It is clear that oppression by poverty affects people differently. It affects not only individual people but also poverty takes it toll on the society that culminates it, which leads to class distinction. Poverty is the central theme in both Angela's Ashes and Oliver Twist, and it has proven to have the ability to corrupt a man or on the other hand, make him stronger. Oliver Twist, from the novel Oliver Twist, and Frank McCourt, from the novel Angela's Ashes, are two characters whom alike, manage to surpass poverty and make something of their lives.
In contrast, Malachy McCourt from Angela's Ashes, is a character that demonstrates how poverty can lead to the corruption of man both mentally and emotionally. In Oliver Twist, Oliver is plagued with an impoverished lifestyle as an orphan in the workhouse. In nineteenth century England, it was hard for the children to escape the poverty that constrained them. Furthermore, the workhouses had become general mixed institutions containing all types of the destitute (the criminal and the lunatic as well as the sick and aged), with the consequent horrors arising out of unspecialized management, oppression and promiscuity. This type of dismal environment would perhaps allow the reader to assume a sense of corruption for Oliver. In spite of Oliver's lack of love in his life, he is able to overcome the obstacles of hate, greed and revenge.
'What was Oliver's horror and alarm as he stood a few paces off, looking ho with his eyelids as wide open as they would possibly go, to see the Dodger plunge his hand into the old gentleman's pocket, and draw from thence a handkerchief! To see him hand the same to Charley Bates; and finally behold them, both running away around the corner at full speed.' Pg. 144 This quotes proves that Oliver opposes the common belief that impoverished children will lapse into the underworld of crime, and instead he is able to optimistically secure a positive, fulfilled life. Oliver in essence, uses his impoverished lifestyle as an advantage to his strategic plan in obtaining happiness. Unlike the common belief in the Victorian era, Oliver was not demoralized by poverty and poverty had a powerful impact in making him fight for what he wanted to achieve.
In comparison to Oliver Twist, Frank McCourt was also a character that was not disillusioned and demoralized due to the effects of poverty. Frank had a good head on his shoulders in the sense that he was taught morals and beliefs that would otherwise embody a faithful Irish Catholic boy. However, due to his impoverished lifestyle, he began to doubt his faith in God, whereas Oliver Twist did not. Also, unlike Oliver Twist, Frank McCourt would steal scarce bits of food for his family because he had lost all faith in God. With no income, he observed his family slowly deteriorating and he wanted to do something about it, so he tried his best to obtain employment at the age of twelve. Both Oliver Twist and Frank McCourt were protected by their inner strength and their natural goodness and instinct for survival, enabled them to overcome the odds of life.
In spite of their difficult struggle, both characters were able to secure an optimistic future for themselves. Oliver Twist, at the end of the novel, goes to live with the wealthy Mr. Brownlow and his aunt, and Frank McCourt returns to America in hopes of living the American Dream; a chance at opportunity, prosperity and life. He looks to America as a classless society where his ambitions will be respected and his talents will be rewarded. Frank almost feels as if breaking out of Limerick, Ireland means breaking out of the wrath of poverty. In contrast to Oliver Twist and Frank McCourt, Malachy McCourt, a character from Angela's Ashes, embodies the disillusionment and downfall of a character due to poverty.
Malachy lapses into alcoholism when he finds his family irreversibly plagued by poverty. He does not try to better his family's situation instead he causes more emotional and financial problems for them by drinking away the money that they had left for food. He displays how poverty can lead to disillusionment since he drinks himself into a stupor, partially to dull the pains of not being able to provide for his family. Also Malachy demonstrates how poverty can lead to disassociation since he flees to England and never returns to save his family.
When Malachy goes to work in England, he uses his physical distance to justify abandoning his family, leaving them without his emotional or financial support. He is the epitome of demoralized drunken Irish men of the time period, and his self-pity causes him to become a parasite off of the welfare system. Frank McCourt, contrary to his father's actions, does not lapse into the stereotypical hedonistic man his father has allowed himself to become. At the age of eleven, Frank is wise enough to realize the unethical streak of his father, and he vows to not let "the drink" consume him, like it consumed Malachy. The contrasts of father Malachy, and son Frank show how poverty effects people in different ways. The effects of poverty can encompass so many aspects of life, and a predominant one is social inequalities.
As long as societies such as those in Ireland and nineteenth century England suffered from poverty, class distinction forever separated the fortunate from the unfortunate. In Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt writes of the class distinction and social inequalities of his time, growing up in Limerick, Ireland. Similarly, Charles Dickens writes in Oliver Twist, the oppression of poverty in the Victorian era. Charles Dickens indicts the upper echelon of society through his mocking articles he wrote for The Times, a newspaper that attacked the Poor Law Amendment implemented in 1834. Through Oliver Twist, Dickens was able to arouse a sense of social consciousness. He indicts the aristocratic populace of society regarding issues such as the workhouses that stem from the problem of poverty.
Dickens could not understand how society could allow its people to continue in such abject poverty while society sat and enjoyed the story of Oliver Twist and his struggle through life and the workhouses in The Times newspaper. Parallel to Dickens criticism in the Victorian era in London, England, Frank McCourt in Angela's Ashes, indicts the total hypocrisy of the Irish Catholic church. Because of social snobbery, Frank is unfairly denied many opportunities. Although Frank is an intelligent, quick-witted, and eager student, he is prevented from becoming an altar boy and deprived of chances to further his education because when people see him dressed in rags, they shut the door on his face. " 'Tis class distinction.
They don't want boys from the lanes on the altar. They don't want the ones with the scabby knees and the hair sticking up. 'Tis hard to hold onto the faith with the snobbery that's' in it." This quote proves that the church also suffers from social snobbery, because they will only accept boys who appear well groomed to represent the clergy at mass. McCourt shows the reader the hypocrisy of the church since it is unusual how the church allows people to live in such abject poverty, yet they still expect children like Frank to have lavish communion suits, and collect money for their special sacrament of communion and confirmation. One would assume that Jesus would perhaps not approve of this pretentious behavior that the church is enforcing. What kind of message is the church trying to send to the community of Limerick, Ireland? Live in poverty but somehow try to come up with enough money to buy suits for confirmation, so you appear wealthy in front of the community and therefore represent the church properly? This attitude is what evidently bothers McCourt as he realizes how contradictory the churches actions are with what they preach.
Due to the coexistence of poverty and class distinction, opportunity and prosperity would have always been farfetched in societies such as Limerick and nineteenth century England. It is extremely hard to break free of poverty, and class distinction will never be erased as long as poverty exists. However, it is evident that Oliver Twist and Frank McCourt, those characters who possessed the drive to escape from poverty and had such a strong instinct and desire for survival, were capable of attaining a better future for their selves. Yet, if one were to possess the weakened attitude of Malachy McCourt, it is evident how poverty can lead to the corruption of people when they allow themself to be lost in a fog of meaningless platitudes.