Oliver Twist: Novel Analysis by Charles Dickens

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      Pickwick Papers is Dickens' first novel. His second attempt was Oliver Twist. This novel appeared in a serial form from February, 1837 onwards. Most of his novels appeared in installments, month after month. The reading public of his period was reading Oliver Twist with lot of eagerness and anticipation. The story of the novel was finished and published in book form in November 1838.

      In his preface to Oliver Twist, Dickens tells us about the boy Oliver who follows the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance and winning at last. Dickens has been successful in serving his purpose because boy Oliver remains uncontaminated by the evil and the vice around him. Dickens says that in Oliver Twist the evil characters have not been portrayed in attractive colors. There is nothing in the character or in the life of the criminals in this novel which would lure the innocent young readers to the kind of life led by the evil-minded persons in the story. Thus this novel would produce a total moral effect on readers.

Oliver Twist reflects the Dickens attitude towards the Society

      Dickens was a great social reformer and a social censor. He was upset by the social evils prevailing in England at his time. His conscious pricked him when he found social abuses which were in abundance in his country. We have noted in Oliver Twist that Dickens mercilessly criticizes the administration of workhouses of his time. These workhouses were established to provide the basic needs of life to paupers, destitutes, orphans, abandoned females, unmarried mothers and other outcasts. But practically they were not offering many amenities and necessities of life.

      It was considered by administration that these amenities would have encouraged idleness among people. Moreover it was presumed that idleness would cause undesirable habits. Had they been left alone they would have worked hard and met bare necessities of life. Hence these workhouses were quite callous towards them. Management was misusing the money given to them. Hence inmates of the workhouses were kept in sub-human conditions. They were provided very meager food and other needs of life.

      In the beginning of novel all the chapters were depicting the horrible scene prevailing in workhouses. Dickens exposed the wretched condition under which inmates of workhouse had to live. The hero of the novel was the victim of these sub-human condition. These' early chapters fill us with great resenhuent against people like Mr. Bumble, Parish beedle and Mrs. Mann, the supervisor of lady farm. In those days baby farms were established where motherless infants were brought up. The callousness of the board which was administering the workhouse is clearly portrayed. We express great resentment against the national conscious of England. Hence Dickens felt his paramount duty to reform the society and improve the Condition of the workhouses and baby farms. We also have noted the system of justice which was prevailing. The police and magistrate were quite inefficient. Their attitude was unsympathetic. Dickens also stressed on the hygienic condition of workhouse which was very filthy and unsanitary. Big cities like London were targeted by Charles Dickens. Dickens also expressed his wrath and resentment against poverty of the people of that time. Due to poverty the maximum number of people were leading the squalid life. Crimes were thriving and criminals were left scot-free. In all the novel Charles Dickens proposed many methods to improve the conditions of unattached persons.

The Plot and Structure of the Novel

      The plot of the novel is very gripping. The story moves very briskly and without any path. In fact we are not bored and do not feel monotony while reading this novel. We forget ourselves when we read the novel and we are absorbed in the various incidence of the novel. But the structure of the novel is very loose. We see a chain of incidents, and happenings which are not properly intermingled. They are loosely connected with one another. Hence we can say it was not integrated and well organised plot. The unity of the novel is because of didectic impulse. All these incidents are correlated by the readers through the moral attitude of Dickens. Sometimes due to lack of unity the incidents are quite incoherent and the novel become very complicated. In the first reading the reader does not get the vivid picture of the novel for the purpose of which it is written. The average reader will go through the various chapters of the novel to understand the significance. For example we could not understand the identity of Monks, the relationship between Monks and Oliver, the relationship between Rose and Oliver, the relationship between Agnes and Rose and relationship between Agnes and Leotard. All these relationships are not properly unfolded. Hence the story is very puzzling and the reader is bewildered. Had Dickens been a past master in the art of plot construction all these relationships would be very vivid and mysteries of life would have been solved.

      Another drawback of the novel is the excessive use of coincidence. We give two' three quoted example. Oliver is seeking shelter at the very house at which Sikes attempted a bulge with the cooperation of Oliver. Again Oliver got hospitality and assistance from the very same family where the girl Rose happens to be Oliver's own aunt. Oliver is related to this girl by ties of birth and blood. Sometimes we express abhorrence for such type of coincidence.

Horrible Atmosphere of the Novel but Dramatic Situations and Suspense provide Sense of Exaltation

      Undoubtedly the novel is very interesting and thought provoking. In spite of all these elements and drawbacks of this novel we never wish to discontinue the reading of the novel. On the other hand our interest is enhanced because of dramatic situation. Suspense also adds luster to the novel. We are curious about the further development in the novel. We give here some example of dramatic situations. First is the kidnapping of Oliver by Nancy when he is going to book-stall. Again Nancy intervenes when Oliver is severely bitten by Fagin. The other example is of Noah who follows Nancy secretly and overhears the conversation between Nancy and Brownlow. The dramatic situation is very interesting when Monks obtained the golden locket from Mrs. Bumble and throw it into the river. Sikes prevents Nancy from going out of door by bullying her and using cursive methods. The murder of Nancy by Sikes is also dramatic and gives sense of suspense. The death of Sikes and hanging of Fagins are saturated with suspense. On the whole the novel is pervaded by an atmosphere of horror. All these happenings are not boring. Some incidents are very pleasant. Some portions impart happiness, pleasure and tranquillity in the story. On the whole the atmosphere in novel is pervaded by sense of horror. We get terrifying experiences when we re-read, although there is interlude of peace, joy and happy ending.

Pathos in Oliver Twist

      Dickens is past master in exposing the sentiment of pity. All his novels are saturated with several moving and poignant situations. Oliver Twist is of same category. In this novel we have a number of dramatic situations which arouse a profound feeling of pity in our heart. The early chapters depict the scene reflecting ill-treatment of the management and callousness towards the inmates. Oliver's career is not rosy. From early childhood he is mal-treated. We observe very pathetic scene at workhouse where Oliver is reared. The other inmates are also badly treated. They were leading very miserable life. There is no affection, love and sympathy for these children. Nobody is provided enough to eat. On one occasion Oliver asks for a little more to eat He is cruelly punished. Subsequently he is very badly treated by Mrs. Sowerberry and grossly insulted by Noah Claypole. Mr. Sowerberry beats Oliver very severely. He reaches London and becomes a victim of villains like Fagin and Sikes who also treat him very cruelly, brutally and roughly. At one occasion he gets a severe thrashing from Fagin. On this occasion Nancy intervenes and saves him. These situations are very pitiable and we express our sympathy for all the male and female characters. We also express pity for the sad fate of Nancy. Nancy tells Rose how she has been forced to lead a life of sin and crime. We constantly express sentiment of pity towards her.

      In the novel various relationships are discovered, for example the relationship between Agnes and Edwin Leeford, the relationship between Oliver and Monks, and the relationship between Oliver and Rose. The discovery of all these relationships is deeply moving. We express our sympathy with them. Pathos is presented in succession. Hence important characteristic of this novel is the atmosphere of pity.

Comic Elements in the Novel

      Dickens had an exceptional gift of humor, although he is a master in expressing the sentiment of pity. In English literature he is treated to be greatest humourist. In Oliver Twist we have an abundance of humor e.g. the Chimney-sweep, going to the work-house to get the amount of five pounds given to anybody who would take away Oliver to teach him some trade and the episode of Mr. Gamfield. It is very humorous when Gamfield deals with workhouse authorities and his treatment of his donkey.

      One character is Mr. Fang. He is the judge. His behavior is also very amusing. He orders the court officials again and again to clear the court. His aim is not to dispatch justice but to express interest in having the court cleared. The other characters-Dodger, Tom Chitling and Charley Bates, are very amusing. We observe the conjugal life of Mr. and Mrs. Bumble. The description of their relationship is very amusing. In the whole book this passage of the conjugal relationship is very humorous. In the narration there are many ironic humorous touches. The narration of Charles Dickens is very humorous in this novel. The administration of the work-house and the behavior of Parish Beedle Mr. Bumble is very humorous. But this novel on the whole is very grim and somber. The novel is pervaded by sadness, melancholy and gloom. Dickens s Pickwick paper is very humorous and atmosphere is very comic but in Oliver Twist there is severe grimness, although we get here and there some elements of comic.

Characterization and Psychological Realism

      Dickens is an excellent novelist because of art of characterization. He is a great creator of character. In his all novels there is a crowd of characters. In Oliver Twist we have a large number of persons of various kind in the story. He depicts characters very skillfully in this novel. Oliver Twist's character lies before our eyes. First he presents physical appearance of every person when he introduces that particular character to us. Further, every character is permitted to unfold and reveal himself or herself through his or her activity.

      We take first the character of Mr. Bumble who holds the stage in the early chapters of the novel. By his actions, he reveals his caprices and whims. He is very callous and considers himself to be a very important person. Then we come across Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry who are also made to live before our eyes. The husband is very efficient in the performance of his duty as an undertaker. The wife is very self-assertive and dominating. Furthermore, we are introduced to criminals like Sikes, Fagin and Monks. All of them have been portrayed with a masterly skill. Mr. Brownlow is pervading in the pages of the novel but some characters like Mrs. Maylie, Rose and Harry are very insignificant. It is very obvious that Oliver has been delineated with great success. The masterly hand of Charles Dickens has described outward and external life of Oliver. Dickens' art is par excellent when he further probes into the mind of Oliver which is revealed to us at various stages.

      Oliver's feelings are deeply probed by the author when he is beaten by Mr. Sowerberry. Further we come to know his thoughts when he is forced by Fagin to join the Dodger and Bates in a picking pocket adventure. Thoughts of Oliver are very effective when he is forced to accompany Sikes on his thieving enterprise; his thoughts are very emphatic when he is given shelter first by Brownlow and then by May lie and Rose. All his thought, sentiment, idiosyncrasy are realistically recorded. It is called psychological realism of the novelist because his descriptions are very accurate and vivid. Thoughts of Fagin are very accurate and their description is to the point. Fagin has been sentenced to death and his feelings are vividly presented. He was a hardened criminal but his death sentence has a great influence over his mind which he could not bear. He is in a state of stupor lying in the jail, where he awaits his doom. He is helpless and he cannot escape from this calamity.

Vivid Description of Places in the Novel

      Dickens is to be treated an excellent novelist because he presents the places and locality very vividly. Undoubtedly he describes human beings with a sure touch but his description of places and localities are presented in such a way that thing are always perpetual and are before our eyes. In other words his description of places and localities are depicted minutely. They are very detail and vivid. The localities of London are always before our eyes. They are considered to be same what they were in his age. The rural description are also very realistic. The London of Dickens time was very squalor, the filthy and insanitary condition of streets of London have been captured by Dickens pen with surprising accuracy.


      Oliver Twist is a bold departure from the genial tone of Pickwick Paper whereas in Pickwick Papers Dickens is considered very humorous. He had set all England roaring with affectionate laughter. But Dickens in Oliver Twist expressed a scathing denunciation of new Poor Law and depicted a grim and somber London, criminal and slums. The comedy in Oliver Twist has a bite which has been attempted first time. Mr. Bumble, the workhouse Beedle is comic. But his laughter has acid quality. Mr. Bumble is subjected to a kind of vindictive ferocity. There is a boiling sarcasm in the opening pages. Dickens writes in the following few lines the Oliver's birth which are full of pathos and pity.

      Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder.

      This novel is very peculiar because Dickens speaks for orphans in the baby farm. The Poor Laws were not giving any relief to the orphans. They fell into the fire because of their hardships. The readers of his age used to laugh at Mr. Bumble. Their laughter was full of anger; they loathe Fagin; and shuddered at the Sikes. Pathos and horrors of Dickens is interblended with his sense of humor. He described Fagin as the man is such an out and outer that I do not know what to make of him.

      To sum up Oliver Twist is to be treated as the best novel because of social reforms, realistic description of characters and places, atmosphere of horror, pathos, mixed with comic elements.

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