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Oliver Twist or the Parish Boy's Progress




Oliver Twist

or the Parish Boy’s Progress

A novel by Charles Dickens

Introduction

”Oliver Twist”, Dickens’ second novel, tells the story of the orphan Oliver set against the seamy underside of the London criminal world Published in monthly parts partly concurrent with Pickwick, the novel was illustrated by George Cruikshank. In this departure from the merry world of Pickwick, Dickens targets the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1934 which renewed the importance of the workhouse as a means of relief for the poor. Dickens was severely criticised for introducing criminals and prostitutes in Oliver Twist. The novel was well received but not with the adulation of Pickwick.

List of the most important Characters

Oliver Twist, an orphan, is the main character of this novel.

Mr. Bumble, the beadle, is an unpleasant and slimy guy. His job is to distribute money to the poorhouses.

Mr. Fagin, a Jew, is the leader of a professional gang of young criminals.

Mr. Bill Sikes is a criminal like Fagin. But he is unscrupulous and does not shrink from killing a person.



Mr. Jack Dawkins, called the Artful Dodger, is a member of Fagin’s gang. He steals pocket-handkerchiefs and jewellery.

Nancy, a young woman, belongs to Mr. Sikes and Mr. Fagin. She is actually a good girl who wants to help Oliver.

Mr. Monks, a criminal like Fagin, wants to involve Oliver in criminal affairs.

Mr. Brownlow, a friend of Oliver’s dead father, is a kind old man.

Miss Rose, a young woman, is, like Mr. Brownlow very helpful, and kind to Oliver.

Summary

Oliver Twist is born in a workhouse in a town in England. His mother dies during the birth and Oliver, so called by Mr. Bumble, the beadle, grows up as a orphan in a orphanage. When Mr. Bumble says that Oliver causes too much trouble, the beadle decides to get rid of him and so he comes to the family of an undertaker. They are so unfriendly to him that he decides to run away to London.

Arriving there he is nearly starved. A middle-aged Jew, called Mr. Fagin, helps him and takes him to his home. There he meets Jack Dawkins, called the Artful Dodger, and other teens who give pocket-handkerchiefs and sometimes jewellery to Fagin. Oliver firstly does not realise that the group around Fagin is a gang of thieves who steal for their leader. Oliver himself must also learn to steal. One day he wants to go out of Fagin’s house and the man says that he can go with Mr. Dawkins and another boy. The two boys steal a handkerchief from an old man who is reading in a book store. Oliver is shocked when he watches the boys stealing. They run away and Oliver follows them. He gets caught because everyone believes that he is the thief. When the owner of the handkerchief, a man named Mr. Brownlow, relieves him, Oliver collapses. The old man decides to take the weak boy with him. A few days later he is healthy again because Mr. Brownlow and an old women called Mrs. Bedwin have cared well for the boy. One day Mr. Brownlow requests Oliver to bring back some books to store and pay for them. When Oliver walks down the street, he meets Nancy, who works for Fagin. She catches him and takes him to Fagin who is really pleased about Oliver’s return because he was afraid that Oliver would reveal Fagin’s gang.

Mr. Bill Sikes plans a burglary for which he needs a small boy. He chooses Oliver as his helper. Finally the burglary fail. Mr. Sikes can flee and leaves Oliver hurt behind. Oliver is able to drag himself to the house they wanted to break into. The owners of the house, Miss Rose and her aunt, are very kind to Oliver. When he is blamed to be one of the criminals who wanted to break into their house, they defend him. Oliver is now secure. They care for him and give him a home and a family. He also meets Mr. Brownlow again.



Oliver’s helpers are finally told by Nancy that a person called Monks is the reason for Oliver’s involvement in criminal affairs. Monks is Oliver’s half brother and has embezzled Oliver’s part of his father’s heritage. He covered up all of Oliver’s tracks which could prove his origin.

Nancy gets murdered by Sikes who himself dies while fleeing. Fagin is arrested and later executed. Monks also has to pay for his acts.




Oliver, the hero himself, gets adopted by Mr. Brownlow and finally gets the position in society which is entitled to him.

Interpretation

Dickens’ novel describes well the hard life of the poor people at his time. As an example he uses a young boy, Oliver, who has to live with many prejudices. Oliver is an orphan who spends most of his childhood at a workhouse. He searches for his origin. There are several hints that suggest that he is the child of a rich father but he and the people who want to help him cannot prove that. In the end we get to know the truth.

Dickens also speaks about another problem. If you were poor at that time you hardly ever had a chance to improve your situation or to get any further in life. The author tries to criticise the situations, he turns against rich people who just watch the suffering of the poor people without doing anything against it or are responsible for their suffering. He does not criticise all the rich people in his novel. He just thinks that rich people ought to help the poor ones rather than have prejudices against them.

Many poor people at that time became criminals. Monks also tries to make Oliver become a criminal. Once you have become a criminal there is no way out for you.

Characterisation

Oliver

He is the main character and the hero of Dickens’ novel. Oliver is an orphan. He grows up in a workhouse under difficult circumstances. He is weak and delicate because he gets too little food in the poorhouse. He feels lonely. When he comes to London Fagin takes him to his gang of criminals. Mr. Brownlow is the first one who gives Oliver safety and security. Later also Miss Rose shows him affection. In the end he is fortunate because he inherits and gets adopted by Mr. Brownlow who will be his family.

Mr. Fagin, Mr. Bill Sikes and Mr. Jack Dawkins

These characters represent the seamy underside of the London criminal world. They are frightening. They live in a milieu of murderers and thieves. Mr. Fagin is the leader of a pickpocket-gang and persuades poor children to steal for him. Mr. Dawkins is one of Fagin’s thieves. Mr. Sikes is the most frightening person of these three ones. He is unscrupulous and a human life is not of importance to him.

Mr. Brownlow, Miss Rose, Nancy

They are the positive characters of this novel. Mr. Brownlow is the first person who helps Oliver. He cares for him when he is ill and gives him a home. In the end Oliver gets adopted by Mr. Brownlow. Later Miss Rose also helps him. Both are willing to find Oliver’s origin. Although Nancy is a member of Fagin’s gang of thieves, she is actually a good girl who wants to help Oliver. But she realises too late that she can not get out of this milieu. In the end she gets murdered by Sikes because she has betrayed the gang.

Monks

He is Oliver’s half brother. He wants to bring Oliver into the underside of London, so that he finally gets killed. He destroys every proof of Oliver’s origin in order to get his part of their father’s inheritance.











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