The Poor Amendment Act of 1834 (promoting both individualism and capitalism within 19th century Britain society) withheld a heavy impact to the country's poverty relief system. It stipulated that the poor could only receive government assistance if they moved into government workhouses. Although propitious in theory, the law contained many flaws within its structure, and in return, its detriment towards the British working class inspired many forms of social criticism. Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South, and Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist for example, provide a contrast to the portrayal of different people relying on these government institutions, while also staying true to the cruelties and struggles they had to face against their authorities.
Both Gaskell and Dickens share similarities between their criticisms of the Poor Amendment Act, however, the two authors differ in their choice of tone between the depictions of the types of people within the working class. For example, in Oliver Twist, Dickens supports more naturalistic characterization of his characters (notably those in the criminal world) where they are governed by their instincts, passions, and environment. This not only portrays Dickens' characters as more one-dimensional and somewhat cartoonish, but it also promotes a deterministic take on the workers' state, where these matters of instincts and social environments "fix their lives". For example, characters like Nancy were written to be bound to the criminal world 'til death. Although she had sympathetic qualities due the misogynic treatment she fell victim to, and had played a maternal role in Oliver's life, she still could not escape the cruelties despite her somewhat redeeming qualities.
In contrast to this, Gaskell decided to take a different approach to the characterization of her working class characters. Although realism is not exactly found in the implausible outcome of Margaret's and Thornton's happy ending, it is seemingly found within the characterization of the middle class.