Oliver Twist (The Parish Boy’s Progress)

Oliver Twist is the third book by Charles Dickens that I have read and for people who want to read his books, Oliver Twist is the one to start on. Although there are a lot of phrases and sayings that are complete nonsense to most of us, this book conveys the cruelty and misery of an orphan’s life very well. Oliver Twist tells the heart-breaking story of a young boy stripped of his wealth, parents and happiness from the day he was born. This book tells of Oliver Twist’s rise to glory after getting forced by cold-hearted villains to live the life he wasn’t supposed to lead and brutally bullied by the master of the workhouse.

Imagine what it would be like to ask a 6-word sentence that ruins your whole life. This is what happened to Oliver, after he lost a bet, he had to go up to the master and ask for more gruel. Dickens uses very strong phrases that instantly make us sympathize with Oliver.

“Please, sir, I want some more.”

The master was a fat, healthy man, but he turned very pale. He gazed in stupified astonishment on the small rebel for some seconds, and then clung for support to the copper. The assistants were paralysed with wonder and the boys with fear.

‘What!’ said the master at length, in a faint voice.

‘Please, sir,’ replied Oliver, ‘I want some more.’

At this point in the novel, we want to read on because we aren’t sure if the master would hurt Oliver or if he would send him away from the workhouse. Unfortunately for Oliver, he does both and thus begins Oliver’s adventures in the outside world.

In my opinion, Oliver is an innocent-minded child who cries at the slightest boo-boo or fault in his life. For example, Oliver cries when he is sent to be an undertaker’s apprentice. We all know that is not the best job for an 11-year old kid, but Oliver was bawling even before he knew what the job was like. Oliver is also a very grateful and energetic youth. When he runs away from Mr. Bumble,  a beadle, he meets his childhood friend Dick, who after saying goodbye, says to Oliver, ‘God bless you.’ This might not seem like such an event to people such as ourselves but to Oliver, he never forgot it his whole life. This shows how terribly Oliver was treated at the workhouse and he didn’t even get a blessing or nice words said to him the whole time. Another reason why Oliver might be so soft is that he is thrust into an environment in which he can’t fit in no matter how hard he tries.

Again, like David Copperfield, I also have a favorite character. Before I say who it is, however, I must mention that I find the two books very similar, the main characters both being orphan boys and both telling their efforts to escape their poverty. The Artful Dodger (otherwise known as Jack Dawkins) is, in my opinion, the craftiest and most inventive character Dickens has come up with. The Dodger is the first person Oliver meets, and even he is fooled by the Dodger’s kindness. The Dodger is actually a pickpocket who works for a Jew named Fagin (he plays a big part in the story but you have to read it to find out) who runs a huge “mafia” gang in London. The Dodger is recruited at a young age and he is supposedly the best thief in their gang. I find the Dodger a cunning and wormy character (much like Uriah Heep in David Copperfield) who makes the best of what he’s got. For example, one day, the Dodger stole a man’s handkerchief and Oliver witnessed it. Oliver was so scared that he began running away and the man, seeing his handkerchief missing, immediately began to chase Oliver thinking he was the thief. The Dodger also began chasing Oliver like a good citizen ought to, showing how crafty and treacherous he is.

One thing David Copperfield lacks that is in Oliver Twist is murder. I can’t exactly say it made the novel any more exciting because the person who was murdered didn’t really deserve it. I don’t want to spoil too much so I’ll just say that a member of Fagin’s gang killed another member of his gang because the person had betrayed them. Just so you won’t start pitying the murdered person, let me just tell you that the murderer died in the end.

What I found intriguing about Oliver Twist is that, despite continuous rambling about family matters and other nonsense, there are a lot of mysterious secrets enveloped in the pages. Who are Oliver’s parents? Who is this Monks person who appears in the novel and why does he want to ruin Oliver’s reputation? Why is Fagin so intent on keeping Oliver? What relationship does Oliver have with Monks and Rose? These questions might not make sense to you now, but if you read the novel, you will find them quite coincidental indeed.

Another thing I liked about Oliver Twist is that, unlike many books, it doesn’t have a happy ending for all the good guys. Oliver’s mother doesn’t resurrect nor does the murdered member of Fagin’s gang who helped Oliver’s friends come back to life. I would mostly recommend this book to anyone older than 12 as there are quite a number of complicated words in the novel. All in all, I found this book very educational and if you happen to like stories about an orphan’s adventures and rise from misery, then this is the book for you.

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