Oliver Twist: Charles Dickens' Celebrated Child-Hero

Updated on October 9, 2019
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Poet, blogger, college professor, literature, and film enthusiast. Excited about critical and creative writing. Pursuing a Ph.D. in English.

Charles Dickens: Representing the Child

Charles Dickens has portrayed a number of child characters like Oliver Twist, Pip, David Copperfield, Tiny Tim, Paul Dombey and Little Nell. He has a unique capability to enter into a child’s mind when he portrays a child character. It is as if he instinctively understood the pathos of growing up through sufferings and humiliations in the Victorian England which apparently took pride in her agricultural and industrial prosperity. In this Dickens is seen to carry on the Romantic legacy of Blake and Lamb to fuse with his skills as a Victorian novelist.

Oliver Twist: A Victim of Circumstances

Oliver is shown to be a typical central character of Dickens, an orphan deprived of parental affection and protection. From the beginning he is an isolated boy, longing for loving company. He is too spirited to live among the defeated poor of the workhouse, and too virtuous to have anything but revulsion for a life of crime. He adapts easily into the Brownlow household, as well as into the Maylies’. In each he seeks a mother figure. Mrs Brownlow’s old housekeeper and Rose both meet this innate desire. He is seldom seen with children of his own age, Dick being his only close friend. Oliver readily responds to the love and companionship of Brownlow, Mrs Bedwin, Mrs Maylie, Rose and Nancy. The special intimacy a small boy often has with the mother figure is replaced in Oliver’s life by institutions who show no trace of human compassion. They do nothing to protect him or develop his personality. Oliver is Dickens’ strongest argument against the workhouses as any substitute for individual care of the poor.

Innocence vs Criminality: Choices and Consequences

In his novel Dickens makes every effort to highlight Oliver’s innocence. Oliver sees other characters through his own self-image of innocence. For him Artful Dodger and Fagin remain innocent till cruel reality teaches him otherwise. He is contrasted with Noah Claypole, Dodger, Bates or Tom Chitling because of his inquisitive and sensitive nature. These boys are frivolous, while Oliver is sensitive, which in turn makes him melancholic at times. He accompanies funeral processions, specially of a child, wearing a melancholic expression noticing which Toby Crackit says, “ Wot an inwalable boy that’ll make, for the old ladies’ pocket in chapels! His mug is a fortune to him”. When Oliver goes through a book on crime, he begins to feel scared and puts the book down. On another occasion when he comes across a strange and mysterious man and hears him cursing loud, he runs away in fright. Soon afterwards he hallucinates that Fagin and strange man Monks is standing very close to Mrs Maylie’s house.

Oliver is essentially a good-natured boy, full of gratitude. He feels grateful to Mrs Bedwin and Mr Brownlow for their affection. After being caught by Nancy and Sikes he gets upset because he does not wish to be a thief in Mr Brownlow’s eyes. His goodness is not spoiled by the squalid circumstances he suffers in. His goodness makes him courageous and keeps him away from the world of crime. “It saves him from being apprenticed to Mr Gamfield. He takes the earliest opportunity to run away from Mr Sowerberry’s house. However, in London he helplessly falls victim to the criminal gang.

Society or Individual: Question of Raising a Child

Oliver is rescued again and again by accidental meeting with generous individuals. However, his role is a passive one because London life is too powerful for a boy to resist. He feels wretched and miserable in the company of Fagin and Sikes. The comforting shelters of Mr Brownlow and later at Mrs Maylie’s house provide the loving security Oliver’s soul has always craved. In his preface to the third edition Dickens remarks, “I wished to show in little Oliver the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance and triumphing at last.”

The protection and development of a child is a social duty. The cruel and callous institutions and the Government did not discharge the essential duty of looking after its young people. They are victimised by social inequalities and cruelties. Oliver is a passive victim because it was never possible for him to actively oppose the forces working against him. Chances and coincidences come to his rescue and is saved because of the innate goodness in him that Dickens chooses to showcase.

It is advisable to read the text to appreciate the real narrative force of Charles Dickens. In case you do not have the book you can always get a low priced ill

Charles John Huffam Dickens ( 7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) was an English writer and social critic. He created some of the world's best-known fictional charac

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    • Sultan Kilima Bina Damu profile image


      9 months ago from Pretoria North

      great one


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