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Oliver Twist

by Charles Dickens








Oliver Twist is a story about a boy born into poverty in a town called Mudfog.  Oliver's mother dies during childbirth leaving him an orphan in the world.  Oliver spends his first 8 years being raised in a baby farm where he is taken care of very poorly.  He is then sent to the workhouse to work.  Soon after an outburst of Oliver proclaiming the famous line "Please, sir, I want some more" he is apprenticed out to Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker.  Mr. Sowerberry treats Oliver better, but his wife Mrs. Sowerberry treats his very poorly.  After being provoked by Noah Claypole and Mrs. Sowerberry Oliver has a violent outburst that causes him to run away off to London to seek opportunity.  

On the way to London Oliver meets the Artful Dodger who introduces him to his gang of boys and the infamous Fagin.  After almost being blamed for the other boys stealing and being convicted, Oliver luckily is welcomed into the home of the generous Mr. Brownlow.  Mr. Brownlow and his housekeeper, Mrs. Bedwin, treat Oliver very kindly and nurse him back to health.  Unfortunately Oliver soon falls back into the hands of Fagin and Sikes and is soon forced to participate in a country estate robbery.  Oliver is accidentally shot during the progress of the robbery and left behind as Sikes escapes.  Oliver ends up in the care of the family he was supposed to assist in robbing.  Rose Maylie, Mrs. Maylie (Rose's guardian), Harry Maylie and the estate's servants.  

Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Oliver, a man named Monks is plotting Oliver's demise in keeping Oliver from inheriting a sizeable inheritance unknown to Oliver.  Nancy, who has always held dear feelings for Oliver overhears Monks and Fagin discussing a sinister plot involving Oliver.  Nancy reports this information to Rose Maylie, who then enlists the help of Mr. Brownlow to disrupt Monks' and Fagin's plan.  Meanwhile, Noah Claypole has made his way to London and found himself a member in Fagin's gang.  He is instructed to follow Nancy and report to Fagin what she is up to.  Fagin ultimately tells Sikes that Nancy has betrayed them and in a fit of rage Sikes kills Nancy and later accidentally kills himself.  

Mr. Brownlow, (an old friend of Oliver's father) forces Monks to reveal his plan.  It turns out Oliver was left a sizeable inheritance and would receive it only if "in his minority he should never have stained his name with any public act of dishonour, meanness, cowardice, or wrong."  Monks' plan was to disinherit Oliver, by involving him in a public dishonour so that he, Monks, would instead receive Oliver's inheritance.  Mr. Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his inheritance to Monks, to afford him a second chance and Oliver obliges.  It is also revealed that Rose Maylie is actually Oliver's aunt since she is the long-lost sister of Oliver's mother, Agnes.  Oliver ends the story living happily with Mr. Brownlow.


Dates: February 7, 1812 - June 8, 1870

Hometown:  Landport, Portsmouth, England

On Friday, February 7, 1812, the famous Victorian literature author, Charles John Huffam Dickens was born.  Raised by parents John and Elizabeth, Charles began his life in a middle class home in the No. 1 mile end Terrace of Landport, Portsmouth, England.  As a young boy, Dickens was taught to read by his mother and was formally educated between the ages of 9 and 15.   Charles' father considered him to be a ‘young prodigy.'  He was often sent to tell stories to clerks at the navy pay office, where his father worked.  At the age of 12, Dickens father was imprisoned for debt.  As a means of helping his mother support his 7 brothers and sisters, Charles was removed from school and sent to work at a boot blacking factory.  Earning very little money and surviving off of small portions of food, Charles was forced to live in the attic of a woman’s home while the rest of his family resided in prison with their father.  After his father was released from prison, Charles chose to continue his life in the work force and held jobs at a lawyer’s office and also as a reporter.  During his time as a reporter, Dickens' writing career began to lift off.  His first published story, A Dinner at Poplar Walk, was printed when he was only 21 in Monthly Magazine in December of 1833.  With a new career as an author, Dickens began to write numerous short stories and novels which were published in either weekly or monthly segments in newspapers and magazines.  As he began to become more and more well known, Dickens chose the name “Boz” to sign his works.  Later in his career, Charles met Catherine Hogarth and quickly fell in love.  The two were wed on April 2nd, 1836.  Although their relationship was not without its ups and downs, the pair had 10 children together.  In 1858, Charles and Catherine separated, but they continued to live together until her death 20 years later.  Throughout his career, Dickens wrote 15 novels and many short stories.  Growing up in the height of the Industrial Revolution, many of Dickens' themes focused on the negative treatment of the poor in urban areas.  Working at the boot blacking factory as a child seemed to be his most life-changing experience as many of his stories' themes reflect this particular time of his life.  Throughout his career, many saw Dickens as a celebrity and he gathered countless numbers of followers as more and more of his stories were published.  He continued writing until his death on June 9, 1870.  The cause of death was said to be a stroke.  He was buried at the Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey, London.  As this was a place where only the renowned and well-known authors of this time were buried, it is safe to say that Dickens was a very respected author.  His pieces are still popular today and can be found in various different mediums--whether a book, a television show, a film or a musical.
Note:  This biography is indebted to the following sources:

Charles Dickens Biography. 2008. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

Charles Dickens Biography. A & E Television Network, 2006. Web. 24 Mar. 2010.

David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page. 1997. Web. 24 Mar. 2010. <>.

titleSelected Other Works by Charles Dickens

Working as a journalist, magazine editor, and full-fledged author at different points within his lifetime, Dickens filled his days with writing. He published both fiction and nonfiction pieces, creating a fan base that exists to this day. Though Oliver Twist was one of his first and most well-known novels, he spent the next thirty years producing 14 novels and starting another before his death. Follow the links below to learn more about his other works:

A Christmas Carol

A Tale of Two Cities

Barnaby Rudge

Bleak House

David Copperfield

Dombey and Son

Great Expectations

Hard Times

Little Dorrit

Martin Chuzzlewit

Nicholas Nickleby

Our Mutual Friend

Sketches By Boz

The Mystery of Edwin Drood

The Old Curiosity Shop

The Pickwick Papers

For other, more minor works click here

The Dickens Fellowship. "Dickens as a Writer of Fiction." <>.

Perdue, David. "The Novels." Charles Dickens Page. <>.


"A boy's story is the best that is ever told." - Charles Dickens


Oliver! the musical: Food, Glorious Food


Oliver Twist 1948 Film Trailer

titleWiki Creators

Wiki created by the collaborative efforts of: Kelsey Dallas, Michael Leali, Rebecca Feig, Kelly Cook and Cody Hromidko


titleTopics for Discussion


Dickens displays a wide array of Victorian children throughout Oliver Twist. Oliver, as the protagonist, is depicted as the figure of innocence, led astray by corrupted adults and fellow orphans. Dickens certainly does not characterize all children as such, but Oliver is portrayed as an extremely emotional character; he cries “lustily” at birth and latter on “weeps bitterly” and then he “sobbed himself to sleep” (5, 12-13). Granted, this is a very typical reaction for a child, but Dickens’ diction and use of the action displays Oliver’s growth and defines his relationships with other characters. Also, the fact that Oliver cries so often establishes him as a very emotionally tuned being, deeply connected to his thoughts and feelings. In contrast to Oliver, the Artful Dodger, Charley Bates, and Noah Claypole display attributes of the corrupted child. The Artful Dodger is most significantly Oliver’s opposite. He is a child rushed through life, forced to grow up. These are Oliver’s first impressions of him: “He was a snub-nosed, flat browed, common-faced boy...he had got about him all the airs and manners of a man...His hat was stuck on the top of his head so slightly that it threatened to fall off every moment...He wore a man’s coat” (60). Although the Dodger is certainly not a man, he is trying his hardest to make it in a world that requires much more of him than he is ready or able to give. The image of the balancing hat acts as a metaphor for the hostile environment in which the children live; they must try and re-orient themselves in order to survive and they do so by maturing, at least on the outside, at an abnormal rate. Nancy, a former child of Fagin, represents the outcome of this lifestyle. She becomes the classical Victorian “fallen woman,” who dies quite prematurely. The wide variety of child characters argues that childhood is a time for proper instruction and education, a sacred time when innocence should be nurtured, not stripped from the child. Oliver is the ideal child; by some grace he is able to maintain his innocence and survive the horrid circumstances life has pitted against him.

Does Oliver seem to have the same characteristics and mentality of other boys his age? How has growing up an orphan affected his innocence? 

How does Oliver cope with his progress throughout the novel? 

What are some of the emotions that Oliver encounters and how does he deal with them?

Oliver's sadness often manifests itself in moments of emotional isolation, which come even when he is in the company of others. What are some of the ways in which Oliver's isolation affect his innocence, if at all?


Dicken’s makes several blatant attempts at social critique throughout Oliver Twist. By sensationalizing the criminal world Dicken’s piques at the fears and insecurities of the readership of the magazine in which he produced the novel. During passages of the novel which involve criminalized characters, Dickens utilizes a language which creates a distinction between the world of Victorian propriety and the “underbelly” in which the lower class characters occupy:

“It was a chill, damp, windy night, when the Jew, buttoning his great-coat tight round his shriveled body, and pulling the collar up over his ears so as completely to obscure the lower part of his face, emerged from his den” (153).

In this passage imagery of a night that is “chill” and “damp” set the scene for Fagin and his “shriveled body” to enter the world from his “den.” The language in this passage is quite indicative of vermin or filth, which heightens the distinction between the clean Victorian sensibility depicted in Mr. Brownlow’s house:

“They were happy days, those of Oliver’s recovery. Everything was so quiet, and neat, and orderly, everybody so kind and gentle, that after the noise and turbulence in the midst of which he had always lived, it seemed like heaven itself” (106).

The scenes of the novel pass, idealizing upper class households and those of the criminal world to fuel the drama and suspense of the novel by playing on stereotypes and fears perpetuated by the society in which the novel takes place.

How does Dickens use sensationalized crime to his advantage in Oliver Twist?

Given the audience of the novel, what notions or fears of crime does Dickens utilize, and to what effect?

How does crime manifest itself and shape the course of the novel?

What role does crime play in shaping Oliver's childhood? How would his escape to London been different if he had never met the Artful Dodger?


In today’s society, we can make a stereotype for just about anything.  Whether it’s a group of people or a certain neighborhood, it is undeniable that stereotypes exist.  But what exactly is a stereotype?  A stereotype is something that is continued and ongoing without change (Mangum, 2/3/10).  It results when one feature of the person, place or thing is excessively exaggerated (Mangum, 2/3/10).  While stereotypes do exist, it is important to note that most are not true.  Throughout the novel, Dickens chooses to stereotype two characters:  Fagin and Oliver.  For example, when we are first introduced to Fagin, he is referred to as a “very old shriveled Jew” who was “villainous looking” with a “repulsive face” (64).  As the story continues, we find Fagin’s name often being replaced with simply, “the Jew”.  Similarly, when others are talking about Oliver, he is often referred to as simply “the boy” and treated as if he were just another troublesome orphan.  In a scene where Fagin creates a plan to have complete control over Oliver, we see pieces of both stereotypes:  “In short, the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils; and, having prepared his mind by solitude and gloom to prefer any society to the companionship of his own sad thoughts in a such a dreary place, was now slowly instilling into his soul the poison which he hoped would blacken it and change its hue forever” (152).  In this case, both characters are reduced down to objects and therefore, dehumanized as most stereotypes tend to do. Fagin sees Oliver as an open book which he can easily manipulate. He, and many other characters in the novel, fail to recognize Oliver's true potential because of his status as an orphan. Fagin, on the other hand is often called the “Jew” by the narrator which raises the question of why Dickens would choose to stereotype the Jewish culture over any other.

What stereotypes does Dickens employ in the novel? How are they used? How do they fit into the larger scope of the novel as a social critique of Victorian England?

How would the novel be different if Fagin was not so harshly characterized as a Jew? Would this change impact the novel's ability to critique Victorian ideals?

The Fallen Woman

Within Oliver Twist’s social commentary is an interest concerning the concept of the Victorian “fallen woman.” Charles Dickens relies on Nancy, a prostitute who grew up in Fagin’s den, to both horrify readers with her strange love for Bill Sikes, who has filled “the place that parents, home, and friends filled once,” and elicit sympathy through her concern for Oliver and his future (338). The lives of Nancy and Rose are held up for comparison, and, in their mutual efforts to protect Oliver’s innocence, they seem worthy of the same kind of appreciation, though Nancy’s life has been blackened by her life on the streets. Nancy herself describes the irreconcilable differences between the two when she says to Rose, “Thank Heaven upon your knees, dear lady…that you had friends to care for and keep you in your childhood, and that you were never in the midst of cold and hunger, and riot and drunkenness…as I have been from my cradle; I may use the word, for the alley and the gutter were mine, as they will be my deathbed” (334). Adding even more depth to Dickens’s treatment of the theme of the fallen woman is Rose’s own view of herself as impure and unworthy of a happy life as the wife of Harry Maylie. The unknown circumstances surrounding her birth torment her and she feels shame for the “stain upon [her] name which the world visits on innocent heads” (290). Rose and Nancy represent the tension of the Victorian debate over the purity required for achievement of proper womanhood. In making both characters to be admired, Dickens asks for a reexamination of what it means to be a good human being, and attempts to redefine the concept of the fallen woman.

As the novel progresses, how does your opinion of Nancy change? Does it seem likely that a middle class Victorian could sympathize with her in spite of her misdeeds?

What aspects of Nancy's character make it easier for Victorian society to like Nancy, despite her being a "fallen women"?

Given the opportunity to escape the life of a "fallen woman", why does Nancy refuse Rose's offer of salvation?

Is the novel effective in raising concerns about the condemnation and treatment of  the "fallen women"?


Fagin attempts to corrupt Oliver in a number of ways throughout the novel, yet Oliver maintains his sense of innocence.  Would Oliver have been able to maintain his innocence if he had not escaped Fagin's den? What made Oliver different from the Dodger and the other boys?

As the novel passes, the reader notices that the criminals depicted in the text are not the only ones subject to corruption. Characters like the beadle who hold a position with some authority within the text are also just as corruptible. Mr. Bumble’s attempts to help with Oliver’s capture illustrate Dickens’ own feelings regarding the structure of authority within Victorian society at-large:

 “Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle of his cocked hat and gold lace, what are they? Men,--mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine” (295).

Through the narrator, Dickens conjectures that those running the criminal underworld in the novel are nearly identical in nature as those who hold any position of power and influence over the society---which alludes to some devastating implications.

What are some of the ways in which Dickens critiques figures of authority? To what effect? How does Dickens see authority in society in terms of class/status?

Authority figures are often a source of humor in the story. Why?


The narrator is third person omniscient and throughout the novel takes on different characters’ points of view. The narrator’s voice takes on a sarcastic tone at various points in the novel.  The novel opens with the narrator’s sarcastic tone which introduces the reader and sets up the rest of the novel.  Dickens uses the narrator as a social criticism of London’s poor laws, workhouses and overall treatment of the poor.  Dickens uses the narrator to lay detail for the reader to make judgments and conclusions in line with his own opinions.  The narrator remains sympathetic to the protagonists throughout the novel and is less sympathetic to men in Fagin's ring.  

The narrator uses typical stereotypes of Victorian society to emphasize and exaggerate particular characters in the novel such as Fagin and Bill Sikes.  The narrator also contradicts stereotypes of Victorian society creating sympathy for characters such as Nancy, using her actions to redeem herself as a fallen woman.  The description of setting preceding scenes provides descriptive imagery and helps create a specific tone for that section.

How is the narrator's use of satire effective in highlighting faults in Victorian society?

Do you think that Victorian audiences would be receptive of the subtle, or not so subtle, critique?


Throughout the novel the theme of power is evident in a multitude of characters. Bill Sikes in particular embodies power, because through fear and force that he inflicts on those around him. He relies upon fear and intimidation to force Fagin, Nancy, Oliver and his other associates to do as he bids. Bill even beats his dog Bulls-eye to demonstrate that as his master, he has power over him. Bill is eventually consumed by power when he brutally murders Nancy. Bill is unable to stop himself and he is consumed by anger and rage, emotions that manifest themselves in physical power, which Bill inflicts upon Nancy in her death.

Oliver, while viewed by others around him as being weak, embodies a different form of power than Sikes. Oliver's innocent appearance gives him power over Mr. Brownlow, Mrs. Maylie and Rose who all take him in due to his youth and observed purity of heart. Had Oliver not had such a natural innocence he probably wouldn't have received the help he did. Mr. Sowerberry is also influenced by Oliver's appearance, bringing him along on work errands, thus promoting Oliver to a higher position. Oliver's innocent appearance allows him to get close enough to make a connection with his caretakers that encourages his caretakers to fight for him on his behalf.

Nancy eventually finds power when she learns of valuable information pertinent to Oliver. She goes to Rose to warn her of the unknown threat facing Oliver in order to protect Oliver and save him from heading down the same path she did. Rose's innate love for Oliver, and her desire to protect Oliver's innocence, drives her to betray his surrogate family. As a consequence Nancy is killed for exerting power through this form. The theme of power is carried throughout the novel with different characters finding power in themselves and imposing power on others to get what they want.

Power is a theme present in many characters throughout the novel.  How does the shifting of power affect the way we view the characters?

titleForm is Content

"Once let him feel that he is one of us; once fill his mind with the idea that he has been a thief, and he's ours,- ours for life!" (159).

     - Arguably one of the most well-known passages in the book (it's printed on the back cover), this sentence gets at the heart of the novel: Oliver's innocence. Fagin knows that because Oliver is so innocent, he must be broken. Once his innocence is broken, he may become part of Fagin's Den of Thieves. Dickens' novel questions the dynamic between innocence and corruption, asking the reader to determine what saves Oliver from the same ending reached by the Dodger and Nancy. Fagin knew that if Oliver became convinced that he had committed too much wrong to be excepted back into the world of Mr. Brownlow, that he would submit to the life of the pickpocket. His ultimate goal in destroying Oliver's future was gaining wealth, for he knew Oliver's quick mind would make him perfect for the job.

"As he spoke, he pointed hastily to the picture above Oliver's head, and then to the boy's face. There was its living copy,- the eyes, the head, the mouth; every feature was the same. The expression was for the instant so precisely alike, that the minutest line seemed copied with an accuracy which was perfectly unearthly" (93).

      - Foreshadowing becomes an important part of the novel as the reader tries to determine how big a role coincidence can play in Oliver's life. This moment makes the reader question whether Oliver really is just a normal orphan from rural England. His background suddenly contains so much mystery, because how could he possibly resemble the portrait of a young woman on the wall of a rich gentleman's home? The words "precisely" and "perfectly unearthly" make it impossible to consider the similarities as just a coincidence, and even the practical Mr. Brownlow is haunted by what this discovery could mean.

"There was the chairman himself, the landlord of the house: a course, rough, heavy-built fellow, who, while the songs were proceeding, rolled his eyes hither and thither, and, seeming to give himself up to joviality, had an eye for everything that was done, and an ear for everything that was said,- and sharp ones, too. Near him were the singers, receiving with professional indifference the compliments of the company, and applying themselves in turn to a dozen proferred glasses of spirits and water tendered by their more boisterous admirers, whose countenances, expressive of almost every grade, irresistibly attracted the attention by their very repulsiveness. Cunning, ferocity, and drunkenness in all its stages were there in their strongest aspects; and women- some with the last lingering tinge of their early freshness almost fading as you looked, and others with every mark and stamp of their sex utterly beaten out, and presenting but one loathsome blank of profligacy and crime; some mere girls, others but young women, and none past the prime of life,- formed the darkest and saddest portion of this dreary picture" (207).

     - Exemplified by this passage is the skill with which Charles Dickens sets a scene. He is able to connect the present moment with his overarching them of the fallen women, while critiquing the idea that men do not receive the same judgment as women for the same lifestyle. There is sorrow in the idea that these women, "some mere girls," are trapped in a lifestyle that will forever exclude them from proper Victorian womanhood. With their youthfulness "almost fading as you looked," they are a sad reminder of the lengths to which some must go in order to escape the hardships of poverty or the difficulties of life when there is no family to take care of you. More sorrowful yet is the phrase "prime of life," because for these young women, life will have no prime as they continue to spend their days among men who are from from gentlemanly.

"In short, the wily old Jew had the boy in his toils; and, having prepared his mind by solitude and gloom to prefer any society to the companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary place, was now slowly instilling into his soul the poison which he hoped would blacken it and change its hue for ever" (152).

     - Dickens uses vivid imagery and articulation to create an understanding of the horror conveyed in this passage, as he describes Fagin's efforts in breaking Oliver of his innocence. This is one of several moments when the reader is exposed to the malevolence against which Oliver's innocence is tested. The reader comes to understand that these same measures have been taken against the other children in Fagin's den, none of whom are able to resist the temptations of the pickpocketing lifestyle. Oliver is slowly losing hope that he will ever escape the "dreary place" and with Fagin using his "sad thoughts" against him, it seems impossible that he can hold onto his beautiful innocence.

"'Please, sir, I want some more'" (15).

     - Featuring words made famous by the numerous film adaptations of the novel, this line features the first words that Oliver speaks. He asks one of the orphanage caretakers for more food because of a bet lost among the other boys. Because of this request, he is branded as troublesome and set on the path that will eventually lead to his escape into Fagin's den.  This is also an interesting moment where an innocent request is interpreted by the corrupt adult mind as greed.  Oliver's true hunger is not satiated but scorned as a means of shaming him in an attempt to break his spirit.  This can be seen as a means of education, but it does not imply that it is the proper instruction for Victorian children.  If anything Dickens is condemning the harsh jurisdiction of the workhouse masters.

"The boy was lying fast asleep on a rude bed upon the floor, so pale with anxiety, and sadness, and the closeness of his prison, that he looked like death; not death as it shows in shroud and coffin, but in the guise it wears when life has just departed: when a young and gentle spirit has but an instant fled to heaven, and the gross air of the world has not had time to breathe upon the changing dust it hallowed" (162).

     - This passage embodies the innocence of Oliver and Fagin's perspective of him.  Oliver seems to contrast his very environment.  He is an angelic presence in a fallen world.  In sleep, too, Oliver seems to be able to escape the harsh realities even if only for a short while.  Death is also given a unique spin in the passage as something not dark and foreboding but something beautiful and exhilarating.   

"Although I am not disposed to maintain that the being born in a workhouse is in itself the most fortunate and enviable circumstance that can possibly befall a human being, I do mean to say that in this particular instance it was the best thing for Oliver Twist that could by possibility have occurred" (3).

     -The tone the narrator employs and the use of satire sets the mood for the rest of the novel as this quote is taken from the first page of the novel.  Oliver was born in a workhouse surrounded by people who did not really care if he lived or died.  Oliver struggled to breathe in his first minutes of life had he been surrounded by people who cared about him and loved him he would have been killed to put him out of his misery and so he wouldn't die a slow death.  Since the people in room didn't care about him they didn't pay any attention to him giving him the extra time to breathe.  This introduction to the novel allows Charles Dickens, through the voice of his narrator, to criticize workhouse conditions and the plight and treatment of the poor.  

"'I hope you say your prayers every night,' said another gentleman in a gruff voice, 'and pray for the people who feed you, and take care of you, like a Christian.'

"'Yes, sir,' stammered the boy.  The gentleman who spoke last was unconsciously right.  It would have been very like a Christian, and a marvellously good Christian, too, if Oliver had prayed for the people who fed and took care of him.  But he hadn't, because nobody had taught him" (12).

     - This exchange between Oliver and a member of the board of the workhouse reflects Dickens critique on both the Parish system and Victorian society's Christian values.  The people trusted with caring for Oliver had not looked out for his best interests or treated him with kindness.  His caretakers' lack of interest is further demonstrated through Oliver never having been taught to pray. As discussed in the Media and Culture section, the workhouses were run by parishes who should have seen instilling religious beliefs in the orphans as a top priority. A true Christian would have educated Oliver in prayer, an important aspect of the Christian religion. The board member has suggested to Oliver that he should pray, a process that Oliver does not understand, and furthermore that he should pray for "the people who fed and took care of him," though readers know that the caretakers did little to protect Oliver from the harsh life of the workhouse.

"'But even if he has been wicked,' pursued Rose, 'think how young he is; think that he may never have known a mother's love, or even the comfort of a home, and that ill-usage and blows, or the want of bread, may have driven him to herd with the men who have forced him to guilt.  Aunt, dear aunt, for mercy's sake think of this before you let them drag this sick child to a prison, which in any case must be the grave of all his chances of amendment'" (239).

     - This is a speech made by Rose to save Oliver from going to prison. In helping to characterize Rose, it shows her to have a pure and loving heart. She is able to beg Mrs. Maylie's help for Oliver knowing that Mrs. Maylie has already taken her in and saved her from a life of equal hardship. Rose sees Oliver's life as a harsh reminder of what could have become of her, had she not been befriended by a benevolent and wealthy family. Rose is right to call prison the "grave of all his chances of amendment," for once in prison, Oliver would never again earn a respectable place in Victorian society.

"'Then, spare my life, for the love of Heaven, as I spared yours.  Bill, dear Bill! you cannot have the heart to kill me!  Oh, think of all I have given up only this one night for you!  You shall have time to think, and save yourself this crime!  I will not loose my hold; you cannot throw me off.  Bill!  Bill! for dear God's sake, for your own, for mine, stop before you spill my blood.  I have been true to you; upon my guilty soul I have'" (396).

     - Nancy says this to Bill Sikes in a last minute plea to save herself and convince Bill to spare her life.  This emotional dialogue is delivered just before Bill Sikes brutally murders Nancy.  This exchange occurs in one of the most emotional moments of the entire book. It also signifies Bill's extreme brutal nature, condemning him.  Victorian society viewed fallen women, such as Nancy, as incapable of being good mothers, the most important job for Victorian women to fulfill.  Nancy's death frames her as a martyr and acts as a function to redeem Nancy as a fallen woman, demonstrating she was capable of love and worthy of the reader's sympathy.  Her love for Oliver saved the boy from the streets, but her love for Bill kept her from saving herself because she refused to leave him even though she knew he could cause her death.  This quote is one of the most memorable statements made by Nancy in the novel.  

"Strip the bishop of his apron, or the beadle of his cocked hat and gold lace, what are they? Men, --mere men. Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine" (295).

     - One of many moments in which the narrator speaks to the reader in a direct critique of the society, this quote is critical of the people in power who gain the ability to affect the lives of others just from the clothes that they wear. The narrator is often found making conjectures and judgments such as this as the plot progresses. This particular passage comments on how something so petty as a piece of clothing can denote "dignity" and "holiness" though it says nothing of their merit. If their coats are removed, these men would be men just as any other. This theme traverses the novel, manifesting itself between different class levels.

titleCharacter Analysis

(*) - denotes major characters

Oliver Twist*- The protagonist of the novel, Oliver is a young orphan boy tossed about by fate within the streets of London and the workhouses of rural England. Throughout the twists and turns of the plot, he retains his innocence and “goodness” and wins the hearts of people blessed with a more fortunate lifestyle than he could ever imagine. A large part of the novel is the search for Oliver’s true identity, for he seems more suited to the comfort of the homes of Mr. Brownlow and the Maylies than to the streets.

“Oliver Twist’s eighth birth-day found him a pale, thin child, somewhat diminutive in stature, and decidedly small in circumference. But nature or inheritance had implanted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver’s breast: it had had plenty of room to expand, thanks to the spare diet of the establishment; and perhaps to this circumstance may be attributed his having any eighth birth-day at all” (7).

Fagin's Den

Fagin*- One of the novel’s more controversial characters, Fagin is an older man living among the young boys who he has taken in and trained to be pickpockets as part of his thriving business. Fagin does his best to train Oliver in the ways of the streets, though he is often troubled when Bill Sikes steps in to use Oliver for his own purposes. Fagin embodies the anti-Semitic stereotypes running rampant throughout Victorian society and was changed in later editions to be less offensive.

“In a frying-pan which was on the fire, and which was secured to the mantel-shelf by a string, some sausages were cooking; and standing over them, with a toasting-fork in his hand, was a very old shriveled Jew, whose villainous-looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quantity of matted red hair” (64).

The Artful Dodger/Jack Dawkins*- the most likable of the thieves, the Dodger comes upon Oliver in the midst of his escape to London. He takes Oliver under his wing and gets a place for him in Fagin’s den, though Oliver does not realize what this entails. Though the Dodger is only a boy, his time in the streets has given him the mannerisms of a man.

"He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough, and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had got about him all the airs and manners of a man" (60).

Charley Bates* - a fellow pickpocket to the artful dodger, who, though he seems to take more pleasure in doing it, works with the Dodger to train Oliver in the ways of the streets.

Bill Sikes* - He, both very mean and cruel, is a professional burglar and one of Fagin's associates. Sikes is a long-time associate of Fagin's and is romantically involved with Nancy. He treats both Nancy and his dog with extreme cruelty.

“The man who growled out these words was a stoutly-built fellow of about five-and-forty, in a black velveteen coat, very soiled drab breeches, lace-up half-boots, and grey cotton stockings, which enclosed a very bulky pair of legs, with large swelling calves,- the kind of legs which in such costume always look in an unfinished and incomplete state without a set of fetters to garnish them. He had a brown hat on his head, and a dirty belcher handkerchief round his neck, with the long frayed ends of which, he smeared the beer from his face as he spoke; disclosing when he had done so, a broad heavy countenance with a bear of three days’ growth, and two scowling eyes, one of which displayed various parti-coloured symptoms of having been recently damaged by a blow” (98).

Bull's-Eye (dog) - the faithful follower of Sikes

Nancy*- A former child of Fagin's den, Nancy now works as a prostitute and lives with Sikes, for whom she feels an unavoidable kind of love.

Bet – another of Fagin’s ring of children who, along with Nancy, works as a prostitute

“A couple of young ladies came to see the young gentlemen, one of whom was called Bet and the other Nancy. They wore a good deal of hair, not very neatly turned up behind, and were rather untidy about the shoes and stockings. They were not exactly pretty, perhaps; but they had a great deal of colour in their faces, and looking quite stout and hearty” (71).

Monks* - A man filled with hatred for Oliver, Monks conspires with Fagin to destroy Oliver's reputation. His hidden agenda is revealed later as Mr. Brownlow and friends work to uncover Oliver’s past.

Toby Crackit - a comrade of Fagin and Sikes

Tom Chitling - a member of Fagin's Den

Brownlow's City House

Mr. Brownlow* - Though introduced to the story as a victim of pick pocketing, he reaches out to Oliver and offers him a place in his home. Mr. Brownlow plays a key role in the discovery of Oliver’s true identity.

“The old gentleman was a very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles; dressed in a bottle-green coat with a black velvet collar, and white trousers: with a smart bamboo cane under his arm” (74).

Mr. Grimwig - Mr. Brownlow's cynical friend who is suspicious of everyone, especially Oliver.

Mrs. Bedwin - Oliver's main caregiver in the Brownlow house

Mr. Leeford- A man from the past who died long before the story took place. He does play a large role in that he is the father of both Oliver and Monks.

Agnes Fleming- A beautiful daughter of a naval officer, Agnes falls in love with Mr. Leeford at a young age and gives birth to Oliver after his death. She then dies from childbirth and leaves Oliver to struggle through early life in the workhouse. Mr. Brownlow is able to piece together Oliver’s past after noticing the shocking resemblance between Oliver and the portrait of Agnes that Mr. Leeford sent to him for safekeeping.  

“He pointed hastily to the picture above Oliver’s head, and then to the boy’s face. There was its living copy,- the eyes, the head, the mouth; every feature was the same” (93).

Maylie Manor

Mrs. Maylie* - A kind, wealthy older woman. The mother of Harry Maylie and adoptive “aunt” of Rose, she takes Oliver in and cares for him after he is mortally injured

Rose* -  a young woman under the guardianship of Mrs. Maylie. She is portrayed as an ideal Victorian woman, save for one flaw: her illegitimate conception.

"She was not past seventeen. Cast in so slight and exquisite a mould, so mild and gentle, so pure and beautiful, that earth seemed not her element, nor its rough creatures her fit companions. The very intelligence that shone in her deep blue eye and was stamped upon her noble head, seemed scarcely of her age or of the world, and yet the changing expression of sweetness and good humour, the thousand lights that played about the face and left no shadow there; above all, the smile- the cheerful happy smile- were entwined with the best sympathies and affections of our nature" (235).

Harry Maylie*- Mrs. Maylie’s son, Harry is a dashing young man with grand political ambitions and career prospects, which he eventually gives up to marry Rose

"He seemed about five-and-twenty years of age, and was of the middle height; his countenance was frank and handsome, and his demeanor singularly easy and prepossessing" (275).

Mr. Losberne - the physician and friend of the Maylies who helps in the process of protecting Oliver from his past

Mr. Giles - the head servant of the Maylie household who shoots Oliver during the break-in

Brittles - the 30-year-old "boy" of the Maylie servant staff

Authority Seekers

Mr. Sowerberry* - the undertaker who Oliver apprentices, who is one of the few individuals to treat Oliver with kindness in Oliver's young life

Mrs. Sowerberry - The wife of Mr. Sowerberry, she is a mean and judgmental character, treating Oliver with cruelty and rejoicing when the young boy runs away.

Mrs. Mann - maintains the child farm on which Oliver spent several years of his early life

Mr. Fang – the malicious prosecutor who attempts to convict Oliver of pick pocketing even after Mr. Brownlow states that he does not wish to press any charges.

Duff and Blathers – As Bow Street Runners, they are an early form of police. They are a bumbling pair and accomplish little.

Charlotte – As the Sowerberry's maid, she is cruel to Oliver and, along with Noah Claypole, turns Mrs. Sowerberry against the young boy. Later, she becomes romantically involved with Noah and follows him to London to seek fortune in the streets.

Noah Claypole* - the charity boy who is the apprentice of Mr. Sowerberry. He is a chubby, overgrown bully and he abuses Oliver at the Sowerberry house. Noah later joins Fagin's gang when he leaves for London with Charlotte, the Sowerberry’s maid.

"Noah was a charity-boy, but not a workhouse orphan. No chance-child was he, for he could trace his genealogy back all the way to his parents, who lived hard by...Now that fortune had cast in his way a nameless orphan, at whom even the meanest could point the finger of scorn, he retorted on him with interest. This affords charming food for contemplation. It shows us what a beautiful thing human nature is, and how impartially the same amiable qualities are developed in the finest lord and the dirtiest charity-boy" (37).

Mr. Bumble* - The pompous, self-important beadle of the parish in which Oliver is born who preaches Christian compassion but in reality treats the paupers under his care without compassion and with cruelty. He is a very greedy individual constantly seeking power and status on his own behalf

“Now Mr. Bumble was a fat man, and a choleric one; so, instead of responding to this open-hearted salutation in a kindred spirit, he gave the little wicket a tremendous shake, and then bestowed upon it a kick, which could have emanated from no leg but a beadle’s” (8).

Mrs. (Corney) Bumble- She is the matron of the workhouse where Oliver is born.  She later becomes the wife of Mr. Bumble she is quite cruel and treats her husband with extreme harshness.

titleMedia and Culture

The nineteenth century world into which Dickens' Oliver Twist entered was one of extreme urban growth. London had become "the largest, most spectacular city in the world," but with that growth came new issues of crowding and pollution (Perdue). People of different classes were suddenly occupying the same space, as city housing emptied onto streets filled with beggars and prostitutes. During the day, streets were also filled with vendors, including booksellers like the one who Oliver encounters during his early days with Fagin and the boys.

In the novel, Dickens also deals with the New Poor Law, which went into effect in 1834. "The new law required parishes to band together and create regional workhouses where aid could be applied for," but "the workhouse was little more than a prison for the poor" who were subjected to harsh treatment and separated from their families (Perdue). Dickens not only critiques the parishioners who ran the orphanage and workhouse, but also the entire system that allows for helpless orphans to be treated like insignificant machines for factory work.

Perdue, David A. "Dickens' London." <>.
Oliver Twist: from Book to Stage to Screen

1838 - Oliver Twist is published in three volumes. It was serialized within monthly editions of Bentley's Miscellany between 1837 and 1839. 

1945 - The Gilberton Company releases a Classic Comics version of Oliver Twist that originally sold for $.10. For other Classic Comics releases click here .

1948 - A film version was released by David Lean which featured Alec Guinness as Fagin. The movie was criticized for the antisemitic use of a very large prosthetic nose as part of Guinness's costume.

1960 - The story of Oliver Twist was taken to the stage and set to music when Lionel Bart produced Oliver!, a musical which ran for 2,618 performances.

1968 - Bart's musical was made into a movie, which won 6 Oscars.

1988 - Disney releases the cartoon musical, "Oliver and Company," which plays with the themes of Oliver Twist in the relationships of cats and dogs. For more information on the movie and to view trailers or movie clips click here .

2005 - The story moved away from music and was reworked into a film by director Roman Polanski. For more film details click here .

2007 - BBC released their version of the novel as a film. For more details click here .

2010 - Oliver! The Musical continues to run on stages around the world today.

The Guardian. "Let's Twist again: Oliver on stage and screen." Guardian News and Media. <>.

"Oliver Twist- Classic Comics (# 23)- Gilberton Company." Comic Book Art Resource, Price Guide And Information DataBase. Web. 10 May 2010. <>.

Oliver Twist 1948

Olivet Twist 2005

Oliver Twist- Book Online

Oliver! The Musical: Lyrics

titleImage Gallery


Note: All images courtesy of WikiMedia Commons. Thank you, WikiMedia Commons.

titleResources and Links

*links for University of Iowa students

Juliet, John. "Fagin, the Holocaust, and Mass Culture." Dickens Quarterly. Louisville: Dec 2005. Vol. 22, Iss. 4: 205-23.

Juliet John attempts to relate Dickens' novels to the people of 19th century in the same way that cinema is related to the people of our day and age. Dickens gained a fan base similar to the cinema-frequenters of today because of his ability to make the ordinary seem incredible through his intense descriptions and witty characterization.

Lankford, William. "The Parish Boy's Progress: The Evolving Form of Oliver Twist." PMLA 93:1 (1978): 20-32. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.

William Lankford analyzes Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist. Lankford is critical of the novel examining the novel's inconsistency found in "theme and conception of character". Lankford delves into his observed problems associated with the plot of the novel.

Lesnik-Oberstein, Karin. "Oliver Twist: The Narrator's Tale." Textual Practice. Mar 2001. Vol. 15, Iss. 1: 87-100.

Karin Lesnik-Oberstein argues that the novel works more for the narrator than the narrator for the novel. She sees the text as a tool for displaying the power of the narrator's self-reflexivity. She also discusses the role of the novel as a discussion of the origin of childhood, including whether it is a sociological or psychological construction.

Meyer, Susan. "Antisemitism and Social Critique in Dickens's Oliver Twist." Victorian Literature and Culture. Cambridge: Mar. 2005. Vol. 33, Iss. 1: 239-53.

Susan Meyer explores the work of Dickens in Oliver Twist to critique the moral code of Christians which allows for the ill treatment of the poor in Victorian England. She discusses moments in the text in which religion is brought into play to question societal practices.

Monahan, Jerome. "A Twist in the tale." Times Educational Supplement 4654 (2005): 18-19. 28 Feb. 2010.

This article focuses specifically on the film adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist." The article examines the techniques in the film used by director Roman Polanski, the observed differences between the novel and this film adaptation. The article also examines intriguing elements found in the film.

Wills, G. "Love in the lower depths." New York Review of Books 36:16 (1989): 60-68. 28 Feb. 2010.

Wills presents an essay in which he examines the elements of classicism and moral implications portrayed through the characters and their emotional portrayal.

Wyatt, Neal. "Classic Returns: Masters of the 19th Century." Library Journal 135:2 (2010): 98-98. 28 Feb 2010.

This article focuses on books written in the nineteenth century. One of the books reviewed is Charles Dickens "Oliver Twist". Dickens creates "both atmosphere and location, and he takes his readers deep into the criminal world of early Victorian London, down the twisty streets and into the lairs of Fagin and Sikes."

Zieger, Susan. "Dickens's Queer Children." LIT: Literature Interpretation Theory 20:1/2 (2009): 141-157. 28 Feb. 2010.

This literary criticism concerns the work of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens for which the author Lee Edelman's book "No Furture: Queer Theory and the Death Drive," argument is inspired from. The argument is made that "Dickens' child characters can become sexualized" as in the child characters in Oliver Twist.