Dickens was a very prolific writer in the early to later 19th century. Although his books and other works were widely accepted, his views of the working class proletariat are different than other scholars of his time. Evil is often a key motif in Dickens' fiction; but he was more occupied with its effects than its causes. Suffering is prevalent in characters who are both defenseless and blameless. The child protagonists of Oliver Twist and The Old Curiosity Shop, and Barnaby Rudge is created to create sympathies as opposed to increase the critical intelligence. Not until the mid-1840s did Dickens begin to view society in its entirety, and so to realize the importance of grouping individual lives within encompassing cultural patterns. This was a decade of political and economic troubles, when the people first felt the full threats and consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Barnaby Rudge is the first of Dickens' novels to show an awareness of problems. The need for parliamentary reform is backed by the Chartist Agitation. The American episodes in Martin Chuzzlewit further prove Dickens' realization of the power of society over its individual members.
Dickens, with his family in a debtor's prison, worked at age 12 in the Blacking Factory. Dickens quickly realized that in 1840 only 20% of the children in London had any schooling, which had risen by 1860 to about 50% of the children aged 5-15 which were in some sort of school, even if it was only a day school (similar to the one in which Pip from Great Expectations finds himself). Dickens normally ignores the nobility and the aristocracy in favor of characters whose fortunes have been earned through commerce. Even Miss Havisham's family fortune was made through the brewery that is still connected to her house. In this way, by connecting the theme of social class to the idea of work and self-advancement, Dickens subtly reinforces the novel's overarching theme of ambition and self-improvement.