my cows ,
but has no cows of his or her own , what punishment can be employed ?
This is the most complicated of all because , as society in Oliver Twist is
constituted , even the blameless feel the burden of guilt for these offenses . I have
presented these transgressions hierarchically from the most public to the most
Most of Dickens ' novels focus on punishing offenses or patterns of offense in
specific institutions or individuals . But A Tale of Two Cities emphasizes the fates
of nations rather than of individuals . Because history does not forgive , there is
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Attitudes Toward Punishment and Forgiveness
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