Introduction Oliver Twist
Oliver Twist or the Parish Boy’s Progress is Charles Dicken’s another masterpiece that appeared in serial form in two years from 1837 to 1839 and appeared in the book shape in 1838 in three volumes. This popularity of being published in the book shape even before its serialization ended demonstrates its force and strength as a story. The novel was adapted for various films, plays, tableaus, and course books across the globe. Also, multiple Academy Award-winning 1968 motion pictures. This masterpiece depicted poverty-stricken London and how poor conditions can lead children into crime. The story of the novel revolves around an orphan child, Oliver Twist, who lives in dirty places where innocent children undergo forced slavery, rigorous child labor, and untold sufferings. Yet the fog of these sufferings does not impact the purity and innocence of Oliver, leading him to win the ultimate battle for survival.
Summary of Oliver Twist
The novel unfolds the story of an unfortunate boy, Oliver Twist, a poor orphan soul, who spends most of his early years at a child farm in Mudfog located north of London, with several other poor children having less or no amenities of life. Oliver’s mother dies right after his birth after which the helpless child is sent to a parochial orphanage where he receives ill-treatment. After nine years of suffering and maltreatment, he reaches a warehouse, where once again, he becomes the victim of cruelty and starvation. Upon demanding more food for his fellow sufferers and himself, his owner, Mr. Bumble, becomes furious and decides to apprentice him to Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker of the parish, to get rid of him.
After facing continued mistreatment from Mrs. Sowerberry and Noah Claypole, the fellow apprentice because he was promoted as mute, Oliver runs away. He reaches London, where he meets Jack Dawkins, known as ‘the Artful Dodger’, who directs him to an “old gentleman,” Fagin, a criminal gang leader. He then shares a place with other juvenile criminals at Fagin’s place. Once he goes out with his companions, Dodger and Charles Bates, who pick Mr. Brownlow, an older man’s pocket, and disappear, leaving Oliver to be caught. The poor boy has to go behind the bars for a crime he has never committed. Fortunately, this time, his luck favors him, and he gets relief by the testimony of a bookseller, who happens to witness that crime. Mr. Brownlow, the victim, feels sorry for Oliver and takes him home. Mr. Brownlow finds a striking resemblance between Oliver and a woman in a painting, who was his friend’s wife.
Oliver’s rescue annoys Fagin so much because he was afraid of the whole gang being outed by him, that he shifts his headquarters and appoints Nancy, his trainer, to trace Oliver. Oliver, on the other hand, is enjoying life at Mr. Brownlow’s home, but life leads him to another misery. When Oliver goes out to pay for a book Mr. Brownlow has entrusted with, the gang finally reaches him and takes him to Fagin, he now keeps him under strict captivity after this. To get him entirely under his command, Fagin decides to involve him in a heinous crime – a robbery at a house – where Sikes and Toby Crackit assume the responsibility of taking him there. He enters the house through a window.
Unfortunately, the owners wake upon, and the ensuing noise and resulting tumult lead Oliver to receive a gunshot and fell in a ditch unconscious. On regaining consciousness, he realizes that he was taken care of by a kind lady, Mrs. Maylie, and her niece, Rose, whom he was supposed to rob with the gang. Later finds out that Rose was his late mother’s sister making her his aunt.
Once recovered, he decides to meet Mr. Brownlow, who has provided him the comfort of home for the first time, but he does not find him. Meanwhile, Fagin and his mysterious partner, Monks, are still after Oliver. By chance, Nancy overhears Monks and Fagin’s plot against Oliver and decides to rescue the boy. She, then, meets Mrs. Maylie and discloses the destructive plan that Monks, Oliver’s half-brother, wants to ruin Oliver’s life so that he can have the whole inheritance. Stunned by this horrific truth, Mrs. Maylie tells Nancy’s story to Mr. Brownlow.
In the past Edwin Leeford, Oliver’s father was married to Monks mother but was separated due to unhappy marriage. Later, he was associated with an elderly man who was friends with Mr. Brownlow, had two daughters of whom the eldest one was seventeen years old, Agnes, and falls in love with her but it was kept as a secret. When Edwin visits Rome to save a dying old man, he dies too. Whereas Agnes dies while giving birth to Oliver.
When Nancy has a midnight meeting with Mr. Brownlow and Rose on the London bridge where he directs them to the Monks’ place, Noah who has stolen the money from Mr. Sowerberry flee to London, joins Fagin to spy on Nancy, hears everything, and immediately informs Fagin about these new developments. Fagin misdirects Bill Sikes by stating that she has informed him which she didn’t. Nancy’s double-dealing and betrayal anger him and in a fit of rage beats her to death.
On the other hand, he also hangs himself, though, accidentally while trying to steal money from Fagin to escape from London and settle in France. Meanwhile, Mr. Brownlow and Maylie trace Monks, who finally admits everything and expresses the reason for his hatred toward Oliver. Oliver finds that Monks is his half-brother and their father has left the bulk of his fortune to Agnes Fleming, Oliver’s mother. Finally, the troubles, miseries, and misfortune leave Oliver after he receives his share of the property. Fagin gets punished for his crimes and is hanged. While Monks dies in the prison even after Oliver happily shares half of his fortune with him, apparently he misspends his money, turns to crime, and ends up in prison and Rose marries her sweetheart Harry Maylie. Mr. Brownlow legally adopts Oliver.
Major Themes in Oliver Twist
- Good versus Evil: Good versus evil is the central theme of the novel, Oliver Twist. The author portrays Oliver as a personification of goodness who struggles hard to survive despite ever-emerging adversities. Throughout the novel, Oliver suffers at the hands of evil-minded people such as Fagin, a primary reason for his trouble, who tries his best to manipulate the young boy to steal and involve in other criminal activities for his gang. He strives to transfer those vicious traits into the boy but fails. Oliver’s struggle to get rid of evil and find good finally takes him to his family after various trials. It is because Oliver outweighs the evil and remains a kind and innocent boy.
- The World of Crimes: The novel, Oliver Twist, demonstrates the nature of criminality prevalent in England during the 1830s. Although punished by the authorities, various people thought that stealing and pickpocketing were the right courses of action for them to stay alive. They not only adopted them as professions but also tried to throw others into that dark web of criminality. When Oliver makes his way to London to find a better way to live he finds such people in a gang of Fagin. This new company puts him at the risk of learning criminal behavior from is fellows like Bill Sikes, Charley Bates, and Fagin. To them, crime is an organic outgrowth of their instinctive evilness.
- Child Abuse: The novel also presents a horrible picture of child abuse that wears down the very fabric of the society on which its future hinges. The institutionalization of this abuse is shown when the uncaring doctor and the drunk nurse attend to Oliver’s mother, and later, Oliver faces thrashing and hunger at the warehouse. The author presents a gruesome reality of how children at the warehouse were locked up in a dark place and face emotional and physical abuse. After having trapped in such a dinghy environment, Oliver tries his best to escape but becomes a puppet in the hands of the Fagin gang. His journey from institutional to individual abuse helps readers understand how these inhumane practices were systematized.
- Nature versus Nurture: The novel presents a clash between nature and nurture. Fagin tries his best to corrupt Oliver and wants to turn him into a convict like him against his nature but fails. Although Oliver is involved in a serious crime, his good nature finally saves him when he reaches his family. The novel also explores how nurture supersedes nature in characters such as Nancy and Mr. Sowerberry; both possess natural decency, but the temptation and other influences eclipse this positive trait.
- Poverty: Marked by poverty and deprivation, Oliver Twist’s life spins around the atrocious conditions he braves in his teenage years. First, he endures the brutalities at the warehouse, and later he learns criminal tactics with the Fagin gang. It is actually poverty that has led him to accept the realities he has never imagined to accept in his life. The children are going through grueling sufferings only because their parents cannot afford and the same is the case with Oliver.
- Vulnerabilities of Children: The novel presents Oliver to highlight the powerlessness and vulnerabilities of the children. Oliver is continuously dependent on the bullies such as Fagin, Mr. Bumble, and Nancy. In fact, this vicious circle of negativity never allows him to exercise his will even for once. It is only because of some good people, he pulls himself out of the clutches of the immoral and dangerous world of such corrupt people.
- Justice: Oliver Twist also presents various forms of justice. Almost all of the characters face justice toward the end of the novel. The good characters like Oliver and Rose live happily, while criminals such as Fagin, Sikes, and Monks are punished for their crimes.
- Suffering: Suffering stands at the core of the text. The novel begins by portraying the troublesome life of Oliver’s mother, who suffers at the hands of a corrupt world. Oliver’s own life, too, shows these sufferings and that of others who become a victim of poverty, exploitative system, and finally fall into the hands of the criminal gangs.
- Individual Against Society: The novel also shows an individual pitted against society through the character of Oliver, who tries his best to come out of the systematic exploitation and finally succeeds. To his astonishment, he finds his brother standing in the gang of those exploiting him. This is how an individual becomes a victim in such a social fabric where exploitation becomes an institution.
Major Characters in Oliver Twist
- Oliver Twist: The eponymous boy is the main character of the novel, Oliver Twist, and the protagonist. The hapless orphan finds his mother absent and father missing when he comes into senses shortly after his birth. Marred with a series of tragedies and mishaps right from childhood, Oliver finds himself trapped in continuous troubles and miseries. He faces cruelty, starvation, and mistreatment from others, but all these hindrances fail to change his innocent heart, sense of morality, and kindness. Even meeting with the Fagin gang, his work at the farm, and then work in the parish fail to cast dark shadows on his behavior. Despite his involvement in theft, he comes clean by the end of the novel.
- Fagin: Fagin is another important character of the novel and also a main antagonist and enemy to Oliver along with circumstances. Despite his mature years, Fagin shows repulsive behavior and villainous conduct; a superficiality that shows his inward viciousness. He is the master criminal who leaves no stone unturned to instill criminal traits into Oliver. Despite having worked on him, he knows that Oliver is a different soul, the reason that he plots to keep this virtuous soul close to him through a mysterious person, Edward Monks. He is the one who betrays Nancy to Bill Sikes, leading to her brutal murder.
- Brownlow: Mr. Brownlow is a very respectable elderly man, who had endured various losses in life. He appears in the novel when Fagin’s boys pick his pocket and involve Oliver in the crime. When Oliver’s innocence is proved in the court later, he takes the agitated Oliver to his home, sensing the destitution of the boy. Later in the story, when Fagin takes Oliver back, Mr. Brownlow discovers the truth about Oliver’s bad company, but doesn’t entirely believe that Oliver is bad at heart. Instead, he also solves the mystery of Oliver’s birth and adopts him at the end of the story.
- Monks: Edward Leeford is Oliver’s half-brother and son of Edwin Leeford. The story shows him a tall and dark man, possessing lusty and cruel nature. The demonstration of this nature comes to the fore when he uses Fagin, the master criminal, to corrupt Oliver so that he could have the full share of their father’s inheritance. However, he never succeeds in his vicious plan.
- Maylie: A kind and gentle lady, Mrs. Maylie is Rose’s guardian. She is the owner of the mansion that Crackit and Sikes attempt to rob. Although their attempt at robbery fails, yet Oliver finds in this gentle lady a helping hand –thinking which proves true when later she helps him find the right track in his life.
- Agnes Fleming: Agnes Fleming, an unfortunate lady, is Oliver’s mother. She was engaged to Edwin, Oliver’s father, who died during her last pregnancy. Agnes also dies anonymously in the warehouse soon after Oliver’s birth, leaving her son alone in the cruel world.
- Nancy: A young woman and a prostitute, Nancy is a female gang member of Fagin’s gang. She eventually betrays her leader, Fagin, to save Oliver from the dangerous plotting of his half-brother. She helps Maylie and Mr. Brownlow to discover the reason behind Oliver’s miseries. Unfortunately, her decision to help Oliver takes her life when Sikes shoots her in the head.
- Rose: Rose is Mrs. Maylie’s niece, a beautiful young and kind lady who is in love with Harry, Mrs. Maylie’s son. She helps her aunt nurse Oliver back to health.
- Jack Dawkins: Jack Dawkins is known as Artful Dodger in the novel. He is a skilled pickpocket who works for Fagin. He is the one who introduces Oliver to Fagin, a man who tries hard to ridicule the innocent and kind nature of the boy.
- Sikes: He is the minor character of the novel. A brutal and stout criminal, Sikes takes Oliver on the failed robbery and later flees, leaving him to be caught red-handed. He later kills Nancy for betraying the gang and accidentally kills himself, too.
Writing Style of Oliver Twist
The novel represents an array of different writing styles and this Dickensian approach shows the merit of the story. Dickens has used satire and sharp irony to mock several institutions such as the justice system, the parish house, unfair legal system, and labor farms. Realism is juxtaposed with melodrama in the text at several points, leading Dickens to comment on the biting social and political approach of the system. However, the skillful use of elements of periphrasis, complex characterization, and a varied sentence structure allows him to present the struggle between the forces of good and evil. The diction is quite simple and the flow of the language does not hinder readers’ progress.
Analysis of Literary Devices in Oliver Twist
- Action: The main action of the novel comprises the escape of Oliver Twist from the warehouse. The rising action occurs when Oliver finds himself trapped in the circle of criminals of the gang of Fagin. The falling action occurs when Oliver and Rose learn their true identities and Fagin is executed.
- Allegory: Oliver Twist shows the use of allegory by presenting the main idea of how the criminal mentality present in society tries to legitimize its wicked practices.
- Anaphora: The novel shows the use of anaphora at different places as given in the examples below,
Lor bless her dear heart, no!’ interposed the nurse, hastily depositing in her pocket a green glass bottle, the contents of which she had been tasting in a corner with evident satisfaction.’Lor bless her dear heart, when she has lived as long as I have, sir, and had thirteen children of her own, and all on ’em dead except two, and them in the wurkus with me, she’ll know better than to take on in that way, bless her dear heart! Think what it is to be a mother, there’s a dear young lamb do.’ (Chapter-I)
ii. Lor, only think,’ said Mrs. Mann, running out,—for the three boys had been removed by this time,—‘only think of that! (Chapter-II)
iii. By the bye,’ said Mr. Bumble, ‘you don’t know anybody who wants a boy, do you? A porochial ‘prentis, who is at present a dead-weight; a millstone, as I may say, round the porochial throat? Liberal terms, Mr. Sowerberry, liberal terms?’ (Chapter-IV)
iv. ‘A few—a very few—will suffice, Rose,’ said the young man, drawing his chair towards her. (Chapter-XXXV)
The above examples show the repetitious use of the phrases “Lor bless her dear heart”, “only think”, “Porochial”, “liberal terms” and “a few.”
- Alliteration: Oliver Twist presents the conspicuous repetition of identical initial consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables. For example,
The sun,–the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man–burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray. (Chapter-XXXXVIII)
ii. The end of a year found him contracted, solemnly contracted, to that daughter; the object of the first, true, ardent, only passion of a guileless girl. (Chapter-XXXXIX)
Just mark the consonant sounds of /s/, /b/, /l/ and /t/.
- Allusions: The novel shows the use of various allusions as mentioned in the below examples,
Fagin took the opportunity of reading Oliver a long lecture on the crying sin of ingratitude. (Chapter-XVIII).
ii. A porochial ‘prentis, who is at present a dead-weight; a millstone, as I may say, round the porochial throat?
The first example alludes to Macbeth and the second to the book of Luke, from the New Testament.
- Conflict: There are two types of conflicts in the novel. The first one is the external conflict that is going on between Oliver and the world of evil. Another is the internal conflict in the heart of Oliver about his existence, his fight with evil, and about problems of his life how they are going to be resolves.
- Climax: The climax of the novel occurs when Sikes kills Nancy and accidentally hangs himself.
- Characters: Oliver Twist presents both static as well as dynamic characters. The young woman, Nancy, and Mr. Brownlow are dynamic characters. However, the rest of the characters do not see any change in their behavior, as they are static characters like Oliver Twist, Fagin. Sikes and Rose.
- Foreshadowing: The novel shows examples of foreshadows as given in the examples below,
Noah Claypole ran along the streets at his swifest pace, and paused not once for breath, until he reached the workhouse-gate. (Chapter-VII)
ii. For a long time, Oliver remained motionless in this attitude. The candle was burning low in the socket when he rose to his feet. Having gazed cautiously round him, and listened intently, he gently undid the fastenings of the door, and looked abroad. (Chapter-VII)
iii. It was no unfit messenger of death, who had disturbed the quiet of the matron’s room. Her body was bent by age; her limbs trembled with palsy. (Chapter-XXIV)
These examples predict what is going to happen in the story; the first shows dinghy conditions, the second escape of Oliver, and the third sentence predict a death.
- Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
What an excellent example of the power of dress, young Oliver Twist was! Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar; it would have been hard for the haughtiest stranger to have assigned him his proper station in society. (Chapter-I)
ii. Fortifying himself with this assurance, Sikes drained the glass to the bottom, and then, with many grumbling oaths, called for his physic. The girl jumped up, with great alacrity; poured it quickly out, but with her back towards him; and held the vessel to his lips, while he drank off the contents. (Chapter- XXXIX)
The above examples show the use of different images such as the image of dreams, bug, movement, and image of his shape. The second example also shows the images of sound, touch, and sight.
- Irony: The novel shows situational irony as given in the below example,
The medical gentleman walked away to dinner; and the nurse, having once more applied herself to the green bottle, sat down on a low chair before the fire, and proceeded to dress the infant. (Chapter-1)
- Metaphor: Oliver Twist shows good use of various metaphors besides the extended metaphors of good versus evil. For example,
Alas! How few of Nature’s faces are left alone to gladden us with their beauty! Te cares, and sorrows, and hungerings, of the world, change them as they change hearts; and it is only when those passions sleep, and have lost their hold for ever, that the troubled clouds pass oﬀ, and leave Heaven’s surface clear. (XXIV)
ii. The ﬂame threw a ghastly light on their shrivelled faces, and made their ugliness appear terrible, as, in this position, they began to converse in a low voice. (XXIV)
iii. Tears are signs of gladness as well as grief; but those which coursed down Rose’s face, as she sat pensively at the window, still gazing in the same direction, seemed to tell more of sorrow than of joy. (XXXVI)
These examples show that nature, flame, and tears have been compared to different things to make them feel prominent.
- Mood: The novel shows a sympathetic mood, though it becomes tragic, ironic, and highly satiric at times. Sometimes, it also becomes gloomy when Oliver is trapped in violence and crimes.
- Motif: Most essential motifs of Oliver Twist are the hidden family relationships, mistaken identities, Oliver’s Face, and lack of humanity.
- Narrator: The novel is narrated from a third-person point of view. It is also called an omniscient narrator, who happens to be the author himself as he can see things from all perspectives.
- Protagonist: Oliver Twist is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with his miserable plight and ends with a happy note.
- Theme: A theme is a central idea that the novelist or the writer wants to stress upon. The novel shows the clash between good and evil and the absurdity of life, the importance of upbringing, and family in life.
- Setting: The setting of the novel is the filthy slums of London and the comfortable places of Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Maylies.
- Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes as given in the examples below,
The recess beneath the counter in which his ﬂock mattress was thrust, looked
like a grave. (Chapter-V)
ii. There was a dull sound of falling water not far off; and the leaves of the old tree stirred gently in the night wind. It seemed like quiet music for the repose of the dead. (Chapter-XXI)
iii. The green damp hung upon the low walls; the tracks of the snail and slug glistened in the light of the candle; but all was still as death. (Chapter-XXVI)
The first simile compares the silence with death, the second also compares dim sounds with stillness or death.
- Symbolism: Oliver Twist represents various symbols such as; darkness symbolizes crime, the countryside represents happiness, dirt and dilapidation symbolize poverty, while “London Bridge” represents the collision of two worlds.