OLIVER TWIST, a rich tapestry of English society in the 1830’s, has two distinct strands. In the first chapters, Dickens satirizes Victorian social institutions. Born in a workhouse, the young protagonist of unknown (but genteel, as it turns out) parentage is arbitrarily given the name Oliver Twist. His subsequent experiences of charity at the hands of the parish beadle Mr. Bumble, the workhouse directors, the magistrates, and the household of the undertaker to whom he is apprenticed sharply indicate the hypocrisy, stupidity, and cruelty of the so-called respectable world.
Running away to London, Oliver finds himself in a warmer though not actually kinder milieu--the urban underworld of thieves. In depicting the wily old Jew Fagin and his gang--the Artful Dodger, brutal Bill Sykes, Nancy, and others--the narrative becomes more sentimental and more humorous than in the early chapters. Though Dickens’ moral ties are with Oliver and the virtuous middle-class characters (Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies), his interests and sympathies seem to lie with the outlaws.
Throughout the novel, Oliver himself is a mere pawn. Fagin tries to make a thief of the naive boy, who is rescued, recaptured, and saved again. The mysterious Monks, who turns out to be Oliver’s half brother, would like the child to go bad: If debased, Oliver will lose his share of their late father’s estate. Oliver, however, proves passively incorruptible. The novel ends with nearly everyone where he or she should be. The genteel characters live together in a country village that is heaven on earth; the criminals are dead or punished. Only in the case of Nancy, viciously murdered for passing information to Rose Maylie, is conduct not appropriately rewarded.
OLIVER TWIST’S plot is intricate and governed to an improbable degree by coincidence. The book’s chief excellences are its vivid descriptions of London and its remarkable exploration of the criminal mind. The complexities of the satanic but amusing Fagin, the dishonest but engaging and resourceful Dodger, and Nancy, a woman of intelligence and good intentions trapped by her social circumstances and her love for an evil man, fascinated the book’s contemporary audience and continue to engage readers.
Anderson, Roland F. “Structure, Myth, and Rite in Oliver Twist.” Studies in the Novel 18, no. 3 (Spring, 1986): 238-257. Anderson explores the rites of passage that the plot of the novel depends on and demonstrates how the narrative structure itself seems to be centered in the myths associated with a rite of passage for a young man.
Dunn, Richard J. “Oliver Twist”: Whole Heart and Soul. New York: Macmillan, 1993. A thorough reader’s companion to the story. Dunn closely examines both the literary and historical context of the novel and includes five critical readings of Oliver Twist. This is perhaps the most useful text for beginning readers of the novel.
Ginsburg, Michal Peled. “Truth and Persuasion: The Language of Realism and of Ideology in Oliver Twist.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 20, no. 3 (Spring, 1987): 220-226. Ginsburg discusses the rhetorical methods that Dickens is using in the narrative voice of the novel to persuade the reader that most commoners in Victorian Britain were living difficult lives because of their low socioeconomic status. He suggests that this novel was Dickens’ call for action against the industrialists.
McMaster, Juliet. “Diabolic Trinity in Oliver Twist.” Dalhousie Review 61 (Summer, 1981): 263-277. McMaster believes that the three characters Fagin, Sikes, and Monks are a depraved inversion of the holy trinity, representing knowledge, power, and love. Each of these characters takes one of the aspects of the trinity and uses it in an evil way.
Wheeler, Burton M. “The Text and Plan of Oliver Twist.” Dickens Studies Annual: Essays on Victorian Fiction 12 (1983): 41-61. Wheeler discusses unanswered questions and contradictions in the novel. Explains that Dickens did not intend to turn what had begun as a short serial work into a novel and thus did not plan a credible plot.
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Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens Review by Dominykas G. Jankauskas Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) was a well-known English writer, who is regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian period. He had written a great number of notable works like The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and many others. His novella A Christmas Carol is regarded as the most influential work and it remains popular till this day. Oliver Twist tells the story about an orphan’s life in England and the adventures and misadventures that he had faced.
The boy, Oliver Twist, was born in a workhouse and in a moment’s reflection, he lost his mother. Raised in an orphanage under awful conditions; getting a spare diet and receiving harsh treatment. After escaping the authorities of the workhouse and his master, for whom he had worked as an apprentice, he went to London. There Oliver joined a group of delinquents, which was led by an old culprit called Fagin. But fortune was on Oliver’s side. A gentleman – Mr. Brownlow – took pity upon him and started to take care of him, however soon after Oliver was brought back to the criminal world by Fagin.
Once again Oliver was lucky, because he was sheltered by Rose Maylie. In the end everything ends well. Mr. Brownlow with the help of others and especially Nancy (a member of the Fagin’s gang), catches all pickpocketers and takes them into custody. Also the real identity of Oliver Twist was found out and that he has inherited a great fortune. Surely we all know that Dickens was a social critic. In this novel he draws the attention to the dreadful lives of lowest class of the society; he looks at the lives of the paupers at the workhouse and the orphans who were raised at the baby farms.
But he mostly focuses on the outlaws of the society. You can’t call Dickens a Marxist, because he just points out the problem, but he doesn’t suggest any solution. I think that Dickens with Oliver Twist and his other novels tried to wake people up and hopefully bring them all together for discussions on the problems that society had faced (and of course are facing at the moment) and agree on a consensus. As you read the misfortunate story of Oliver, you are sometimes interrupted by a small giggle.
The style of writing of Dickens in Oliver Twist is pure realism of life mixed together with humoristic caricatures and satirical notices. And this mixture really helps to get Dickens message across, because in this way the reader isn’t bored by the story. The storyline of Oliver Twist is like a Hollywood film script: a poor boy from the lowest class in the end lives a happy life. Numerous film and television adaptations were made based on the novel, although the most successful motion picture was the musical Oliver! hich won multiple Oscars in the 1968. Oliver! was based on the novel, but it had left out a lot to, literally, cut the story short. This factor made me a bit upset after watching it, because the story than loses a lot of twists and turns e. g. the mental breakdown of Fagin as he is waiting for his death or the complex detection of Oliver’s real identity or even Sikes’s runaway from the authorities. Nevertheless the musical still holds Dickens’s humour and sarcasm. This can be clearly noticed in Fagins’s song Reviewing the Situation.
In my opinion, Rod Moody, who plays Fagin, catches the character just perfectly (pity he didn’t get the Oscar for the leading role). All things considered, the novel is a perfect read, but some can find the lexicon of that time and of the different classes of society to be a drawback of the novel. I consider it as the highest advantage, because this truly draws the reader into the world that Dickens tries to portrait and a world that no longer exists. The novel is a great time machine.
Author: Brandon Johnson
Review of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
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