Help On Oliver Twsit By Charles Dickens

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Analysis of Major CharactersOliver TwistAs the child hero of a melodramatic novel of social protest, Oliver Twist is meant to appeal more to our sentiments than to our literary sensibilities. On many levels, Oliver is not a believable character, because although he is raised in corrupt surroundings, his purity and virtue are absolute. Throughout the novel, Dickens uses Oliver's character to challenge the Victorian idea that paupers and criminals are already evil at birth, arguing instead that a corrupt environment is the source of vice. At the same time, Oliver's incorruptibility undermines some of Dickens's assertions. Oliver is shocked and horrified when he sees the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates pick a stranger's pocket and again when he is forced to participate in a burglary. Oliver's moral scruples about the sanctity of property seem inborn in him, just as Dickens's opponents thought that corruption is inborn in poor people. Furthermore, other pauper children use rough Cockney slang, but Oliver, oddly enough, speaks in proper King's English. His grammatical fastidiousness is also inexplicable, as Oliver presumably is not well-educated. Even when he is abused and manipulated, Oliver does not become angry or indignant. When Sikes and Crackit force him to assist in a robbery, Oliver merely begs to be allowed to "run away and die in the fields." Oliver does not present a complex picture of a person torn between good and evil--instead, he is goodness incarnate.Even if we might feel that Dickens's social criticism would have been more effective if he had focused on a more complex poor character, like the Artful Dodger or Nancy, the audience for whom Dickens was writing might not have been receptive to such a portrayal. Dickens's Victorian middle-class readers were likely to hold opinions on the poor that were only a little less extreme than those expressed by Mr. Bumble, the beadle who treats paupers with great cruelty. In fact, Oliver Twist was criticized for portraying thieves and prostitutes at all. Given the strict morals of Dickens's audience, it may have seemed necessary for him to make Oliver a saintlike figure. Because Oliver appealed to Victorian readers' sentiments, his story may have stood a better chance of effectively challenging their prejudices.NancyA major concern of Oliver Twist is the question of whether a bad environment can irrevocably poison someone's character and soul. As the novel progresses, the character who best illustrates the contradictory issues brought up by that question is Nancy. As a child of the streets, Nancy has been a thief and drinks to excess. The narrator's reference to her "free and agreeable . . . manners" indicates that she is a prostitute. She is immersed in the vices condemned by her society, but she also commits perhaps the most noble act in the novel when she sacrifices her own life in order to protect Oliver. Nancy's moral complexity is unique among the major characters in Oliver Twist. The novel is full of characters who are all good and can barely comprehend evil, such as Oliver, Rose, and Brownlow; and characters who are all evil and can barely comprehend good, such as Fagin, Sikes, and Monks. Only Nancy comprehends and is capable of both good and evil. Her ultimate choice to do good at a great personal cost is a strong argument in favor of the incorruptibility of basic goodness, no matter how many environmental obstacles it may face.Nancy's love for Sikes exemplifies the moral ambiguity of her character. As she herself points out to Rose, devotion to a man can be "a comfort and a pride" under the right circumstances. But for Nancy, such devotion is "a new means of violence and suffering"--indeed, her relationship with Sikes leads her to criminal acts for his sake and eventually to her own demise. The same behavior, in different circumstances, can have very different consequences and moral significance. In much of Oliver Twist, morality and nobility are black-and-white issues, but Nancy's character suggests that the boundary between virtue and vice is not always clearly drawn.FaginAlthough Dickens denied that anti-Semitism had influenced his portrait of Fagin, the Jewish thief's characterization does seem to owe much to ethnic stereotypes. He is ugly, simpering, miserly, and avaricious. Constant references to him as "the Jew" seem to indicate that his negative traits are intimately connected to his ethnic identity. However, Fagin is more than a statement of ethnic prejudice. He is a richly drawn, resonant embodiment of terrifying villainy. At times, he seems like a child's distorted vision of pure evil. 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. Twice, in Chapter 9 and again in Chapter 34, Oliver wakes up to find Fagin nearby. Oliver encounters him in the hazy zone between sleep and waking, at the precise time when dreams and nightmares are born from "the mere silent presence of some external object." Indeed, Fagin is meant to inspire nightmares in child and adult readers alike. Perhaps most frightening of all, though, is Chapter 52, in which we enter Fagin's head for his "last night alive." The gallows, and the fear they inspire in Fagin, are a specter even more horrifying to contemplate than Fagin himself.Nancy -A young prostitute and one of Fagin's former child pickpockets. Nancy is also Bill Sikes's lover. Her love for Sikes and her sense of moral decency come into conflict when Sikes abuses Oliver. Despite her criminal lifestyle, she is among the noblest characters in the novel. In effect, she gives her life for Oliver when Sikes murders her for revealing Monks's plots.A major concern of Oliver Twist is the question of whether a bad environment can irrevocably poison someone's character and soul. As the novel progresses, the character who best illustrates the contradictory issues brought up by that question is Nancy. As a child of the streets, Nancy has been a thief and drinks to excess. The narrator's reference to her "free and agreeable . . . manners" indicates that she is a prostitute. She is immersed in the vices condemned by her society, but she also commits perhaps the most noble act in the novel when she sacrifices her own life in order to protect Oliver. Nancy's moral complexity is unique among the major characters in Oliver Twist. The novel is full of characters who are all good and can barely comprehend evil, such as Oliver, Rose, and Brownlow; and characters who are all evil and can barely comprehend good, such as Fagin, Sikes, and Monks. Only Nancy comprehends and is capable of both good and evil. Her ultimate choice to do good at a great personal cost is a strong argument in favor of the incorruptibility of basic goodness, no matter how many environmental obstacles it may face.Nancy's love for Sikes exemplifies the moral ambiguity of her character. As she herself points out to Rose, devotion to a man can be "a comfort and a pride" under the right circumstances. But for Nancy, such devotion is "a new means of violence and suffering"--indeed, her relationship with Sikes leads her to criminal acts for his sake and eventually to her own demise. The same behavior, in different circumstances, can have very different consequences and moral significance. In much of Oliver Twist, morality and nobility are black-and-white issues, but Nancy's character suggests that the boundary between virtue and vice is not always clearly drawn.OliverThe novel's protagonist. Oliver is an orphan born in a workhouse, and Dickens uses his situation to criticize public policy toward the poor in 1830s England. Oliver is between nine and twelve years old when the main action of the novel occurs. Though treated with cruelty and surrounded by coarseness for most of his life, he is a pious, innocent child, and his charms draw the attention of several wealthy benefactors. His true identity is the central mystery of the novel.Rose Maylie -Agnes Fleming's sister, raised by Mrs. Maylie after the death of Rose's father. A beautiful, compassionate, and forgiving young woman, Rose is the novel's model of female virtue. She establishes a loving relationship with Oliver even before it is revealed that the two are related.Noah Claypole -A charity boy and Mr. Sowerberry's apprentice. Noah is an overgrown, cowardly bully who mistreats Oliver and eventually joins Fagin's gang.The Artful Dodger -The cleverest of Fagin's pickpockets. The Dodger's real name is Jack Dawkins. Though no older than Oliver, the Dodger talks and dresses like a grown man. He introduces Oliver to Fagin.Mr. Brownlow -A well-off, erudite gentleman who serves as Oliver's first benefactor. Mr. Brownlow owns a portrait of Agnes Fleming and was engaged to Mr. Leeford's sister when she died. Throughout the novel, he behaves with compassion and common sense and emerges as a natural leader.Monks -A sickly, vicious young man, prone to violent fits and teeming with inexplicable hatred. With Fagin, he schemes to give Oliver a bad reputation.Bill Sikes -A brutal professional burglar brought up in Fagin's gang. Sikes and Nancy are lovers, and he treats both her and his dog Bull's-eye with an odd combination of cruelty and grudging familiarity. His murder of Nancy is the most heinous of the many crimes that occur in the novel.Mr. Bumble -The pompous, self-important beadle--a minor church official--for the workhouse where Oliver is born. Though Mr. Bumble preaches Christian morality, he behaves without compassion toward the paupers under his care. Dickens mercilessly satirizes his self-righteousness, greed, hypocrisy, and folly, of which his name is an obvious symbol.Plot OverviewOLIVER TWIST IS BORN in a workhouse in 1830s England. His mother, whose name no one knows, is found on the street and dies just after Oliver's birth. Oliver spends the first nine years of his life in a badly run home for young orphans and then is transferred to a workhouse for adults. After the other boys bully Oliver into asking for more gruel at the end of a meal, Mr. Bumble, the parish beadle, offers five pounds to anyone who will take the boy away from the workhouse. Oliver narrowly escapes being apprenticed to a brutish chimney sweep and is eventually apprenticed to a local undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry. When the undertaker's other apprentice, Noah Claypole, makes disparaging comments about Oliver's mother, Oliver attacks him and incurs the Sowerberrys' wrath. Desperate, Oliver runs away at dawn and travels toward London.Outside London, Oliver, starved and exhausted, meets Jack Dawkins, a boy his own age. Jack offers him shelter in the London house of his benefactor, Fagin. It turns out that Fagin is a career criminal who trains orphan boys to pick pockets for him. After a few days of training, Oliver is sent on a pickpocketing mission with two other boys. When he sees them swipe a handkerchief from an elderly gentleman, Oliver is horrified and runs off. He is caught but narrowly escapes being convicted of the theft. Mr. Brownlow, the man whose handkerchief was stolen, takes the feverish Oliver to his home and nurses him back to health. Mr. Brownlow is struck by Oliver's resemblance to a portrait of a young woman that hangs in his house. Oliver thrives in Mr. Brownlow's home, but two young adults in Fagin's gang, Bill Sikes and his lover Nancy, capture Oliver and return him to Fagin.Fagin sends Oliver to assist Sikes in a burglary. Oliver is shot by a servant of the house and, after Sikes escapes, is taken in by the women who live there, Mrs. Maylie and her beautiful adopted niece Rose. They grow fond of Oliver, and he spends an idyllic summer with them in the countryside. But Fagin and a mysterious man named Monks are set on recapturing Oliver. Meanwhile, it is revealed that Oliver's mother left behind a gold locket when she died. Monks obtains and destroys that locket. When the Maylies come to London, Nancy meets secretly with Rose and informs her of Fagin's designs, but a member of Fagin's gang overhears the conversation. When word of Nancy's disclosure reaches Sikes, he brutally murders Nancy and flees London. Pursued by his guilty conscience and an angry mob, he inadvertently hangs himself while trying to escape.Mr. Brownlow, with whom the Maylies have reunited Oliver, confronts Monks and wrings the truth about Oliver's parentage from him. It is revealed that Monks is Oliver's half brother. Their father, Mr. Leeford, was unhappily married to a wealthy woman and had an affair with Oliver's mother, Agnes Fleming. Monks has been pursuing Oliver all along in the hopes of ensuring that his half-brother is deprived of his share of the family inheritance. Mr. Brownlow forces Monks to sign over Oliver's share to Oliver. Moreover, it is discovered that Rose is Agnes's younger sister, hence Oliver's aunt. Fagin is hung for his crimes. Finally, Mr. Brownlow adopts Oliver, and they and the Maylies retire to a blissful existence in the countryside.Themes, Motifs & SymbolsThemesThemes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.The Failure of CharityMuch of the first part of Oliver Twist challenges the organizations of charity run by the church and the government in Dickens's time. The system Dickens describes was put into place by the Poor Law of 1834, which stipulated that the poor could only receive government assistance if they moved into government workhouses. Residents of those workhouses were essentially inmates whose rights were severely curtailed by a host of onerous regulations. Labor was required, families were almost always separated, and rations of food and clothing were meager. The workhouses operated on the principle that poverty was the consequence of laziness and that the dreadful conditions in the workhouse would inspire the poor to better their own circumstances. Yet the economic dislocation of the Industrial Revolution made it impossible for many to do so, and the workhouses did not provide any means for social or economic betterment. Furthermore, as Dickens points out, the officials who ran the workhouses blatantly violated the values they preached to the poor. Dickens describes with great sarcasm the greed, laziness, and arrogance of charitable workers like Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Mann. In general, charitable institutions only reproduced the awful conditions in which the poor would live anyway. As Dickens puts it, the poor choose between "being starved by a gradual process in the house, or by a quick one out of it."The Folly of IndividualismWith the rise of capitalism during the Industrial Revolution, individualism was very much in vogue as a philosophy. Victorian capitalists believed that society would run most smoothly if individuals looked out for their own interests. Ironically, the clearest pronunciation of this philosophy comes not from a legitimate businessman but from Fagin, who operates in the illicit businesses of theft and prostitution. He tells Noah Claypole that "a regard for number one holds us all together, and must do so, unless we would all go to pieces in company." In other words, the group's interests are best maintained if every individual looks out for "number one," or himself. The folly of this philosophy is demonstrated at the end of the novel, when Nancy turns against Monks, Charley Bates turns against Sikes, and Monks turns against Mrs. Corney. Fagin's unstable family, held together only by the self-interest of its members, is juxtaposed to the little society formed by Oliver, Brownlow, Rose Maylie, and their many friends. This second group is bound together not by concerns of self-interest but by "strong affection and humanity of heart," the selfless devotion to each other that Dickens sees as the prerequisite for "perfect happiness."Purity in a Corrupt CityThroughout the novel, Dickens confronts the question of whether the terrible environments he depicts have the power to "blacken [the soul] and change its hue for ever." By examining the fates of most of the characters, we can assume that his answer is that they do not. Certainly, characters like Sikes and Fagin seem to have sustained permanent damage to their moral sensibilities. Yet even Sikes has a conscience, which manifests itself in the apparition of Nancy's eyes that haunts him after he murders her. Charley Bates maintains enough of a sense of decency to try to capture Sikes. Of course, Oliver is above any corruption, though the novel removes him from unhealthy environments relatively early in his life. Most telling of all is Nancy, who, though she considers herself "lost almost beyond redemption," ends up making the ultimate sacrifice for a child she hardly knows. In contrast, Monks, perhaps the novel's most inhuman villain, was brought up amid wealth and comfort.The Countryside IdealizedAll the injustices and privations suffered by the poor in Oliver Twist occur in cities--either the great city of London or the provincial city where Oliver is born. When the Maylies take Oliver to the countryside, he discovers a "new existence." Dickens asserts that even people who have spent their entire lives in "close and noisy places" are likely, in the last moments of their lives, to find comfort in half--imagined memories "of sky, and hill and plain." Moreover, country scenes have the potential to "purify our thoughts" and erase some of the vices that develop in the city. Hence, in the country, "the poor people [are] so neat and clean," living a life that is free of the squalor that torments their urban counterparts. Oliver and his new family settle in a small village at the novel's end, as if a happy ending would not be possible in the city. Dickens's portrait of rural life in Oliver Twist is more approving yet far less realistic than his portrait of urban life. This fact does not contradict, but rather supports, the general estimation of Dickens as a great urban writer. It is precisely Dickens's distance from the countryside that allows him to idealize it.MotifsMotifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.Disguised or Mistaken IdentitiesThe plot of Oliver Twist revolves around the various false identities that other characters impose upon Oliver, often for the sake of advancing their own interests. Mr. Bumble and the other workhouse officials insist on portraying Oliver as something he is not--an ungrateful, immoral pauper. Monks does his best to conceal Oliver's real identity so that Monks himself can claim Oliver's rightful inheritance. Characters also disguise their own identities when it serves them well to do so. Nancy pretends to be Oliver's middle-class sister in order to get him back to Fagin, while Monks changes his name and poses as a common criminal rather than the heir he really is. Scenes depicting the manipulation of clothing indicate how it plays an important part in the construction of various characters' identities. Nancy dons new clothing to pass as a middle-class girl, and Fagin strips Oliver of all his upper-class credibility when he takes from him the suit of clothes purchased by Brownlow. The novel's resolution revolves around the revelation of the real identities of Oliver, Rose, and Monks. Only when every character's identity is known with certainty does the story achieve real closure.Hidden Family RelationshipsThe revelation of Oliver's familial ties is among the novel's most unlikely plot turns: Oliver is related to Brownlow, who was married to his father's sister; to Rose, who is his aunt; and to Monks, who is his half-brother. The coincidences involved in these facts are quite unbelievable and represent the novel's rejection of realism in favor of fantasy. Oliver is at first believed to be an orphan without parents or relatives, a position that would, in that time and place, almost certainly seal his doom. Yet, by the end of the novel, it is revealed that he has more relatives than just about anyone else in the novel. This reversal of his fortunes strongly resembles the fulfillment of a naïve child's wish. It also suggests the mystical binding power of family relationships. Brownlow and Rose take to Oliver immediately, even though he is implicated in an attempted robbery of Rose's house, while Monks recognizes Oliver the instant he sees him on the street. The influence of blood ties, it seems, can be felt even before anyone knows those ties exist.Surrogate FamiliesBefore Oliver finds his real family, a number of individuals serve him as substitue parents, mostly with very limited success. Mrs. Mann and Mr. Bumble are surrogate parents, albeit horribly negligent ones, for the vast numbers of orphans under their care. Mr. Sowerberry and his wife, while far from ideal, are much more serviceable parent figures to Oliver, and one can even imagine that Oliver might have grown up to be a productive citizen under their care. Interestingly, it is the mention of his real mother that leads to Oliver's voluntary abandonment of the Sowerberrys. The most provocative of the novel's mock family structures is the unit formed by Fagin and his young charges. Fagin provides for and trains his wards nearly as well as a father might, and he inspires enough loyalty in them that they stick around even after they are grown. But these quasi-familial relationships are built primarily around exploitation and not out of true concern or selfless interest. Oddly enough, the only satisfactory surrogate parents Oliver finds are Brownlow and Rose, both of whom turn out to be actual relatives.Oliver's FaceOliver's face is singled out for special attention at multiple points in the novel. Mr. Sowerberry, Charley Bates, and Toby Crackit all comment on its particular appeal, and its resemblance to the portrait of Agnes Fleming provides the first clue to Oliver's identity. The power of Oliver's physiognomy, combined with the facts that Fagin is hideous and Rose is beautiful, suggests that in the world of the novel, external appearance usually gives a fair impression of a person's inner character.SymbolsSymbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.Characters' NamesThe names of characters represent personal qualities. Oliver Twist himself is the most obvious example. The name "Twist," though given by accident, alludes to the outrageous reversals of fortune that he will experience. Rose Maylie's name echoes her association with flowers and springtime, youth and beauty. Toby Crackit's name is a lighthearted reference to his chosen profession of breaking into houses. Mr. Bumble's name connotes his bumbling arrogance; Mrs. Mann's, her lack of maternal instinct; and Mr. Grimwig's, his superficial grimness that can be removed as easily as a wig.Bull's-eyeBill Sikes's dog, Bull's-eye, has "faults of temper in common with his owner" and is a symbolic emblem of his owner's character. The dog's viciousness reflects and represents Sikes's own animal-like brutality. After Sikes murders Nancy, Bull's-eye comes to represent Sikes's guilt. The dog leaves bloody footprints on the floor of the room where the murder is committed. Not long after, Sikes becomes desperate to get rid of the dog, convinced that the dog's presence will give him away. Yet, just as Sikes cannot shake off his guilt, he cannot shake off Bull's-eye, who arrives at the house of Sikes's demise before Sikes himself does. Bull's-eye's name also conjures up the image of Nancy's eyes, which haunts Sikes until the bitter end and eventually causes him to hang himself accidentally.London BridgeNancy's decision to meet Brownlow and Rose on London Bridge reveals the symbolic aspect of this bridge in Oliver Twist. Bridges exist to link two places that would otherwise be separated by an uncrossable chasm. The meeting on London Bridge represents the collision of two worlds unlikely ever to come into contact--the idyllic world of Brownlow and Rose, and the atmosphere of degradation in which Nancy lives. On the bridge, Nancy is given the chance to cross over to the better way of life that the others represent, but she rejects that opportunity, and by the time the three have all left the bridge, that possibility has vanished forever.

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