Dickens And "The Jew"


Was Charles Dickens being anti-Semitic when portraying the character Fagin as "the Jew", in his classic story Oliver Twist, or was he merely painting an accurate portrait of the 19th Century Jew in England? Some critics seem to believe so. Though there are no indications of neither anti-Semitic nor racist slurs throughout the story, Dickens' image turned out to follow the path of his time and place in history. The result is an enlightened picture of Victorian England's image of the Jew.
The attitude towards Jews and Jewishness in 19th Century England demonstrates that Dickens was a man of his time. His attitude reflected the common British belief that Jews were villainous thieves. ...

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that Jews just might be humans after all.
In reading this story, I discovered Fagin to be somewhat likeable and misunderstood. Though revolting to look at, having a repulsive disposition, and having manners and hygiene left to be desired I could not help but to feel sorry for the old guy. All he wanted to have was security in his old age. For example, when Fagin sees Oliver looking at him while admiring his treasures, Fagin asks the boy if he had seen any of his pretty things. Oliver tells him that he did. "Ah!" said the Jew, turning rather pale. "They- are mine, Oliver; my little property. All I have to live upon, in my old age. The folks call me a miser, my dear. Only a miser, that's all" (Dickens 1961: 91). I also found Fagin to be very charming in instances, almost likeable and having some redeeming qualities. Another example of Fagin's humanity is seen in the way he treats Oliver. Although Oliver plays a totally utilitarian role to Fagin, he becomes protective ...

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wicked practices of this kind of Jew.
In Dickens and his Jewish Characters, Dickens answers a letter from a Jewess woman who wrote him concerned with the fact that Dickens may be in fact an anti-Semitic and wanted to allow Dickens to reply as to why the characterization of Fagin. His response was that "Fagin in Oliver Twist is a Jew because it unfortunately was true, of the time to which that story refers, that the class of criminal almost invariably was a Jew" (Dickens 1918:9).
Critical reviews have been inclined to argue that Fagin is only a Jew in no more than name. "His main claim to Jewishness", contends critic Harry Stone, "is the fact that Dickens constantly labels him 'the ...

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Added: 1/5/2006 09:17:01 AM
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