Fagin: Character Analysis in Oliver Twist

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      The Representative of Criminal World
Fagin is an old Jew who represents the criminal world in the novel. He gives shelter to Oliver who has run away from his undertaker's house to London. Artful Dodger meets Oliver on his way and takes him to Fagin. Fagin is the boss or leader of a group of boys who are involved in picking pockets and sometimes burglary also. Monks persuade him to convert Oliver into a criminal figure. He is also paid for that.

      Fagin is a symbol of evil and plays an important role of a villain into the novel. He is presented as old and repulsive Jew. He is thin and shrunken in body. He is ugly and looks like a wicked man. He represents the ugly and seamy picture of contemporary life.

His Personality

      When we are first told about him he is presented as a merry old gentleman and later so many epithets are applied to him like— kind: 'merry', 'pleasant', 'playful'. He has the habit of calling everyone 'my dear'. In brief, Fagin appears as a very old, shriveled Jew, whose villainous—looking and repulsive face was obscured by a quality of matted red hair.

Fagin's Efforts to make Oliver, a Criminal

      Fagin has trained few boys to pick the pockets and steal precious articles. Fagin has already collected few watches, handkerchiefs and jewelry with the help of these boys. He keeps the box of these articles undergrounds, so that boys can not reach there. When Artful Dodger introduces Oliver to Fagin, he feels quite confident to train Oliver also as a thief and pickpocket. But later on he realizes that Oliver is a hard nut to crack. Oliver resists his every attempt and does not follow his dictates. Fagin even plays certain games with his group of pick-pockets like Artful Dodger and Bates in order to make Oliver see how he has to perform his job, but Oliver either can not realize what is the intension of Fagin or does not follow the way Fagin shows to him.

      Fagin, once, sends Oliver with Artful Dodger and Charley Bates to observe the style of picking pockets, but unfortunately Oliver is caught by the man Brownlow whose pocket is picked and Artful Dodger and Bates manage to escape. When Fagin comes to know that Oliver is acquitted by the court and an old gentleman has taken him to his house, he feels much stress to bring Oliver back because he is scared of the probability that Oliver would inform the police or Mr. Brownlow his secrets. Finally Nancy succeeds to fetch Oliver forcefully to Fagin. Fagin and Sikes start threatening and beating Oliver but Nancy saves him. One day Oliver is sent by Fagin to Sikes to help him m committing robbery. It is Mrs. Maylie's house that is planned to burgle but fortune does not favor the robbers and Oliver is shot in the course. Sikes and Toby leave Oliver in the ditch and runaway to escape themselves. When Fagin gets this news of failure, he rushes out of his house in a state of great apprehension. He makes an extensive search for Sikes and when hopelessly he comes back to his lodging he encounters Monks, waiting there for him. Something fishy is discussed between them regarding Oliver.

Fagin, Scared of Sikes

      When Sikes first appears, he is seen to threaten Fagin for ill-treating the boys. When Fagin visits Sikes after a Jong time (three weeks) and Sikes is sick, he gets annoyed and furious but Fagin tempts him to give food and also some spirits for him. Ultimately, Fagin promises to give him some money through Nancy. This time Nancy overhear the conversation between Monks and Fagin and comes to know about Monks' evil-plot against Oliver. Fagin tries to win the favor of Nancy when she is rebuked by Sikes but his effort meets no success and Nancy tells him that she understands him very well.

Wilson's Evaluation of Fagin

      Angus Wilson, a critic, says: "With Fagin are associated three of the principal atmospheric devices that have given the novel its unique power. It is his appearance with Monks at the country cottage window which lies at the center of the Kafkaesque nightmare effect of a net enclosing Oliver wherever he may be. Not only does Fagin seek to keep Oliver forever by making him an accomplice in crime but it also seems that he has supernatural powers to seek him out wherever his good friends may hide him. Here is indeed the merry old gentleman, the devil; beside him the epileptic wandering figure of Monks seems but a feeble attendant demon. It is this sense of pervasive evil embodied in Fagin that has made Mr. Graham Greene characteristically describe the novel as 'Manichaean'. Then again it is Fagin even on the move from one squalid, half-ruined hide out of another, scuttling along corridors, squatting in rooms that were once tenanted by ordinary respectable people, who gives that extra-ordinary sense of the criminal gang as a population of rats, vermin living among us without our knowledge. And at last Fagin at his trial is the culmination of the many passages, mostly associated with Oliver himself, concerning the observation of the real world when half-asleep, the concentration of a fearful mind on triviality, the fantasies that haunt waking hours —all the very powerful Dickensian dramatizations of the staples of the Coleridgean Romantic psychology. Fagin whom Dickens himself called 'such an out and outer I don't know what to make of him' makes nonsense of an easy moral view of life. Fagin is our perpetual human conscience, for Fagin too, as Oliver and the Dodger uncomfortably remind us, was once a boy. As Mr. Leslie Fiedler has entitled an essay - 'What shall we do with Fagin?' It is one of society's more uncomfortable questions and Dickens, like many of us, finds it easier to suggest that he is the devil.

Animal Imager: A Reptile

      In the whole novel, Fagin is presented with the use of animal imagery. Dickens writes in chapter (19), "As he glided stealthily along, creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways, the hideous old man seemed like some loathsome reptile, engendered in the slime and darkness through which he moved: crawling forth, by night, in search, of some rich offal for a meal." All the expressions like 'glided stealthily, creeping, 'loath-some reptile', 'slime and darkness' remind us immediately of Milton's serpent, the absolute devil Satan. But it is very unfortunate if we compare Fagin with Satan because Satan is a colossal figure with cosmic dimensions but Fagin is a rogue, petty thief involved in insignificant criminal activity in front of Satan. Fagin can be compared to a rat, cur, wolf but not with Satan.

      In chapter (44), Sikes calls Fagin a wolf and when we see him biting his nails in chapter (47), we find him close to rat or dog. When he is sentenced and put into the prison he is presented "with a countenance more like that of a shared beast that the face of a man.


      Though Fagin plays the role of a criminal in the novel yet he can not be ranked among the great criminals. His criminal activities are petty and of a small proportion. Indeed, he is a cruel, greedy and heartless man. He is a criminal with some sense of humor also. He is called as the 'merry old gentleman' but his humor is of serious kind.

      To sum up, Dickens' portrayal of old Jew Fagin, a villain in the novel, should not be misunderstood as the novelist's animosity against Jewish race.

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