In the musical Oliver!, Oliver Twist is an orphan living in Mr. Bumble’s workhouse. When Oliver famously asks for more gruel, Mr. Bumble sings:
There’s a dark, thin winding stairway without any bannister,
Which we’ll throw him down and feed him the cockroaches served in a canister.
After Oliver’s uppity request for more food, Mr Bumble wanders through London’s streets trying to sell him in “Boy For Sale”:
Knowing Mr Bumble’s character, his motivation for selling Oliver is cash. The man who buys him is an unpleasant undertaker named Mr Sowerbury. Within 12 hours of being bought, Oliver has been terrorized, beaten, and denied food.
Mr Sowerbury’s interest in buying a person are probably the same as the Thénardiers’s for buying Cosette in Les Miserables–cheaplabor. Where Oliver is sold to the undertaker, Cosette owed her captivity to the fraud of two innkeepers, the Thénardiers. The couple had promised Cosette’s single mother, Fantine, a safe home for her child while she worked in a factory. With her mother away, they treat Cosette like a slave.
Below a man who owes Cosette’s mother bargains with the Thénardiers for her freedom:
Cosette and Oliver were trapped in domestic slavery because their parents were unable to care for them, and then taken advantage of by their caretakers. Those caretaker-traffickers used threats of violence, emotional manipulation, debt bondage and their positions of authority to enslave the children.
Though Oliver and Cosette were both eventually saved by upper-class men in their communities, many children (between 100,000 and 300,000 a year domestically in the United States) are never saved. You can help save them.
Next week: competing visions of prostitution, comparing Moulin Rouge and The Man of La Mancha.