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Books

Analysis And Review Of Oliver Twist By Charles Dickens

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Introduction

If you are still wondering what is the boundary between good and evil, what a happy person looks like and what kind of direction can help us to reach happiness, “Oliver Twist” will be a great suggestion for you. “Oliver Twist” or “The Parish Boy’s Progress”, the second novel of Charles Dickens, was published serially in the magazine Bentley’s Miscellany from 1837 to 1839. About the author of the novel, Charles Dickens, in full Charles John Huffam Dickens (1812 – 1870) was born in Hampshire, England. He is considered one of the greatest English novelists in the Victorian era. His literary inheritance includes many famous works such as A Christmas Carol, David Copperfield, A Tale of Two Cities, etc. The novel “Oliver Twist” revolves around the life of an orphan boy named Oliver Twist, whose mother died when giving birth to him. This novel was written in the Industrial Revolution period and realistically reflected the London netherworld in the 1800s. It was a tool for social criticism aimed at the poverty’s problem. Also, it proves the author’s belief that poverty leads to crime. Moreover, we can see some themes that Charles tried to convey through the novel, beginning with the dark side of charity. Residents in the workhouse looked like prisoners who were limited by many strict policies and had to survive in awful conditions. They had no choice but to choose between dying of starvation gradually in the workhouse and dying quickly outside. The novel also showed Oliver’s courage to go beyond his fate. Despite being forced to do illegal things to survive, Oliver always tried to decline those to keep his soul pure. After all, the moral of the story is that selfless conscientiousness among people makes true happiness. Mr. Brownlow, Mrs. Maylie, Rose or even Nancy, those people seemed to be not even related to Oliver Twist, but the humanity kept them doing the right things for Oliver, helping him and taking care of him in his rainy days. That is the reason why this novel is suitable for everyone at all ages. “Oliver Twist” reflects the true state of society at that time, honestly describes many aspects of humans as well as conveys many moral lessons. Therefore, this novel is really worth considering even at any age.

Summary

Oliver Twist begins in a workhouse in an unnamed village, where a young woman gives birth to a boy, and then immediately passes over. Thanks to Poor Laws, this boy, Oliver, is raised in a ‘baby farm’ for young orphaned children until he gets nine then sent back to the local workhouse. He works there until he is given over to Mr. Sowerberry. One day, Oliver has a fight with another worker and is under lock and key. At midnight, he finds the way to London to avoid bad things.

Near London, Oliver meets the Artful Dodger, a thief employed by Fagin. The Dodger takes Oliver to Fagin. This man forces him to be involved in a young criminal with Dodger and Bates. Oliver recognizes that it is a crime so he tries to keep away from this criminal gang. Fortunately, Mr. Brownlow, an old gentleman, decides to nurse and promises to give Oliver a proper education. However, he is disappointed and shocked because Oliver does not come back when he is assigned to return the money and some books to the bookseller. He does not know that Oliver has been brought back to the criminal gang.

Once Fagin forces Oliver to participate in housebreaking with Sikes and Toby Crackit, Oliver is nearly dead because of being shot in an arm. Luckily, with the help of Rose, Mrs.Maylie and Dr. Losborne, he could rapidly recover. From then, Oliver lives with Maylie and receives education from an old man in the same village. After that, Oliver knows that Brownlow has returned from the West Indies and Nancy, at that time, wants to come to clean all her part in Oliver’ persecution. In the meantime, Old Sally sent a package to the workhouse where Oliver used to live, which originally belongs to Oliver’ dead mother. Monks especially pay attention to the package. Nancy is killed after a serious secret discussion with Rose and Brownlow about Oliver’ parentage which she overhears from Monks and Fagin. After combining pieces of gathered information, Mr. Brownlow finally discovers that Oliver and Monks have the same father. Monks wants to have the whole right to heritage everything from his father. Monks agrees with Brownlow about facts and sign an affidavit that admits his involvement in defrauding Oliver. At the end of the novel, everyone receives the outcome that they deserve. Eventually, Oliver can be educated and live peacefully.

Setting

Oliver Twist’s main actions take place in two worlds in the 1830s in England. The first world is slums in London which are completely opposite to the clean and safe houses of Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Maylies. Their houses are the ideal places that many people always dream of. London is a place where tons of criminal plans are carefully prepared and carried out. The writer takes advantage of weather conditions to create an impressive setting: bad things happen in bad weather conditions while goodness and hope are found in nice weather days.

Plot

In Oliver Twist, the exposition centers on the fact that Oliver is an orphan raised in a workhouse and then he is sold to a caretaker. Oliver tries to escape from there and travels to London. The rising action occurs when Oliver Twist is taken in by London thieves but he refuses to take part in the burglary of other people’s properties. Then, an upper-class family takes him in but the thieves, including Monks, still follow him around. The climax occurs when Nancy tells Oliver’s guardian about Monk’s plans, but she is then murdered. Mr. Brownlow then learns of Oliver’s true origins from Monks. The falling action occurs when Fagin is executed, Sikes dies, Monks ends up in jail. The resolution is that Mr. Brownlow adopts Oliver and they live in happiness ever after.

Characters

In Oliver Twist, there are a lot of characters contributing to the success of this novel. The first character is Oliver Twist. Oliver is the protagonist of this story. The character of Oliver, a nine–to–twelve-year-old orphan raised in a workhouse reflects public policy towards the poor in England in the 1830s. Although treated with cruelty and surrounded by bad manners and rudeness, he is still an innocent and good-hearted child. Throughout his life, he finds himself indentured to an undertaker, living with thieves and eventually taken in by the kind Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Maylie. And even when faced with serious maltreatment, he never loses his sense of morality and kindness.

The second character that makes a strong impression on us is Mr. Brownlow. He is a kind-hearted and benevolent man who delivers Oliver from a vicious judge and adopts him, loves him with all care and trust even after suspecting him of stealing his handkerchief. His name is likely to be inspired by a workhouse established on Brownlow Hill in Liverpool in 1769. Like Mr. Brownlow, Mrs. Maylie, the owner of the mansion that Sikes and Crackit attempt to rob, the mother of Harry Maylie, is a gentle and good-hearted woman. She takes Oliver in when he has been wounded and takes care of him until he finds a lasting home with Mr. Brownlow. Rose Maylie who is Mrs. Maylie’s adopted niece is a beautiful and tender seventeen-year-old girl. She is not only intelligent but also perfectly kind. She nurses Oliver and helps expose crime that surrounds him and ends up marrying Harry Maylie. Surprisingly, it turns out in the end that she is really Oliver’s aunt. Harry Maylie is Mrs. Maylie’s son. He is a twenty-five-year-old man with a frank and handsome face and an easy demeanor. He is deeply in love with Rose Maylie. However ambitious he is at first, in the end, he chooses to become a country cleric so that he can marry Rose and leads a happy life with her.

This story will be not thrilling and dramatic enough if Fagin does not exist. Fagin is a conniving and devious criminal who takes in homeless children and turning them into pickpockets. He is also the one who buys other people’s stolen goods. Evil as he is, he rarely commits crimes himself but employs others to commit them. Fagin is described as a “loathsome reptile” and as having “fangs such as should have been a dog’s or rat’s.” Other characters occasionally refer to him as “the old one” a popular nickname for the devil. Fagin maybe inspired nightmares in children and adults as well. Perhaps the most frightening one is in Chapter 52, the chapter in which we go into Fagin’s mind for his “last night alive”. Jack Darwins is also known as Artful Dodger. Although he is just at the same age as Oliver, he is the best pickpocket with the manners of a man. It is Jack Darwins who leads Oliver to London and to Fagin. In Fagin’s gang, there is a thief named Bill Sikes who is notorious for the professional skill of breaking into somebody’s house. He is Nancy’s lover. Similar to his dog Bull’s eye, he treats Nancy with cruelty and reluctance. He kills Nancy because he believes she has betrayed him. His murder of Nancy is the most heinous of many crimes that occur in the novel. However, haunted by guilt, he accidentally hangs himself while trying to escape the law.

The character that haunted me most is Nancy. She used to be one of Fagin’s former child pickpockets. In spite of her criminal lifestyle, she is among the noblest characters in the novel. Nancy eventually betrays Fagin and Bill Sikes, her lover, to save Oliver and then she is murdered by her own lover to pay for her decision. Nancy represents the major concern of Oliver Twist, which is the question of whether a bad environment can irrevocably poison someone’s character and soul. Only Nancy comprehends and is capable of both evil and good. Her ultimate choice is a strong argument in favor of the incorruptibility of basic goodness, no matter how many environmental obstacles it may face.

Narrator

The story is told from the third-person point of view. The writer is the objective observer throughout the novel, which enables readers to know what is going on in some characters’ minds. The narrator is often ironic, sarcastic, which makes readers feel as if they are reading a newspaper that reports on crimes in London in the 1830s.

Major Conflict

Oliver is a nice and well-behaved child. However, it is undeniable that he is raised in a terrible living condition which is not an ideal one for the growth of a child, such as prostitution and thievery. We can decide who we are, how we live in regardless of our origin or where we come from.

Writing Style

Charles Dickens is a popular writer with a unique writing style. He is affected by the style of the Picaresque novels. According to “The Picaresque Novel in Western Literature: From the Sixteenth Century to the Neopicaresque”, Picaresque novels contains some points that are prose text telling the tricksters’ adventure, parodies of other popular genres, outcasts’ adventures that aspire to thrive in their lives and satire about the society’s rejection of people having the low birth. Moreover, it is hard to see the developments in the main character. In other words, the environment may change but the heart will still remain the same. With the influence of Picaresque style, he writes poetically, as well as uses various sarcasm and consequently humor in his books.

Ever since Dickens began his literary career from writing newspapers, most of his stories were in the form of episodes. In addition, in his novels, there are frequent uses of idealized characters. However, they are not made to be completely perfect ones. Instead, he builds these characters to portray the evil side of life that is frequently mentioned throughout his books. In his later books, there are so many wicked villains appearing and some of them are his most wicked characters. Nevertheless, he always believed that good was more powerful than evil. Also, he did believe that crimes would be probably punished in the end. By using a blend of fantasy and realism, he provided readers with wonderful literary works.

In terms of the novel “Oliver Twist”, it has some similarities in the features of the general writing style. Dickens writes this novel in episodes and uses a picture of the idealized character. The boy named Oliver Twist is an illustration of this. Throughout the storyline, Oliver has undergone numerous trials including an evil orphanage and a little center for training thieves. Finally, Oliver is as naive as he was at the beginning and his values are never compromised even though he encounters many difficult and ugly circumstances. Aside from that, the sharp irony is used to mock different institutions that he believes to be inexorable like the parish house, the justice system, and the unfair laws. Satire is also meant to show how self-important and egotistic officials such as Mr. Bumble, who is a beadle, can be.

Another way to describe Dickens’ writing in Oliver Twist is that it is written in the periphrastic form which is indirect and circumlocutory. In other words, the author tends to talk around the point. For instance, the theft of Mr. Brownlow’s purse made by Dodger and Charley is seen as “an illegal conveyance of Mr. Brownlow’s personal property”. Periphrastic language has an effect on indicating how almost anything can be justified with jargon, which can be so dangerous. Dickens seems to make it clear that we should call a thief by the word inherently used – “a thief” and should not try to overlook it.

The structure of the sentence sometimes may be long and awkward because of the variety of colons, semicolons and parentheses. Also, the language of Dickens is frequently sentimental, for example, Oliver’s early childhood description and the love scenes of the couple – Rose and Harry. Although Dickens uses a mixture of imagination and realism as well as wants to make events realistic, the language he uses does not completely convey the lower class’ language of English society at that time. Anyways, he still makes use of some street slang, particularly the slang of thieves, which is presented by the way Dodger talks.

Evaluation

When you have a chance to go through Oliver Twist, you are not only simply reading a book but also experiencing a masterpiece that is a history in the making. The story is moving, thrilling, heartbreaking and extremely significant. It is written in the typical style of Dickens.

In our opinion, this novel is worth reading partly because it contains a lot of valuable lessons. I believe that the readers will want to read it again due to fervor and excitement. Through the character Oliver, the author proves the sayings that “the more credit you give away, the more will come back to you” and “the more you help others, the more will want to help you”. It is observed and attested that Oliver was a person giving away his kindness and getting the same in return. What is more, this work is actually a social commentary. It is more about the English government’s failure to address the spread of homeless street children in London. Actually, Oliver Twist can be viewed as one of the earliest famous books to take social issues into account such as dispossession of one’s liberty and ill-treatment of children in parish government. It is also one of the earliest books to use satire as a vehicle for social commentary. For all these reasons, I suggest that Oliver Twist is a must read.

Oliver Twist offers us general insights into the living situation of the poor. By using a child character, Dickens achieved his goal of representing the ruination, rot and decay in the English social system, especially the poor legal system that has unfairness creating the conditions for offenses. Again, through typical characters that are painted in a satirical way, Dickens graphically shows us aspects of the life of crime and poverty. He wisely uses sympathetic characters such as Oliver, Nancy and Jack Dawkins to encourage the readers to consider the human cost of ignoring poverty.

Dickens personally experienced some aspects of the life he described. He saw pickpockets and prostitutes on a daily basis, experienced debtor’s prisons and child labor firsthand, which not only influenced his choice of content but also helped him achieve his goals of touching readers in this novel. At the end of the story, I – as readers – seem to feel a thing like staying away from the responsibility when Dickens cut off from all the grime and poverty of the characters that he had described before. Personally, it would be better to have an open-ending at which “good” characters might still suffer from the wickedness of London society but start to make more effort on the path of seeking happiness and stay away from the evil action contributing to the badness of the current English society.

The exceptional thing of the novel is the way it changed my view of robbery, the subject many famous authors depicted from different perspectives, for example Jean Valjean being imprisoned for 19 years for stealing a piece of bread. In this novel, that is Fagin – an old mean thief. This cruel man brought up children just to make them become pickpockets and gain benefits for himself, but at least he gave them a refuge, a home. In this harsh society, Fagin equipped those street children with skills and cunning to survive. At least he was far more kind than people in the workhouse and not as hypocritical as the court officials. Hence, the character who left a deep impression on me was not Oliver – the main character, but the old Fagin. He “turning softly away” so as not to wake up Oliver, “not now, tomorrow”, he said. It was also proved by Oliver’s saying in the end, “Oh! God forgive this wretched man!’ cried the boy with a burst of tears”, which displayed his acknowledgement to this old man.

This classic book was made into a movie several times, and the most famous one was the drama film in 2005 directed by Polanski whose Holocaust film won an Oscar in 2002. Certain details had been modified from the original story to fit the movie notwithstanding. Its humanistic value still remained thanks to the director’s unique technique, which was not too picturesque and aesthetically pleasing but charming. In the movie, Fagin showed his love to the orphan Oliver and also to other children. Oliver claimed: “You were kind to me”. This is undeniable evidence that manifests Oliver’s gratitude towards this old man. Besides, Polanski omitted the details about the love story between Ms.Rose, Oliver’s aunt, and Mr.Harry, which just served as the background information. Thus, the movie adaption of this complex novel still remained precious social values which was contained in the original. What a remarkable work! Oliver Twist also reminds me of En Famille, the French novel, by Hector Malot. The main character, Rémy showed certain affinity to Oliver in terms of their braveness to triumph over difficulties. Both of them eventually had a big-hearted family who loved them infinitely and unconditionally.

Honestly, I do not have any real experience which relates to this story, but I would like to mention a famous saying of Nam Cao, a Vietnamese writer, that ‘Phàm đã là nam nhân trong thiên hạ, trước khi muốn đặt môi mình lên khuôn miệng xinh đẹp của nữ nhân nào đó thì trước tiên phải có trách nhiệm đổ đầy cơm vào’. It seems somehow irrelevant to the story’s main theme, but everything will not happen if Oliver’s father can ensure to arrange a decent life for his beloved – Agnès – and the child she is about to give birth to as he promised. Instead, he just left the testament to his first wife, who will obviously not accept this division of fortune. Therefore, please be responsible for your dearest, the male fellow!

If I could change something, I would be joyous if Nancy was saved. She deserves a better life on the ground of her kindness and loyalty. She sacrificed her life to justify the truth about Oliver’s personality. Regardless of Bill’s ferocious behavior, she insisted on not squealing on him not only because of the loyalty but also the love she devoted to Shikes, maybe. In this circumstance, Dodger could show up and save Nancy in time because he himself was a good person by nature.

Conclusion

Oliver Twist is a really touching and meaningful story. It deserves to have become one of the classics in the world. However, a lot of people find it difficult and complicated to read this book because it contains a lot of complex sentences, which may prevent readers from understanding the significance of this novel fully and profoundly. In addition, the beginning of the story, in my opinion, is quite lengthy, so some readers can feel bored. Luckily, the novel moves at a faster pace in the middle of the story, which can attract the readers more. The readers at that time are so engrossed in the story that they can truly feel as if Oliver’s adventure is appearing in front of their eyes. The readers cannot give up the book and feel very excited when every mystery is unfolded. This is the reason why I do not dare to glance through any small details because I am afraid that I will miss something interesting. I concentrate on reading this book as though I can devour every word. This is compelling evidence for a statement I read somewhere the other day that an interesting story is not only the one which cannot stop you from reading but sometimes it also makes you feel difficult to read fast. Your fingers surely want to stop hundreds of times at a particular page of this book. Just due to a small action of a character, a descriptive sentence, a small dialogue or even a passing emotion, the things that seem to have overslept in my mind are awaken. They are like many lights in my mind that have not turned on yet. Actually, it is undeniable that my little heart was conquered by this book. Through the book, I learned a lot of valuable lessons. Although Oliver got into a lot of difficulties and had to live in terrible conditions surrounded by many tricks and crimes, he still maintained his pure soul and honesty and had a happy life in the end. He is like a shining pearl among the evil things in the damn society of England in the early 1800s. Oliver taught me that true happiness will appear when we really deserve to have it. In other words, “one good turn deserves another” and the good will defeat evil. Moreover, Oliver Twist changed the view of contemporary society on street children who were considered to be thieves and useless people since they were born. There is a message hidden under this change that we should not judge a book through its cover as well as a person just through his appearance. After closing this novel, I feel incredibly relieved and indescribably happy. It is like a source of unusual energy which gives me more strength to overcome troubles in my life. Therefore, Oliver Twist is a gift not only for me but for everyone. Children should read it to absorb the messages of kindness and human values to be kinder, more tolerant and positive and to treasure their lives more. Also, adults should read this novel to find that life is not as tough as they expect. Hope always exists in our lives. If we try our best to open our hearts and look the life at the bright side, we will gain everything we want. This is the reason why I would like to recommend this book to anyone I meet in my life, especially to the ones who feel stuck in negative emotions due to obstacles in their life. Perhaps Oliver is a typical example that can help them realize that difficulty is one of the indispensable ingredients that makes our life more colorful and significant. Thus, we should learn how to face challenges, have a positive attitude towards life and be ourselves in any circumstances.

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