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The Writer

Charles Dickens was the well-loved and

creative British author of numerous works
that are now considered classics.
British novelist Charles Dickens was born on
February 7, 1812, in Portsmouth, England.
Over the course of his writing career, he
wrote the beloved classic novelsOliver
Twist,A Christmas Carol,Nicholas
Nickleby,David Copperfield,A Tale of Two
CitiesandGreat Expectations.
On June 9, 1870, Dickens died of a stroke in
Kent, England, leaving his final novel,The
Mystery of Edwin Drood, unfinished.
Oliver Twistwas the second novel of Charles
Dickens. It was initially published in monthly
installments that began in February of 1837
and ended in April of 1839.

Purpose Behind the Story

His parents were middle-class, but they suffered financially as a result of living
beyond their means.
When Dickens was twelve years old, his familys terrible straits forced him to
quit school and work in a blacking factory, a place where shoe polish is made.
Within weeks, his father was put in debtors (borrowers) prison, where
Dickenss mother and siblings eventually joined him. At this point, Dickens lived
on his own and continued to work at the factory for several months.
The horrific conditions in the factory haunted him for the rest of his life, as did
the experience of temporary orphan hood.
Apparently, Dickens never forgot the day when a more senior boy in the
warehouse took it upon himself to instruct Dickens in how to do his work more
The more senior boys name was Bob Fagin. Dickenss outstanding bitterness of
him reached a restless pitch in the characterization of the villain Fagin in Oliver

The Poor Law

InOliver TwistDickens attacks the New Poor Law of 1834.

Supposedly these laws were to provide aid and assistance to
impoverished people. However the system had serious flaws.

People with no means of support were sent to workhouses. The

system was designed with the idea that the workhouses would be
unpleasant. It was thought that this would provide added incentive
for people to be self sufficient.

As a result of that thinking the food in the workhouses was meager

and meals were to be eaten in silence. Upon entering the
workhouse families were separated and assigned to same-sex
quarters. Also, the children were separated from the adults. Infants
were sent to baby farms.

Charles Dickens used his novel to point out truths about Victorian
England that polite society tried to ignore.

Setting ofOliver Twist

The major action of Oliver Twist moves back and forth between two
worlds: The filthy slums of London and the clean, comfortable house
of Brownlow and the Maylies.

The first world is real and frightening. While the other is idealized,
almost dreamlike, in its safety and beauty. The world of London is a
world of crime.

Things happen there at night, in dark alleys and in abandoned, dark

buildings. You can find examples of this as when Oliver is kidnapped
and then again when Fagin meets Monks. Such darkness suggests
that evil dominates this world.

Dickens often uses weather conditions to aid in setting a scene. In

Oliver Twist, bad things happen in bad weather. In contrast to
Fagins London, the sunlit days and fragrant flowers of the Maylies
cottage or the handsome library at Brownlows teem with goodness

Plot Structure

The plot of Oliver Twist is complex and intricate. Dickens narrates

the story of Oliver by alternatively relating the tales of other
characters of the story.

He followed this serial structure as the novel was first printed as a

serial in a magazine. The growth of Oliver from infancy to youth
forms the major plot, while the structure of the lives of other
characters can be treated as minor plots.

The plot structure of Oliver's life traces a zigzag pattern. His life
moves at a steady pace from his birth to his life at the

After his exit from the shop of the undertaker till his entry into the
Maylie household, it moves up and down.

His accident at Chertsey creates a crisis in his life which leads him
to a life of peace and contentment. From then onwards his
fortunes move upwards till he settles down with Mr. Brownlow
to lead a life of security and respectability.

Figurative Language

Mazes and Labyrinths:

There are just theOliver Twist-ing streets of filthy London town.
Besides the fact that the streets of London were (and still are) pretty
difficult to navigate, they could suggest that the entire city is part of the
same system of control and captivity as the judicial system that literally
imprisons people, and the parish system that confines poor people in
It can also be said that the maze motif has more to do with criminality:
Dickens seems to suggest that once a person turns to crime, its
impossible to get back on the right trackjust like in a maze.
Bill Sikes Dog:
Sikess dog (whose name is Bulls-Eye, but we only hear the name
mentioned once or twice) is like Sikess shadow. He has some of the same
personality flaws as Sikes, including a violent temper.
The only time the dog leaves him is when Sikes is almost out of his mind
with guilt after having killed Nancymaybe the dog represents Sikess
violent and criminal impulses! The dog even kills itself by jumping after
Sikes off of the roof, and smashing its head on the rocks below. The dog
cant exist without Sikes, because hes
a part of him.

Bridges and Water

A lot of important scenes happen over or around water inOliver
Twist: the locket and ring are thrown into a river, Nancy meets Rose
and Mr. Brownlow on London Bridge, and the final pursuit of Sikes is
in a neighborhood surrounded by the Thames at high tide.
Mud is kind of a sticky halfway point between water and land. Its as
though Sikes was in a sticky halfway point as wellhes been hunted
(and haunted) for so long that he feels like hes halfway dead
The London Bridge could represent the same thing: its a halfway
point for two extremes to come together. It would be hard to come
up with two women more opposite than Rose and Nancy, but theyre
able to meet at London Bridge, over the river Thames. Rose offers to
let Nancy step over the bridge to the other side by offering her a
place to stay far from her old life of crime, but Nancy refuses.

Light and dark:

Light and dark are important symbols inOliver Twist.
Oliver In Black And White
Oliver, the child of light, is locked into an involuntary
apprenticeship with a coffin maker, Mr. Sowerberry. Oliver is
asked to join the funeral processions as a paid mourner

London: Light And Dark

This is another moment of social leveling through the use of
darkness: Dickens lists a lot of different placespalaces, nightcellars, jails, madhouses, etc.and also contrasts a lot of
extremes: birth and death, sickness and health, corpses and
sleeping children.Time passes for all of these extremes, and
its equally dark at midnight whether you live in a palace or a

Agness ring, locket and

Old Sally had stolen some kind of jewelry from Olivers dying mother the night
that he was bornand that it was something that contained a clue as to his
parentage and identity. This gold jewelry included a gold locket with two locks
of hair, and a wedding ring.

The locket represents the physical union between Agnes Fleming and Edward
Leeford, Olivers father it contains a lock of each of their hair, physically
bound together. But a locket is designed to be "locked" and kept a secret. The
kind of union it represents isnt the kind of union that the world recognizes.

The ring would represent a union that the world would recognize, but the ring
was never completed: it has Agness name carved into it, but only her first
name. Her maiden name, "Fleming," was given up and she never took the
next step to become "Agnes Leeford" by marrying Edward. So the ring, which
should represent unity, inOliver Twist, represents only an incomplete union.

Olivers resemblance to Agness portrait at Mr. Brownlows house is what first

gives Mr. Brownlow a clue that Oliver might actually be the son of Agnes and
Edward Leeford.Even though hed never seen his mother, he still has some
kind of instinctive feeling of attachment to her face in the portrait. But for
characters like Monks, that sense of connection with family is completely

Institutional cruelty
The cruelty of institutions and bureaucracies toward the unfortunate is
perhaps the preeminent theme ofOliver Twist, and essentially what makes it
a social novel.The cruelty of these institutions, however, is not separated
from the cruelty of individuals.
Mob mentality
The horrifying power of mob mentality is also an important theme inOliver
Twist, and one that is closely related to that of institutional cruelty, a mob in
which individuals are not held accountable for their actions, and so can be
as heartless as they like.
The importance of upbringing
Proper upbringing, posited as essential throughout the novel, is illuminated
best in the scene whereNancy and Rose first meet. In this scene, Dickens
juxtaposes the low life of Nancy to the angelic and utterly perfect Rose.
Oliver manages to rise above his upbringing. Surrounded by selfish, ignorant
and cruel people for most of his childhood, given no love, care, or
tenderness, he still manages to maintain his kind disposition, and never
gives into the low morals of those around him.

The powerlessness of children

Dickens is deeply interested in the plight of the powerless inOliver Twist, and
children are the primary symbol of this. This powerlessness is not just
represented in Oliver being physically overtaken or forced into things, but in
his constant failure to communicate with adults until he meets Mr. Brownlow.
The powerlessness of women
Like children, women, too, are presented as at the mercy of the more
powerful in society. This is especially exemplified in Nancy, who ends up
giving her life in her attempt to act against the men who hold power over her.
The limits of justice
Justice and its various forms are very important inOliver Twist. By the end of
the novel, almost all of the characters have faced justice, in one way or
another. Mr. and Mrs. Bumble are in a workhouse, Oliver, Rose, and all of the
good characters live happily and comfortably, and Sikes and Fagin have both
been hanged.
City versus countryside
InOliver Twist, the city and the countryside each take on symbolic meaning,
and stand in clear dichotomy. The city is corrupt, dirty, and seedy, while the
country is pure, clean, and healthy. It is in the city that Oliver is forced into
immorality, while it is in the country that Oliver is able to recover his health,
to get an education, to find peace and happiness, and to live morally.