“Please, sir... I want some more.” These words have become a catchphrase through the countless adaptations of Charles Dickens’s novel Oliver Twist. What makes this phrase so powerful is how it signifies the inner suffering and desperation of Oliver’s childhood. Written in 1837, Oliver Twist is a tale of crime, misfortune, love, and hope. Dickens brings dozens of characters to life in order to reveal the suffering of the poor and portray the reality of everyday life in Victorian England.
From the start, Oliver’s childhood is full of misfortune. As an orphan, he is transported to a workhouse at the age of nine. There, he toils for hours, stopping his work only to be given a stingy portion of gruel. Oliver is selected by the other starving boys to implore for more food. Infuriated, the workhouse officials sell him to a funeral director. As an apprentice, Oliver is abused and flees to London.
In London, Oliver meets a boy known as Jack Dawkins, or the Artful Dodger. Dawkins introduces Oliver to Fagin, an old man who houses a band of young pickpockets. Fagin welcomes Oliver, but a few days later Oliver is falsely arrested, declared innocent, and taken in by a wealthy old gentleman. Meanwhile, Fagin is upset to find Oliver missing and decides to kidnap him with the aid of his accomplice, Bill Sykes. Thus begins an endless clash over possession of Oliver.
The incredible thing about Oliver is that despite being tormented, bullied, and abused, he continues to see people positively and treats everyone with respect. Oliver is like a ray of hope in a land of sorrow. He possesses the innocence and compassion which others lack. Although I admire Oliver’s courage and kindness, I find his calm acceptance slightly irritating. I often wish he would retaliate, rather than await rescue. Additionally, Oliver tends to be oblivious to the suffering of others because he is so wrapped up in his own. Due to this, Oliver is not a character that resonates with me.Despite his faults, the Artful Dodger has always been my favorite character. Unlike Oliver, Dodger makes light of his situation and aims for a better life. Dodger and Oliver share common misfortunes, but where calamities weaken Oliver, they only sharpen the Dodger’s wits. Another character frequently overlooked is Fagin. Although Fagin is a criminal, I believe he is compassionate on the inside because he looks after the orphans. He is actually teaching them a way to survive in training them to pickpocket, because there weren’t many ways for orphans to make a living back then.
Fagin, Dodger, and Oliver each represent timeless aspects of society. Oliver represents hope and innocence. On the other hand, Fagin represents greed but also compassion. Lastly, the Artful Dodger represents the poor, working class youth striving for a better future. The Artful Dodger has resilience and persistence, yet Oliver tends to be luckier. Perhaps this is because Dickens was promoting kindness, compassion, and honesty. Dawkins lacks honesty, which is why he doesn’t achieve happiness. Meanwhile, Oliver Twist has all of these values, and is eventually cared for and loved. This story is also an example of karma. Oliver is unique because he treats everyone respectfully. In the end, what comes around goes around to everyone.
It’s difficult to establish characters as righteous or evil because real people are more complex. The characters are what bring this story to life and make it seem so real to us. Oliver Twist is a touching tale that has remained a timeless classic over the centuries, and I would recommend it to anyone.
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Penguin Books, 1838. Buy the book here and support Stone Soup in the process!