Oliver Twist: by Charles Dickens - Summary and Analysis

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      Oliver Twist is Charles Dickens's second novel published in 1837-1839. Here he abandons the sunny landscapes of Pickwick Papers for the dark, ugly city and the essentially picaresque narrative for wild melodrama.

Summary
      Bumble, the bullying official of a workhouse, gives the name Oliver Twist to a child born of a dying, destitute woman. The boy escapes to London. He is snared by old Fagin, who trains urchins as thieves. On the first mission, trying to pick the pocket of Mr. Brownlow, Oliver is caught but rescued by his intended victim. The gang recaptures Oliver and, led by the vicious Bill Sikes, breaks into the house of Mrs. Maylie. Nancy, girl friend of Sikes, tries to help Oliver but Nancy is murdered by Bill. Fagin is arrested and executed. Oliver is revealed as the son of a gentleman, Edward Leeford. It is revealed that Monks prompts the capture of Oliver Twist by the thieves. He is Oliver's half-brother greedily seeking the whole inheritance for himself. Rose Maylie is Oliver's aunt. Fagin is hanged at the end of the story and Oliver is adopted by Mr Brownlow.

Oliver Twist is criticised for improbable plot, sentimentalism, caricatures instead of characters. The plot is a medley of the unacknowledged heir, incredible coincidences and melodrama. Fagin is however a memorable character. The novel's lasting achievement is the symbolic power of the dark underworld of the poor.
Oliver Twist

Critical Analysis
      Oliver Twist is criticised for improbable plot, sentimentalism, caricatures instead of characters. The plot is a medley of the unacknowledged heir, incredible coincidences and melodrama. Fagin is however a memorable character. The novel's lasting achievement is the symbolic power of the dark underworld of the poor. The pitiful figure of Oliver holding out his little bowl and asking for more is a symbol of all the needy children in the world pleading for sustenance. Psychologically, Oliver strikes a false note. Oliver is untouched by the sordid world through which he moves. Dickens, instead of solving the original problem put forward by the book, simply rescues Oliver from his hideous background. The novel is remarkable for its clarity of purpose and its sustained intensity. One aim, as the preface made clear was to correct the glamorous portrayal of criminals in the popular Newgate fiction of the day showing the sordid reality of the London underworld. Another was to attack the harsh inhumanity of the New Poor Law of 1834.

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