Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

 

General Fiction

Oliver Twist Oliver TwistCharles Dickens; Puffin 2008WorldCatThis is the novel to turn to when you want to learn about social injustice and the reality of a criminal’s life. Oliver Twist was written in the first half of the 19th century and conditions have changed. But greed and cruelty haven’t.

Oliver’s mother died in childbirth. He is raised in a foundling farm, then workhouse. He becomes known as a wicked child after daring to ask for another small bowl of gruel for his meal. He is sent to work at the undertaker’s. Instead he runs off to London, hoping to find a better life.

Once in London, Oliver unwittingly falls in with a group of young pickpockets run by the Artful Dodger and his trainer, Fagin. When he realizes what he is supposed to to, Oliver tries to get away. Instead, he is the one who is caught and sent up before the magistrate. He is befriended and taken in. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before Fagin and his partner Bill Sikes pull Oliver back in.

Eventually all works out for Oliver. It’s amazing the boy didn’t die before that could happen. Yet only about half the book is devoted to Oliver himself. The rest focuses on the meanness and unjustness of the people around him. For example, the undertaker and his wife are always fighting. She despises Oliver just because her husband likes him and feels sorry for him. Fagin and Bill Sikes take up many chapters. They are nasty – even kidnapping Oliver when he gets away from them to a better home.

Dickens’ social commentary still holds chills – and laughter at times as well. (You can’t help but laugh at the man who constantly says “I’ll eat my head”.) Dickens draws dark pictures around Fagin, Sikes, and a man named Monks. Around people like the Artful Dodger and Sikes’ friend Nancy the picture is a combination of bad and the tenderness for people forced into their situation with little hope of escape. There is a different view of the unkind Bumbles at the foundling home – they are fools as well.

Since this is a Dickens novel, it’s wordy. Yet when woven together they create a heart rending story. The book also made a difference in his London. Child labor reform came about in the years after this was published to better serve children like Oliver. Oliver Twist is a classic, of course, and still holds up excellently.

More books by Charles Dickens

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