Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Patricia Matthew

Committee Member

Adam Rzepka

Committee Member

Jonathan Greenberg


This thesis examines the role of the orphan benefactor relationship in Oliver Twist (1838), Great Expectations (1861), and Helen Hunt Jackson's Ramona (1884). This thesis looks at the conflict between the orphan benefactor and the orphan, which is an important link between Ramona and Hard Times. In this respect, my thesis addresses the larger construction of childhood in nineteenth-century Victorian culture. Grounded in common Victorian ideas of the deserving poor, the construction of the "deserving orphan" in these novels shows how orphan "innocence" is the center of major problems that these novels try to solve. One of the main arguments in this thesis is that not all orphans are considered morally equal and thus ostensibly good orphans are sometimes considered more worth saving than others. The element of sympathy is an essential ingredient in the creation of paternal bonds. As I explain, the idea of sympathy is related to the idea of innocence. They occur together in Ramona somewhat differently than in Dickens novels due to racial difference, and there is a tension between the benefactor's financial ability and their capacity for sympathy. As I explain, the idea of sympathy here is related to Robin Bernstein's idea of radicalized critique of the white child as a special character in nineteenth-century culture and literature.