Discussion and My Thoughts
Oliver Twist is the second novel of Charles Dickens, and was first published as a series between 1837 and 1839. It is the story of orphan Oliver Twist. After a miserable existence in a workhouse and a less than pleasant placement with an undertaker, he decides to run away to London. In London, Oliver becomes naively tangled up in the sordid underworld of London’s criminals.
The main themes running through the book are poverty and social class. Dickens revealed, to his educated middle class audience, the extent of poverty and disease in London. The conditions and treatment that Oliver, and other children, are subjected to is quite shocking to read about. This links closely in to the suggestion of “charity failure” that is prominent within the book. At the time of the book, the Poor Law of 1834 was in place, which stipulated that people would only receive government aid if they moved into workhouses. The workhouses were ruled with the belief that poverty was a consequence of laziness, and were therefore dreadful places. Dickens emphasised this lesser opinion of poverty stricken people, and the laziness, greed and arrogance of the supposed charitable figures of these institutions.
Criminality and prostitution are prevalent in Dicken’s portrayal of poverty stricken London. The criminal gangs work is clearly written for us to see, even though the word “prostitution” is not explicitly stated . It is not unfair to make assumptions that Nancy’s profession is prostitution, and also not to assume that the boys of Fagin’s gang probably had more duties than just pickpocketing!
The character, Oliver Twist, was developed to be a hero that would appeal to people’s sentiments. He remains above corruption throughout the novel, maintaining his pure and honest heart. It is hard to believe that the experiences and people he is exposed to have not had a more detrimental effect on his character. But I can say that Oliver is strong and resilient, despite suffering horrid mistreatment by so many people. I liked Oliver, I generally prefer gutsy characters and I found myself rather admiring how he coped with everything. My “sentiments” were definitely appealed to – I was 100% emotionally invested in Oliver, and a part of me really wanted to reach into the book and rescue him from all of the horrible things in his life.
The main villain of the story is Fagin. He is a despicable villain, referred to as a “loathsome reptile” and “a popular nickname for the devil”. In the 21st century, his characterisation seems a little harsh – he is frequently referred to simply as “the jew”, with many of his negative traits being very much connected with his jewish identity – despite the fact that we do not see him practising his religion in the novel. Obviously, I didn’t like the character of Fagin, I thought he was cowardly, only interested in his personal profit and gain. In fact, I was rather pleased when he had to face up to his wrong-doings at the end of the book and face up to his own worst fear.
Oliver Twist is the first Charles Dickens’s book I have read, and I’m happy to say I really loved it! I had feared that the language and writing would be difficult to understand, but that really wasn’t the case. I had no problem with reading and understanding the plot, and I was completely engaged in the story the whole way though. I’m glad I chose Oliver Twist as my first Charles Dickens book :), it has made me really excited to read his other books (in fact, I have already ordered a couple more to read).
I highly, highly recommend this book!