A Study of Oliver Twist from the Perspective of Semantic Deviation


校园英语·上旬 2017年9期


【Abstract】Oliver Twist contributes a lot to Charles Dickenss fame. Through reading this book, many semantic deviations can be found, which set good examples for our English writing, especially hyperbole and irony.

【Key words】Oliver Twist; Charles Dickens; hyperbole; irony

Charles Dickens, as the master of words, leaves many outstanding literary works.What makes his works impress people, in my opinion, is not only the attractive stories he tells, but also the way he chooses to write, especially using many semantic deviations. In his masterpiece-Oliver Twist, which tells a story of an orphan, we can see his excellent writing in the following examples.

1. Hyperbole

The use of exaggeration for effect is called hyperbole. Hyperbole is a statement deliberately exaggerated in order to strengthen the effect or add force. It represents something much greater or less, better or worse, or more intense than it really is, or that depicts the impossible as actual.

In Chapter Twelve of Oliver Twist, Oliver is saved by Mr.Brownlow and taken good care of by Mrs.Bedwin. She gives Oliver a basin full of broth “strong enough, Oliver thought, to furnish an ample dinner, when reduced to the regulation strength:for three hundred and fifty paupers, at the lowest computation.”Here hyperbole is vividly used, especially the number “three hundred and fifty”. From this a simple conclusion can be drawn clearly - the children in workhouse are not able to eat their fill. Whats worse, they suffer from starvation and some of them even died because of lacking food. On the other hand, Mrs.Bedwins kindness and generosity can be shown. Thus it is not hard to infer that Mr.Brownlow is also a nice and generous man. The hyperbole used here expresses a completely comparison between the council and Mr. Brownlows.

In Chapter forty-eight, after killing Nancy, Sikes runs away. That Dickens uses the sentence “Let no man talk of murderers escaping justice, and hint that Providence must sleep. There were twenty score of violent deaths in one long minute of that agony of fear.” vividly shows the scare and panic of Sikes. The number “twenty score” reflects the torture of the killer and the terrible situation of Nancys death. It is so miserable that even the atrocious Sikes cannot get away from it. The hyperbole used here expresses the fear of Sikes after he kills Nancy and the misery of Nancy.

2. Irony

The definition of irony varies from person to person.The following are some definitions of irony from dictionaries.endprint

1) Expression of ones meaning by saying the direct opposite of ones thoughts in order to be emphatic, amusing, sarcastic, etc.

——Oxford Advanced Learners English-Chinese Dictionary

2) Use of words which are clearly opposite to ones meaning, usually either in order to be amusing or to show annoyance (e.g. by saying ‘What charming behavior when someone has been rude.)

——Longman Dictionary of English Language &Culture (English-Chinese)

In Oliver Twist, Dickens uses many ironies to describe his point of view in an indirect way. Mostly, irony is used to express ones negative attitude towards something, so is in Oliver Twist.

In Chapter Three, Oliver is put in confinement because of his asking for a little more gruel. The council punishes Oliver, not only his body, but also his spirit. However, instead of describing directly how the Council treats him cruelly, Dickens uses the words “the benefit of exercise”- being forced to bear the coldness of pump in cold weather and getting severely beaten by Mr.Bumble; “the pleasure of society”- being humiliated in front of other children and locked in a dark small room; and “the advantages of religious consolation”- being allowed to listen the prayers and curse of himself. The sentence is a typical example of irony. What Dickens intends to say is just the opposite of the sentences literal meaning. The ironic statement is, in fact, a bitter denunciation and fierce attack at the brutal, inhuman treatment of the poor orphan by the workhouse authority. As a reader, I am amused at the first glance of the words, however, after finishing reading all of this chapter and taking Olivers situation into consideration, I feel extremely sorrowful and angry as well. Child as Oliver is, he shoulders the responsibility that even an adult may not hold. His behavior touches me deeply, especially when he is faced with Mr. Bumbles cruel punishment. From the description of Dickens, the ruthlessness of the workhouse and people in it is shown clearly.

There are many kinds of semantic deviations in Oliver Twist, which make a contribution to the life-likeness of this novel. Among these semantic deviations, Hyperbole and irony are two of the most striking figures of speech. Through hyperbole and irony, Dickens not only gives us a colorful picture of the British society at that time, but also expresses his critically realistic opinion as well.




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