Realistic Elements in the Novel Oliver Twist

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Realistic Novel

       Dickens is the most realistic novelist. There may be certain improbabilities in his story of the novels, yet overall, they are judged as realistic plots. Dickens has created various caricatures and they can not be called perfectly realistic but his most famous creations are given immense reality and convincingly presented. Oliver Twist, on the whole, can be called a realistic novel despite certain improbable ingredients both in plot and character sketches.

Various Localities are given Realistic Touches

      Dickens has very graphically described various localities and places of London in Oliver Twist. If we keep aside the little towns like where. Oliver was born in a workhouse, Ghertsy, country life of Mrs. Maylies, Rose' May lie and Oliver, where Mr. Brownlow decided to settle down with his adopted son Oliver, all other localities of London where important incidents take place, are depicted by Dickens with immense fidelity. Not only the English men but foreigners also would found these descriptions very much realistic. The dirty and squalid London slums are very minutely and faithfully described by Dickens. The localities where Fagin, Sikes or Toby Crackit live are full of mud, foul, filth and garbage. The houses are decayed and people residing in them are too poor to lead a healthy life.

Realistic Description of Workhouses and Bahy-Farms

      The conditions prevalent in the Baby-Farms and workhouses of the contemporary time are also portrayed too realistically. The utter inhumanity of the officials governing these charitable institutions, is completely exposed. Mrs. Mann's avarice and selfishness, Mr. Bumble's excessive cruelty, project the common mentality of the members concerned with the management of these charitable establishments. Oliver's asking for more gruel makes Mr. Bumble stunned and furious. When it is reported as a crime to the Board everyone decides to get rid of Oliver. They have offered the amount of five pounds to anyone who would take Oliver along and teach him some occupation. An undertaker, Mr. Sowerberry comes to take Oliver to his house and there Oliver is not even properly fed, instead, they always threaten him and one day Oliver is given severe beating by Mr. Sowerberry. After that Oliver quits his house and starts inarching towards London unknowingly. Likewise, Mrs. Corney's unsympathetic rather inhuman attitude at getting the news of old Sally on the death bed is also remarkable in this context. The funeral of the poor woman who is starved to death is also depicted with vitality and minute details.

Oliver Twist: Realistic Record of Criminal Activities and Court Trials

      The plot of the novel is perfectly realistic. The interpretation of the criminal activities of Fagin, Sikes and Toby are true to their real existence in Dickens' time. The young boys like Artful Dodger, Charley Bates and Tom have been trained by old Jew Fagin in picking pockets and committing thefts. If they come back empty handed, they have to go to bed supperless. The joke and gossip among these boys is very convincing. The other examples of Dickens' realism is his description of Sikes' preparations for robbing Mrs. Maylie house, and his long journey on foot with Oliver in order to reach Chertsy. The description of Oliver being kidnapped by Nancy is also given to realistic touches.

      The court trials of Oliver, Artful Dodger and Fagin are presented in a very vital manner. The first two trails are satirically described. Though there is some farce also in them yet their fundamental truth is very striking. The trials in those days were cursory affairs without any regard for justice. However, Fagin's trial is conducted with enough regard for law. The police’s efforts and crowd’s shout to capture Sikes is truthfully drawn and likewise convincing is the scene of Sikes', attempt to escape from Toby's den. Mr. Brownlow's kindness for Oliver and taking him to his house in unconscious state for medical treatment is faithfully depicted and seems probable but when Oliver is given resort in Mrs. Maylie's house, the reality is checked. It is hard to assume that ladies would give shelter to one who is supposed to be an associate of robbers.

The Real Portraiture of Criminals

      In Oliver Twist, most of the characters are convincingly drawn. Mr. Bumble and Mr. Mann are though satirically presented, yet most convincing. We hate them but also laugh at these persons. Mrs. Sowerberry and Mrs. Mann both are too satirically presented. In their portraiture Dickens shows his marvelous skill of humorous characterization. The associates of Fagin, Sikes and Toby also are realistically drawn. Sikes is a repelling personality to whom even Fagin stands in terror. He threatens almost everybody he encounters and specially ill-treats Nancy who is deeply in love with them and behaves like his mistress. Nancy is forced by circumstances to live with the criminals in her very childhood. But she has an spark of goodness in her and it is expressed when she comes to intimate Rose about the ill-designs of Monks to harm Oliver. Monks is another sinister fellow all the time involved in destroying his half-brother. He comes out as more devil when he meets Mr. and Mrs. Bumble in a dark night and in desolate locality.

Oliver Twist and Psychological Realism

      Dickens has, in a very real manner, presented the motives, mysterious thoughts of various characters. Oliver's feelings of gratitude towards Mr. Brownlow and Maylie's family have been realistically depicted. His fear about Mr. Brownlow that he could consider him a thief because he has failed to return to him is more vividly presented. Nancy’s act of reporting Monks ill-designs to Rose and Mr. Brownlow has a great psychological truth. Sikes' worse mental condition after killing Nancy is presented in detail, these thoughts motivate his wandering far from the London city and finally turning back to the city. The Fagin's psychology after being sentenced to death is the specimen of psychological realism. Even Monks' intrigues against Oliver have been given enough motivation. Monks' mother had expressed his intention to harm Oliver. She had persuaded him not to share the inherited property to Oliver and thus ruin him.

Elements which Restrain the Reality

      Oliver Twist is a realistic novel without any question. The incidents, social vices, types of characters, picture of the poverty of the unsanitary condition of the slums are too realistically presented. The atmosphere of horror is also real. The grave events, the plight of children like Oliver, Dick, are true to facts. Yet there are few elements that weaken the realistic quality of the novel. Excessive role of coincidence can be found in Oliver Twist. For example, when Oliver was thrown into a ditch and was in an unconscious state. When he recovers his consciousness, he starts walking and reached the same house that is few moments before was attempted to rob with his assistance. In that house, he is given shelter though everyone knows that he is the associate of the robbers. Rose Maylie, the niece of Mr. Maylie, shows excessive care, sympathy and love for him and later on turns out to be the sister of Oliver's mother. This does not seem probable and takes time to digest such improbable incidents. As far as characterization is concerned Mr. Brownlow is presented as absolutely good. Other characters like Rose, Mrs. Maylie and Harry Maylie etc. are not convincing. Their complete flawlessness mar the reality.

University Questions

Point out those evidences which claim to call Oliver Twist, a realistic novel.
How far Oliver Twist is realistic in its theme? Discuss.

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