Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I recently started reading Oliver Twist for the first time. A little late for that, I know (I even had a collection of all the famous pieces of eighteenth century English Literature in my house when I was a kid, though I couldn't imagine why anyone would want to read them!).

It could be said though, that a book like Oliver Twist wasn't quite meant for very young readers. Reading through it, it seems he supposes his reader to be mature and somewhat opinionated about, and experienced in, life. Dickens also has a writing style that younger people might find a bit rigid and lengthy.

One thing I found really funny was towards the beginning of the book Oliver supposes that "the Jew" (Fagin) and his gang are employed making handkerchiefs. And for quite a little while there is a complete lack of communication in using the word "work". Oliver supposes they mean handkerchiefs, and it actually seems they understand him to understand that they mean robbery.

For example in chapter 9:

"‘You’d like to be able to make pocket–handkerchiefs as easy as Charley Bates, wouldn’t you, my dear?’ said the Jew.

‘Very much, indeed, if you’ll teach me, sir,’ replied Oliver."

"At length, he began to languish for fresh air, and took many occasions of earnestly entreating the old gentleman to allow him to go out to work with his two companions.", and many similar passages.

This is funny to me because such a lengthy misunderstanding once happened to me with Israeli charity collectors in regards to the word work. I once came to Montreal (from Israel) with the intention of working with an acquaintance of mine in the dry cleaning industry. I had intended to stay in the free lodging intended for Israeli charity collectors, and had mentioned to the owner on the phone before I came "אני מגיע לשמה לעבוד". I was surprised the next day when the Israelis told me things like "הולכים לעבוד, אתה מגיע?י".

The absurdity grew even more when I informed them that I met with some trouble with the Immigration Officers at the airport when I told them I had come "to work" (I had not known it was not officially allowed for an American without papers). The Israelis thought this was a complex play on words and ideas when they told each other "הוא אמר להם שהוא מגיע לפה לעבוד!י" (obviously with the understanding that I meant charity collecting, but I was using the word "work" which is often used to refer to it, to make it sound more legitimate, not knowing that "working" is just as prohibited for an Israeli in Canada as soliciting!). It turned out, by the way, that if the owner had not understood me to mean charity collecting, he might not have let me stayed there...

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