An overview of the book
The book “Oliver Twist” was written by Charles Dickens and was published in 1938. It has been adapted as a film and a long running Broadway musical. Initially the book appeared as a serial as each chapter was published separately. The author uses the characters and situations in the book to give social observations that attacks the double standards and imperfections of the institutions in the society. The government, how it handled the poor, laws governing the country and criminal system of the country are some of the issues addressed in the book. Contrary to the expectations of many, he doesn’t suggest solutions to some of the problems addressed in the book. This book is about an orphan who endures a miserable existence in a work house and later goes through a series of sufferings. He however gets a good ending as he meets members of his extended family and lives a happier life thereafter. The book brings about the moral decadence of the society and how innocent children suffer in the hands of the people who should be taking care of them.
About the author
Charles Dickens was born on February 1812 and died on 9th June 1870. He was the most popular novelist during the Victorian era. His works still remain popular to date. He is responsible for some of the English literature’s most iconic characters. Many of his novels have their themes revolve around social reforms. His work first appeared as a series in magazines. Charles Dickens often created the episodes as they were being serialized in the magazines. This helped him to produce a rhythmic trend throughout his work. (Donovan, 1968) The end of each episode was a cliffhanger which left the readers with an urge to read even more. The readers always stayed anxious waiting for the release of the next episode. Charles Dickens work has been praised across the globe for mastery of prose and realism. Oliver Twist was his second novel and was published by Richard Bentley in 1838.
Summary of the book
The book begins with Oliver’s birth which was in a work-house. Oliver’s mother was found lying in the streets and then brought to a work house in England. She gives birth the next night to Oliver Twist. The delivery was done by a surgeon and a drunken nurse. Unfortunately she dies soon after delivery. Oliver having been orphaned at a tender age is then transferred to a baby care home where he stays until he is nine years old. At the baby care home, he endures a lot of suffering as they are left to starve by the woman managing the home, Mrs. Mann who pockets all the money given to her for their food. When Oliver is nine, the parish beadle, Mr. Bumble who gave him the name “Oliver Twist” arrives to inform her that Oliver is supposed to return to the workhouse. Oliver meets other boys at the work house who are harshly treated. They boys urge Oliver to ask for more food which prompts his removal from the workhouse. He is first locked up and five pounds offered to anyone who is willing to take Oliver as an apprentice so as to relieve the parish of his care. Sowerberry, an undertaker is apprenticed and takes Oliver Twist. A fight erupts between Oliver and Sowerberry’s other apprentice, Noah Claypole. The fight raged after Noah had insulted Oliver’s late mother by calling her a bad name. Oliver beat the much older boy, Noah but Mrs. Sowerberry joins in and takes Noah’s side. Oliver is beaten again by Mr. Bumble and Sowerberry’s husband. Inside his room, he breaks down and weeps and later decides to run away. He wanders aimlessly in the streets for some time and later arrives in London.
In London, he meets Jack Dawkins also known as the Artful Dodger. Artful Dodger takes him to Fagin who is a receiver of stolen goods and the manager of a clique of thieves who are sent to pickpocket and commit petty crimes in the streets. Oliver is trained as a pickpocket but this is short-lived and disastrous as he is seized when the real thieves botch a theft but escape and Oliver is left to face the music. The theft victim Mr. Brownlow believes that Oliver is innocent and therefore asks for his release when he is taken to court. Mr. Brownlow decides Oliver home but when Fagin learns that Oliver had been released and taken by the theft victim, he sends out two of his accomplices, Bill Sikes and Nancy, to kidnap Oliver as he fears that he could lead the Bow Street Runners to his den.
Oliver’s small size and intelligence makes Sikes to see him as an asset in his job. He therefore takes Oliver to assist him in committing his criminal activities. However, Oliver is a complete gremlin when it comes to criminal operations. He is shot on the shoulder but the occupants of the house, Rose Maylie and her aunt sympathizes with him as they see him as an innocent victim of a criminal gang. They take Oliver and cares for him.
Monks who is Oliver’s half brother want Oliver out of the way so that he can inherit a fortune. Nancy, the prostitute who kidnapped Oliver together with Sikes is now concerned for Oliver’s welfare and tells Mr, Brownlow and Rose about Oliver. Noah Claypole who was Sowerberry’s other apprentice reappears in the novel but now as an informer. Fagin then passes the information to Sikes. He twists the story so as to make it sound as if Nancy had informed on him while in real sense Nancy had shielded Sikes. Sikes then decide to brutally murder Nancy and flee to the countryside to escape from facing the law. At the countryside, he is haunted by visions of Nancy’s ghost. He then goes back to London to find a hiding place where he later falls to his death while being chased and Fagin is arrested and condemned to be hanged.
On a happier note, Rose turns out to be the long lost sister of Oliver’s mother. A chain of coincidences unravel to reveal that Oliver is actually Rose’s nephew and that his mother was once loved. Oliver then lives happily with Mr. Brownlow who was his savior. Noah then becomes a paid informer to the police. Later on Bumbles lose their jobs that prompt him to utter the words “the law is a ass.” They are then reduced to great poverty and ends up in the workhouse they once lorded. Charley Bates is horrified by Sikes murder of Nancy and decides to become an honest citizen.
Donovan, Frank. The Children of Charles Dickens. London: Leslie Frewin, 1968, pp. 61–62.
Charles Dickens . The Parish Boy’s Progress Book: Richard Bentley Publishers. 1837
Charles Dickens. Oliver Twist. Richard Bentley Publishers. 1837