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Free Study Guide-Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens-Online Book Notes
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OVERALL ANALYSES

CHARACTERS

Oliver

Dickens has created Oliver through his experiences as a child and his intuitive imagination. He has projected his protagonist as a sensitive child possessed with natural charm, innocence, and strength of character. He shows Oliver as a representative orphan surrounded by ruthless powers.

Oliver talks less but observes and perceives more. He shows his helplessness when he is unjustly punished and denied his rights. However, when tested by the force of circumstances, he displays an inner strength to protect himself. Even when he is surrounded by evil forces, he remains unaffected. His natural goodness and instinct for survival help him to overcome the odds of life. Thus he establishes himself in the world of respectable people who cherish the values of honesty and integrity.

Monks

If Oliver is the embodiment of goodness, Monks is the incarnation of evil. His physical deformity reflects his evil nature. When he has fits, his facial features get distorted and he presents a horrible picture. He nurtures a feeling of hatred for Oliver because the boy is his half-brother and the heir to a major portion of his father's property. He makes Fagin his accomplice in hunting down Oliver and in luring him towards crime. When he is unsuccessful in his attempt to harm the boy, he tries to destroy all the evidence of Oliver's birth. Finally, when he is apprehended by Mr. Brownlow, he reluctantly confesses his involvement in marring Oliver's future. He also agrees to share half of his father's property with the boy. As Dickens concludes the novel, he mentions Monks departure to the New World and how, after squandering all his wealth, he had taken to crime and met his end within the four walls of the prison.


Mr. Brownlow

Dickens presents Mr. Brownlow through a child's vision. Oliver regards him as a godly man possessing the virtues of goodness and greatness. When he comes back to meet Mr. Brownlow after a period of time, the gentleman welcomes him with open arms. Mr. Brownlow feels responsible to provide Oliver with respectability and security. In order to ensure the identity of the boy, he persuades Monks to reveal the true story of Oliver's birth. He also restores the boy's share in his father's property. He wards off the evil forces from Oliver's life and provides the boy with love and security. Once Oliver's benefactor, he becomes his guardian.

Rose

Dickens portrays Rose as a charming young woman who is also warm, sensitive and cultured. As the ward of Mrs. Maylie, she takes care of Oliver when he is laid up in bed and becomes his companion after recovers. She understands his needs and provides him comfort and security. She takes pity on Nancy and tries to reform her. She takes Mr. Brownlow into confidence by revealing Nancy's story to him. Unsure of her origins, she refuses Mr. Harry Maylie's proposal of marriage even though she loves him. After her true status is revealed and when Mr. Harry decides to settle down in a village as a parson, she marries him. She is a good samaritan who wishes the best for everyone around her. Her heart is a reservoir of love. Thus she feels happy to strengthen her bond of friendship with Oliver, when it is revealed that she is his aunt.

Nancy

Nancy is the counterpart of Rose in her love for Oliver, her sensitivity and her goodness. However, while Rose is lucky to have found respectability, security and love, Nancy is cursed with a fallen status and wretchedness. She feels guilty luring Oliver into crime and expresses her sympathy for him. When she overhears Monk's conversation with Fagin concerning Oliver, she goes to meet Rose to deliver her the information. Risking her own life, she walks over the London Bridge to keep her appointment with Rose and, in the process, loses her own life. Bill Sikes, the man she had loved and served, kills her mercilessly when he suspects her of betraying their trust. Dickens has succeeded in portraying Nancy as an unfortunate woman, possessed with a good heart but a tortured soul.

Fagin

He is the repository of all of Dickens' anti-semitism. In making a Jew the lord of the underworld, whose dominant character traits are his cunning and scheming, Dickens perpetuates a long-existing stereotype of Jews as money- hungry and deceitful. Such portraits of Jews were popular fare in Dickens' society and instead of opposing them with a realistic portrait, he perpetuates them. Fagin has a faithful gang of followers who participate in criminal activities and hand over the loot to him. In return he takes care of them and gives them an allowance. He welcomes Oliver into the fold and tempts him with the attraction of their trade. Here, the anti- semitism which portrays the evil Jew as a seducer of innocent children is chilling. After Monks bribes him, he turns the boy into a criminal. However, when Oliver shows no inclination towards the evil profession, he threatens the boy and sends him on the expedition to Chertsey with Bill Sikes. He looks distraught after he hears about Oliver's accident. He also feels cheated to be betrayed by Nancy. Since he employs Noah to spy on the woman, he is responsible for her death. His criminal instinct does not desert him until the end. Instead of repenting for his sins, he devises means of escape from the prison cell where he is confined before he is hanged. Dickens presents Fagin as cartoon figure with a haggard face, restless eyes and devilish expressions. In doing so, he merely lifts the stereotype from the anti-Semitic popular imagination.

The Artful Dodger

John Dawkins also known as the Artful Dodger is the most successful of the pickpockets belonging to Fagin's gang. He is one of the delightful characters of Dickens who entertains the readers with his slang and crude language. He gets acquainted with Oliver at Barnet and leads him to London to the world of criminals. He is good to Oliver but tries to convince him to join their trade. Finally, when he is apprehended by the police, he tries to defend himself in court bravely and with conviction. His pompous manner and exaggerated remarks provoke laughter in court but invoke a sense of pity in the heart of the readers for a lively pickpocket who fails to save himself from the hands of justice.

Mr. Bumble

Mr. Bumble, the beadle and later the master of the workhouse, is a comic character. Through him Dickens introduces humor and irony in the novel. All the scenes in which Mr. Bumble appears, either alone or along with others, provide comic relief to the readers. He, like the Artful Dodger, creates laughter through his language and his pomposity. The most amusing scene in the novel is the one in which Mr. Bumble is shown assessing the property of Mrs. Corney before proposing marriage to her. His exclamations of greed, his flirtatious manner, and his display of affection provoke uninhibited laughter.

Dickens attacks the parochial management through the portrayal of Mr. Bumble and his associates. The beadle is a self-seeking officer of the church who is insensitive to the feelings of the paupers. He is responsible for driving Oliver to crime. Later, he also tries to destroy the evidence of the boy's birth by selling it to Monks for a mere twenty five pounds. Thus he proves to be one of the oppressors of Oliver. In the end, he is justly punished. He gets separated from his wife and dies a pauper's death.

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