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Free Study Guide-Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens-Online Book Notes
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SHORT PLOT/CHAPTER SUMMARY (Synopsis)

The novel opens in a workhouse in a small town seventy five miles north of London where Oliver is born to Agnes, an unwed mother who dies soon after his birth. The infant is sent to a branch workhouse to be looked after by an elderly lady called Mrs. Mann who pockets a major portion of the stipends allotted to the orphans. When Oliver is nine years old, he is taken back to the workhouse to learn the business of picking oakum. Like other children, he finds life in the workhouse miserable. Most of the time they are ill-treated and sent to bed hungry. One day when Oliver asks for more food, he is beaten up and confined to a solitary cell. Later, he is sold to Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker, who makes him his apprentice. He is trained to be a mute at children's funerals. Though Mr. Sowerberry likes him, Mrs. Sowerberry and her loyal servant, Noah Claypole, make his life miserable. One day, after he hits Noah for taunting him and insulting his mother, Oliver is beaten up and confined to a dark room. Early the next morning, he makes his escape to London. The first chapter of Oliver's life thus comes to an end.


On the way to London, Oliver meets a young man named John Dawkins who gives him food and promises to provide him shelter in London. Dawkins, also known as Artful Dodger, introduces him to the underworld by taking him to the house of Fagin. Unaware of the nature of the underworld, Oliver lives in the midst of criminals enjoying himself more than he has ever done before. However, the day he goes out with Dodger and Bates and watches them pocketing the purse of a gentleman, his suspicions are aroused. He feels revolted and tries to run away from the scene. Unfortunately, the gentleman seeing him running away from the scene, suspects him of being the thief. As Dodger and Bates make their escape, Oliver is led to the office of the magistrate. He is almost charged for the theft, when the book-seller, who was a witness to the crime, enters the scene and declares him innocent. Unable to withstand the strain anymore, Oliver faints. Mr. Brownlow takes pity on the boy and carries him to his home in Pentonville. In the peaceful atmosphere of the house, Oliver recovers. Both Mrs. Bedwin and Brownlow shower him with affection. When Oliver regains his strength, he is sent on an errand to the book-stall by Mr. Brownlow. As he walks down the street, he is captured by Nancy and Sikes who lead him towards Fagin's den.

Oliver is made to abandon the world of goodness to enter the bad world of the criminals once again. Fagin and his associates try to tempt him towards criminal activities but the boy remains unmoved, thus displaying an inner strength and a spirit of confidence. One evening, he is sent to accompany Bill Sikes on a secret mission. Though he suspects the nature of the mission, he becomes aware of the real crime only when they visit the spot. Oliver is forced to help Bill Sikes and Toby Crackit break into a house to rob it of its valuables. Unmindful of his protests, they push the boy in the through the window and order him to open the door. The boy takes the opportunity to alert the inmates of the house but before he can summon courage, he is shot at by a servant of the house. Sikes leaves him wounded in a ditch but Oliver's instinct for survival makes him walk towards the house and seek help. Though he is identified by the servant as an accomplice in the robbery, Mrs. Maylie and Rose take him in and nurse him back to strength. They believe his words and allow to stay with them. One more chapter of Oliver's life comes to an end and a fresh one begins.

Rose and Mrs. Maylie shower him with motherly affection which he has missed in his childhood. They provide him the much needed security and love he had craved all along.

Thus, striking a bond of friendship with them he becomes their companion in joy as well as in grief. With their help he is reunited with Mr. Brownlow. His benefactor catches hold of the man who is partly responsible for Oliver's plight. Through Monks, Mr. Brownlow discovers the identity of Oliver and learns about his share in the property of his father. Oliver, thus, regains his rightful place in society. He goes back to live in a town similar to the one in which he was born.

In order to emphasize the travails of Oliver and trace his journey through life, Dickens deviates from the main plot to dwell on the life of certain other characters in the story. Thus the author introduces the reader to the different worlds of Oliver, Bumbles, Claypole and Sikes by often shifting the scenes in the novel.

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