Oliver Twist: Character Analysis in the Novel Oliver Twist

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      We can broadly divide various characters of Oliver Twist into three groups. First group contains those characters through whom the callousness, mismanagement, cruelty and devilish face of workhouse get reflected. They are Mr. Bumble, Mrs. Mann, Mrs. Corney, a whiteman in waistcoat, Mr. Gamfield, Sowerberry family, Noah Claypole and Charlotte. Second group belongs to those characters who are criminals and involved in criminal activities — Fagin, William Sikes, Monks, Jack Dawkins, Bates, Nancy, Toby Crackit, Tom Chitling and even Mr. Fang, the magistrate. Third group includes the members from middle class world. They are — Mrs. Brownlow, Mr. Grimwig, Mrs. Maylie, Rose, Hayy, Dr. Losberne, Mrs. Bedwin, Giles, Brittles.

      Oliver is the pivotal figure who came in contact with the members of all the three groups. He can be regarded as a character who synthesizes the world of workhouse, crime and middle class of society. All the characters of the novel move around him and he is the main focal point of the novel.

Oliver Twist: The Hero

      Oliver Twist is the hero of the novel. The title of the novel is based upon his name because overall novel is the story of his life from his birth to the point when he settles down merrily with Mr. Brownlow. Oliver is the protagonist and all other characters are of secondary importance. The following remark by Dickens helps us to understand the importance of the character of Oliver, as well as the purpose of this novel. He said: "I wish to show, in little Oliver, the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance and triumphing at last". Indeed Oliver is innocent, kind, strong enough to survive and face the buffets of Misfortune but he lacks steadfast individual characteristics and thus few critics consider him as a pasteboard figure, deficient in vitality and interest.

Birth and Parentage

      Oliver Twist is a poor orphan. His mother dies soon after giving him birth in a workhouse. His loud cry after the birth is emphasized in the novel because at first it was not sure that he will survive but his cry has announced that he has strength to survive. From the moment of his entry in this world till ten years his life is spent in misery, grief, gloom and wretchedness. In the workhouse, he is immensely tortured, then his undertaker Sowerberry intensifies his griefs, later on Fagin and Sikes do their best to mold him into a criminal figure but at last fortunes smiles upon him through Mr. Brownlow, Mrs. Bedwin, Rose Maylie and Mrs. Maylie. It is towards the end of the novel we are informed about his parentage. We learn that Edward Leeford, the most intimate friend of Mr. Brownlow is his father and the name of his mother is Agnes who failed to marry Edward Leeford but Oliver is the illegitimate issue of this unfulfilled relationship. In the end, Oliver is adopted by Mr. Brownlow and we feel sure that his rest of the life must have been full of happiness and joy.

Oliver's Personality

      Being a boy Oliver is short in length and weak in body. Mrs. Sowerberry addresses him "Bag o'bones" and she is very much sure that his poor health will not let him do lots of works. But Oliver's spirit is contrary to his physique. He has strong spirit. When Noah Claypole, makes insulting remarks about his mother and abuses her, Oliver catches hold of his throat and beats him violently though Noah Claypole is elder and stronger in body.

Oliver Twist: Innocent and Melancholy

      In this novel, the noteworthy point is, Dickens has nowhere given the detailed picture of Oliver's appearance, the major character of the novel. However, we learn that he is handsome and delicate. He looks very much innocent and the expression of his face is chiefly melancholy. Mr. Sowerberry, Oliver's undertaker notices it in the chapter (5) and finds him most suitable for effective mute. Then after he is given the job of accompanying funeral processions specially in the burial ceremony of a child. It really seems very pathetic when we see young melancholy Oliver in black apparel, silently leading the procession. Toby Crackit, later in the novel also notices the same expression of Oliver's face in chapter (22). He says "Wot an invaluable boy that'll make, for the old ladies’ pockets in chapels ! His mug is a fortune to him".

      As far as innocence of Oliver is concerned, he is alike from the soul also. There is a noticeable correspondence between his external and internal features. Sikes and Fagin are of diabolical and satanic nature which adequately reflects on their faces, so is the case with Oliver's innocence. When Rose sees Oliver lying in the bed unconscious she feels sure that such child could never commit any crime. Old Mr. Brownlow also observes it in the very first meeting. He also finds the boy guiltless and innocent.

A Courageous and Rebellious Boy

      At the very start of the novel Oliver shows his courage in chapter (2). We are informed 'nature or inheritance had planted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver's breast' which makes him able to survive in the cruel boundary of Mrs. Mann's charitable institution. He dares to go against the rules of workhouse and asks for some more food: 'Please Sir, I want some more'. Though, undoubtedly he is forced by the fear of that bullying boy also who had threatened him that he would eat raw the boy sleeping by his side if he were not provided an additional helping of gruel. Still, it requires tremendous courage to approach the Boardmembers and express their agitation. Moreover, in chapter (3) his courage rescues him from being apprenticed to Mr. Gamfield. He says to the magistrate that he would endure all kinds of ill-treatment at the workhouse but would not go with that dreadful fellow. In chapter (6), his courage is shown in his strong thrash to Noah Claypole who has abused his mother. Though he is older and strong in comparison with Oliver yet when his disparaging remarks regarding Oliver's mother enrages him, his wrath bursts out and he gives a good deal of thrash to Noah Claypole. His flight from Sowerberry's house also shows his courage. But when he reaches London nothing seems to be done by him. Everything is done to him and for him.

      The aforesaid discussion should not make us forget the passive characteristics of Oliver Twist. His passivity is remarkable during his years that he spends in the Mrs. Mann's baby farm and the workhouse. He endures all the ill-treatment silently and patiently. He surrenders to all kinds of callousness and cruelty without opening his mouth against.

Sensitive, Loving and Kind

      Oliver is quite sensitive. He is entirely different from thick-skinned Noah Claypole, Artful Dodger, Bates or Tom Chitling. All the three except Noah tries to mold him into a criminal. They are frivolous and non-serious. Oliver's sensitive nature makes him susceptible to certain morbid feelings. When he goes through a book on crime, he begins to feel afraid and puts the book aside. On another occasion when he comes across a strange and mysterious man and hears the curses and threats by that man, he runs away in a state of fright. Soon afterward he sees a hallucination when he sees Fagin and strange man Monks, standing very close to the window of Mrs. Maylie's house.

      Oliver is full of love, gratitude though Mrs. Bumble calls him an "ungrateful wretch". If someone showers his love, kindness or blessings on him, he never forgets that. When he flies from Mr. Sowerberry's house and reaches the workhouse of Mrs. Mann Dick meets him and blesses him. Mr. Brownlow has been kind to him and Oliver never forgets it. When he recovers from his illness at the house of Mrs. Maylie, he still remembers Mr. Brownlow and shows his desire to see him.

Oliver's Sense of Gratitude

      Oliver is highly grateful to those persons who do some good to him. He feels deeply indebted to Mrs. Bedwin and Mr. Brownlow because they have lavished upon him much care and love. When Nancy catches hold of him and brought him to Fagin, he feels much upset that Mr. Brownlow would think him a thief if he were not be able to contact him. Later he feels grateful to Mrs. Maylie, Miss Rose, Dr. Losbeme for their care and kindness. At the end of the novel, Mr. Brownlow adopts him as his son.

Embodiment of Good

      Oliver is not made good but he is born good. His goodness is inherent, not developed. Even the pressure of circumstances and the evil hands fail to diminish this particular characteristics. All the efforts of Fagin fails to convert him into a criminal. Oliver protests against being a pick-pocket and a thief. Fagin is promised a good amount of money by Monks if he can succeed in molding him into a wicked and criminal person. But Oliver's goodness prevails over all the evil efforts of Fagin and Sikes. When Sikes takes Oliver with him to commit burglary, Oliver does not realize his purpose for what he is taken. But when he comes to know Sike's intention he resolves not to support him. He feels very wretched and miserable in the company of Sikes and Fagin. He feels happiness and ease when gets shelter first at the house of Mr. Brownlow. Later, when he is provided resort at Mrs. Maylie's house, he has another peaceful and joyful period in his life. To sum up, only in the company of people he feels happy.

      Oliver's significance lies more in his embodiment of the 'principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance' than in his own personality. Dickens has said himself that he wishes to express in this novel the principle of good surviving through all the adverse circumstances of life and winning at last.

Oliver: His Symbolic Role

      Dr. Arnold Kettle's remark in this regard is quite significant. He says: "In the famous scene when Oliver asks for more it is not the precise sense of Oliver's feelings and reactions that grips us..."We care, not because it is Oliver....but because every starved orphan in the world, and indeed everyone who is poor and oppressed and hungry is involved." (Introduction to the English Novel.)

      In the opening sentence of the novel, Dickens describes him as an 'item of mortality.' His name is given to him by Mr. Bumble according to the rule of workhouse. Actually Dickens wants to make him an instrument of exposing the inhumanity and the callousness of the workhouse and the evil world. He is among the class of Huckleberry Finn and Becky Sharp. He is a character that freely comes across the different cross-sections of the society with the purpose to expose their real face. In his Preface to the third edition of Oliver Twist, Dickens remarks, "I wished to show in little Oliver the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance and triumphing at last." Thus the character of Oliver suggests the principle of good. We should perceive him less as a real child and more as a symbol.

The Unconventional Portrayal of the Boy-hero

      The portrayal of Oliver is not on the traditional pattern. He is not drawn at great length, in other words he is not portrayed elaborately. The reason behind is that Dickens had various concerns in the novel except the portrayal of the character of boy-hero. The main attention of the writer is laid on poverty, criminal activities of the contemporary time, social evil, which were prevailing in that period.

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