We have been looking, for the last few weeks, at various resources which reflect our focus our childhood and growing up theme. These include;
- Oliver Twist
- Train to Toyland
- The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
We began our project looking at an extract from the novel Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens, and we explored its Historical Dimension.
Oliver twist was set in the early years of Queen Victoria's rein, in the year of 1838 and published in 1839. Oliver Twist was a character based on a typical young boy in that time. He was an orphan who was born into a workhouse and forced to do boring, useless jobs such as Oakum (disentangling rope so it can be recycled). The workhouses discourage people going there by making them as unappealing and horrible as possible so people would choose living in the street over staying there. The only food in the workhouse was gruel which was watery porridge and Oliver is famous for asking for "some more".
We also looked at the Criminal Underworld of that time. Thieving was rife, you were very likely to get roped if you looked wealthy, and prostitution was also common. Nancy was most probably a prostitute. The death penalty was used in England for crimes after dark, for example- breaking into a house, as a deterrent to stop crime. The death penalty, in fact, encouraged more deaths due to the fact that robbery after dark resulted in the same punishment as if you murdered someone. Because of this they would kill the person they have robbed so that they wouldn't be testified against. Women said they were pregnant to get out the death penalty; this was called pleading their belly. In those times they didn't believe in abortion, so the babies couldn't be killed. Another alternative to long prison sentences were for them to be transported to Australia. This involved three month of travelling on a boat whilst chained in the hulks. Freed women were in great dander of being raped and would try to hook on to a man for protection.
Another feature we studied was Child Labour. Boys worked in the cotton mills in Lancashire, in pits, match factories and, as seen in Oliver Twist, as Chimney Sweeps. The small boys were put up the chimneys to clean them and were sometimes trapped left to die. Toxic soot would also fill their lungs causing them to choke and die. Whilst working in the match factories they handled phosphorus which is corrosive and caused their fingers and faces to corrode and burn.
Next we looked at Barry Hines' novel KES, by Lawrence Till and adapted by Barry Hill.
KES was set in Barnsley in the 1960's, which was an industrial town with pits for mining coal and pit ponies to go down the two-hundred foot shafts. Jud was the brother of Billy Casper, the main character, and Jud worked down in the pits. He had no prospects for Billy. Jud had a similar upbringing with Oliver Twist, as Jed had a dysfunctional family. He lived in poverty and had a poor education. However, he was very interested in nature and spent his time caring for a kestrel bird which he called his best friend.