Dickens explicitly says of Rose Maylie that she was "so mild and gentle — so pure and beautiful; that earth seemed not her element" (XXIX).
Similarly, Oliver's joy when he is rescued for the second time is expressed in terms of a yearning for death: "he felt calm and happy; and could have died without a murmur" (XXX). Though many will think Kettle's articulation of the central theme as "the struggle of the poor against the bourgeois state" (Kettle, i.
Thingummy, as she presides over the death of Oliver's mother: "Lor bless her heart, no!
[she must not talk about dying]" interposed the nurse, hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction.
The morally approved people in the novel, including Oliver when he is with them, exist on the edge of the grave. Dulwich cannot exist when the whole world has become the Fleet.
One of the major questions, then, is how such a dark novel can be so funny.
It is probable that most critics often laugh while reading it; it is certain that when they are finished they write essays on its bleak effects. The reason for the paradoxical reaction is, I think, that Dickens uses laughter here to subvert our conventional reactions and to emphasize more dramatically the isolation of his young hero, indeed, the essential isolation of all men.
In denying the possibility of a comic society and yet provoking laughter, the novel continually thwarts and frustrates the reader; for our laughter continues to search for a social basis, even when there is no longer any support for it in the novel.