Value of Women

In Oliver Twist, Dickens’ two main female characters are essentially foils of each other–the chaste Rose and the prostitute Nancy. Clearly, this says a lot about how women were valued in the mid-18th century. Rose, who, despite her uncertain heritage, is basically a perfect model of a pure young woman is highly valued for her chastity. Nancy, while not an evil character by any means, does not have as high a societal position as Rose. Even Nancy values Rose more highly than herself: “if there was more like you, there would be fewer like me,–there would–there would!” (333). Here, purity seems to be the most highly valued quality of women.

As we know, this is a debate that has extended far past the end of the 18th century. “Slut shaming” is something that is still a threat to women, certainly more so than in the mid-18th century. Nowadays, chastity is no longer a requirement for a woman to be considered “valued,” but, as a result, the female population that can be criticized for perceived promiscuity has grown. As in Dickens’ time, a double standard exists here–obviously, women who are promiscuous need (often male) partners in order to do the things that they are being criticized for.

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