Oliver Twist

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Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of Oliver Twist published in 2002.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Wrapped in the blanket which had hitherto formed his only covering, he [Oliver] might have been the child of a nobleman or a beggar . . . . But now that he was enveloped in the old calico robes which had grown yellow in the same service, he was badged and ticketed . . . a parish child . . . the orphan of a workhouse.

Related Characters: Oliver Twist
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

As the narrator notes here, there is no difference, in a newborn child, between being wealthy and being poor - or, for that matter, being lucky or unlucky, being intelligent or unintelligent. For a newborn, life is utterly a blank slate - and it awaits the impress of the events that happen to a person as he or she ages.

Oliver Twist is, among other things, a novel about how people court fate, and how people change their fates - how both people's decisions and the situations of their environment impact the kinds of lives they lead. Oliver is a child who takes life by the horns, who is willing to attempt scary or dangerous things in order to improve his station. He is also a child who, by any account, has experienced bad luck at an early age - he is here "ticketed" as seemingly headed for a life of poverty and labor. The only way he can change this fate is through more luck, and through the sheer force of his will. 


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Chapter 2 Quotes

Mr. Limbkins, I beg your pardon, sir! Oliver Twist has asked for more!
For more! . . . Compose yourself, Bumble, and answer me distinctly. Do I understand that he asked for more, after he had eaten the supper allotted by the dietary?
- - -
That boy will be hung . . . I know that boy will be hung.

Related Characters: Oliver Twist, Mr. Bumble
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

This is one of the most famous scenes in the book - one that has seeped into the popular culture, even for those who haven't read Oliver Twist. This is Oliver's first act of rebellion. It is also a polite act, one that is designed not just to better his own circumstances but the circumstances of those around him. Oliver believes that because he is hungry, and because he is fed so very little, it would not be unreasonable to ask those in positions of authority for more food. 

But, of course, this is simply not done - not because getting more food would be a bad thing, or a waste of resources, but because those in charge have not thought about the condition of the boys' lives at all. This kind of indifference to the suffering of others is a hallmark of corrupt people in power in Oliver Twist, and indeed throughout Dickens' novels more generally. And it is this indifference that Oliver seeks to push back against. 

Chapter 3 Quotes

Oliver fell on his knees, and clasping his hands together, prayed that they would order him back to the dark room—that they would starve him—beat him—kill him if they pleased—rather than send him away with that dreadful man [Gamfield, the chimney-sweep].

Related Characters: Oliver Twist
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is an indication of just how cruel and unfair Gamfield will be. Oliver hates the workhouse, and cannot imagine living there another second--that is, until he realizes he might also have to live with a violent man, whose work is dirty, laborious, and incredibly dangerous for those boys employed to do it.

As throughout the novel, this passage is an instance of the immensely difficult choices Oliver is forced to make at every term. Is it sensible to want to return to the workhouse, where the administrators hate him, and where he has already made a name for himself as a "rabble rouser"? Or is it better to go off with a man Oliver doesn't know, who promises to employ him in a field that has caused many other children to perish? Oliver is forced to make this decision - and to do so at an age when boys of privilege are largely playing with their friends and enjoying their time with their families. 

Chapter 4 Quotes

Then come with me . . . your bed's under the counter You don't mind sleeping among the coffins, I suppose? But it doesn't much matter whether you do or don't, for you can't sleep anywhere else. Come . . . !

Related Characters: Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry (speaker), Oliver Twist
Related Symbols: Coffins
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

This is another famous scene, and one of the more immediately comic depictions of just how deplorable the conditions are in which Oliver is expected to live. Sowerberry, despite the inherent black humor in what he is proposing, is not kidding. He really does expect his young apprentice, who has no family, to sleep among the coffins he is assembling, in which he will inter dead bodies. Sowerberry does not care at all that this might frighten Oliver. Indeed, he seems to delight in the idea that Oliver would be scared and made to suffer.

In the early pages of Oliver Twist, then, Dickens tests the limits of narrative plausibility - the coffin-maker's name is, after all, Sowerberry ("sower" as in planting things in the ground, and "berry" as in "bury") - and the limits of Oliver's own physical and psychological endurance. Indeed, everyone in Oliver's life will test him in this way, and he will continually rise to the challenge that people in positions of authority put to him. 

Chapter 8 Quotes

He wore a man's coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back . . . to get his hands out of the sleeves . . . . He was, altogether, as roistering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less, in his bluchers.

Related Characters: The Artful Dodger
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:

The Artful Dodger is one of the most colorful of Dickens' creations throughout the entirety of his works. Here, the Dodger is defined as a man before his time - although he is a very young child, he is adept at the world of pickpocketing and petty crime and has, from a young age, largely fended for himself. Oliver is in awe of the Dodger's city ways, of his knowledge of London, and of his ability to mix in with different groups of people. In this sense, Oliver will look up to the Dodger, and in the Dodger's cavalier attitude toward life, he is a foil of Oliver.

But the Dodger also has no scruples. He is perfectly willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get his way - things that Oliver is decidedly not willing to do. And while the Dodger is mostly interested in working to better his own circumstances, Oliver has a pronounced soft spot for the lives of other people, and for their own particular anguish. 

Chapter 9 Quotes

Oliver wondered what picking the old gentleman's pocket in play, had to do with his chances of being a great man. But thinking that the Jew [Fagin], being so much his senior, must know best, he followed him quietly to the table; and was soon deeply involved in his new study.

Related Characters: Oliver Twist, Fagin
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point in the text, Oliver is still very naive - he does not entirely understand that Fagin is interested in grooming him to become a pickpocket, a child he can let out onto the street in order to fetch goods. And Fagin is not interested in doing this so that Oliver can make a living. Instead, he works primarily so that he, Fagin, can enrich himself. Oliver is merely a means to an end for Fagin - a new, guileless worker whom he can train to do his bidding.

Fagin's depiction, here as in elsewhere in the novel, is deeply unsympathetic, and Dickens makes no bones about his own racism in describing Fagin using anti-Semitic stereotypes. This is an aspect of the novel that it is important to critique: Dickens, like a great many other famous authors in the history of the English language, have ascribed to Jewish characters traits that, according to contemporary consideration, would be considered defamatory and offensive. 

Chapter 12 Quotes

What's this? Bedwin, look there!
As he [Brownlow] spoke, he pointed hastily to the picture above Oliver's head; and then to the boy's face. There was its living coy. The eyes, the head, the mouth; every feature was the same. The expression was, for the instant, so precisely alike, that the minutest line seemed copied with a startling accuracy.

Related Characters: Mr. Brownlow (speaker), Oliver Twist
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

This instance of fate, or luck or chance, is of great interest in the novel, and is a fine of example of how coincidence works in Dickens' fictions. Oliver lies below a portrait of a woman he greatly resembles - and he notes that, while asleep and dreaming, he thought about his mother a good deal, wondering if she is safe in another life. What Oliver does not know, and what the reader will not find out till much later, is that the woman in the portrait is indeed Oliver's mother, and that she was quite literally "looking down on him" at this juncture in the novel. In a second reading, this instance of dramatic irony - wherein the reader knows more than the character in the fiction - will be more pronounced. But in the first read, the reader might simply wonder why it is that Oliver's appearance would be likened to that of a woman in a picture, in a house he stumbles into by accident. 

Chapter 14 Quotes

Send Oliver with them . . he will be sure to deliver them safely, you know.
Yes; do let me take them, if you please, sir. . . . I'll run all the way, sir.

Related Characters: Oliver Twist (speaker), Mr. Grimwig (speaker)
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis:

Here is another instance in which Oliver's goodwill is tested by those around him, especially by those in positions of authority. Brownlow is inclined to trust Oliver, to believe that he is a young boy in the city without a family, and that he is in need of help. But Grimwig wants proof of Oliver's good will. He wants to know that he is not a con artist, that he is not a boy who will engage in treacherous behavior, or rob his benefactor. Thus Grimwig tells Oliver to go to the bookseller with money to fetch a book - and if Oliver is honest, he will return.

It is exactly this kind of circumstance, however, where Dickens decides to test Oliver's fate. Oliver is caught at the bookseller's by Nancy, and then delivered back to Sikes - he does not have a chance to announce to Brownlow and Grimwig what has happened to him, and so they naturally assume that he's run off with their money, and that they cannot trust him. In this instance, then, Oliver's bad luck has caught up to his good intentions - he is trapped.

Chapter 17 Quotes

I should like . . . to leave my love to poor Oliver Twist, and to let him know how often I have sat by myself and cried to think of his wandering about in the dark night with nobody to help him.

Related Characters: Dick (speaker), Oliver Twist
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:

DIck is an especially saintly character in the workhouse, and another foil for Oliver - indeed, if the Dodger is the "bad" version of the hero, then Dick is the perfect one, a boy who is so sick he cannot participate in life's events, but who nevertheless has the finest of feelings and the best of intentions (similar to Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol). Dick tells Bumble that he wishes to leave Oliver his "love," because he wants the best for Oliver. And, of course, this infuriates Bumble, who hates that Oliver has whipped up a great deal of support among the other boys in the house.

At this point in the novel Bumble seems aware of Oliver's ability to stand out among the other boys, and indeed among other people in general, and to lead them. Bumble hates that this is the case, and vows to make life even more difficult for Oliver if ever he is to find him - and, of course, Bumble then stumbles upon the notice Brownlow places in the paper, wondering where Oliver is. Bumble decides that he will "set the record straight" with Brownlow, and tell him that Oliver is really a very bad boy. 

Chapter 22 Quotes

The cry was repeated—a light appeared—a vision of two terrified half-dressed men at the top of the stairs swam before his eyes—a flash—a loud noise—a smoke—a crash somewhere . . . .

Related Characters: Oliver Twist, Giles and Brittles
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Oliver faces his own death - although of course he survives the attempted burglary. But he blacks out entirely, and all that he sees before him is, as the narrator describes, a flash of light. As in many other scenes, especially in the beginning of the novel, Oliver is entirely at the mercy of the older men around him - he must do what they say or suffer the consequences. And thus, although robbing someone is essentially the last thing Oliver would ever do, he is forced along on this mission, and very nearly killed during it.

If Oliver is currently at the prey of the men, often criminals, who control him, he will not always be this way, and as the novel progresses Oliver's fate will not be quite so drawn out by those around him. Instead, Oliver will increasingly find that his fate is in his own hands - or, that the coincidences and strange twists and turns that occur in his life might have something to do with the choices he, as a maturing young man, makes. 

Chapter 25 Quotes

Bill had him [Oliver] on his back and scudded like the wind. We stopped to take him between us; his head hung down; and he was cold. . . . We parted company, and left the youngster lying in a ditch. Alive or dead, that's all I know about him.

Related Characters: Toby Crackit (speaker), Oliver Twist, Sikes
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:

It is interesting that, at this moment in the text, Crackit admits to having "buried" Oliver hastily, in a ditch, not knowing if Oliver will survive - and not particularly caring. Crackit is mostly happy that he has escaped the attempted robbery with his own life, and though Fagin is more concerned with Oliver's fate, it's because Oliver's injury or death would be detrimental to Fagin himself - it would lay him open to the charge that Fagin had endangered the boy and allowed these crimes to happen.

Crackit and some of the other malicious characters in the novel, including Sikes, are mostly concerned with their own safety, and demonstrate time and again their willingness to sacrifice those around them to further their own aims. This, then, is exactly the opposite of Oliver's temperament - Oliver, unlike a great many other characters in the novel, is concerned with the welfare of those around him, and does what he can to improve their circumstances even as he tries desperately, and often fails, to improve his own. 

Chapter 26 Quotes

I tell you again, it was badly planned. Why not have kept him here among the rest, and made a sneaking, sniveling pickpocket of him at once?

Related Characters: Monks (speaker), Oliver Twist
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:

Monks, an associate of Sikes whose relationship to Oliver is, at this point, unclear, is upset that Oliver has been initiated so quickly into serious robbery. He's upset not because he fears that robbery is bad, or thinks that Oliver shouldn't rob things at all. Instead he absolutely supports the idea of Oliver becoming a thief - but he believes that Oliver should be led slowly into the craft, initially via pickpocketing, and then, over time, into larger and larger hauls. Therefore Monks critiques Fagin, in the conversation with Sikes, arguing that Fagin has rushed along Oliver in his "development."

What is interesting to note in this section, too, is how Monks and Fagin are each concerned with Oliver's "development" as a thief, his "education" such as it is. This follows in the tradition of the "Bildungsroman," or coming-of-age novel, in which a character is educated in schools or school-like places, and in which he or she learns the difficulties of life from a young age. For Oliver, this learning often comes outside educational establishments, within the seedy underworld of London. 

Chapter 27 Quotes

Say it again, you vile, owdacious fellow! . . . How dare you mention such a thing, sir? And how dare you encourage him, you insolent minx! Kiss her! . . . Faugh!

Related Characters: Mr. Bumble (speaker), Noah Claypole, Charlotte
Page Number: 168
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an important, and comedic, indication of the profundity of Bumble's hypocrisy. Bumble has just been wooing Mrs. Corney, and wondering what he might do to curry her favor - and also how to make use of her for his own ends, since Mrs. Corney could give him a job as the manager of a poor home for which Corney also works. But Bumble, walking in on two young people carousing without any other motive - simply because they enjoy spending time with one another - finds this completely intolerable. He launches into the tirade here, accusing Charlotte of possessing lax morals, and implying that Noah is a beast for having any romantic interest in anyone.

Hypocrisy in Dickens is often shot through with class distinctions. Bumble pretends that he is not of the "lower" classes, although he is not wealthy - but he makes a living ordering around the poor in workhouses. Bumble therefore considers himself above Noah and Charlotte, and Bumble participates in a common critique of the poor in Dickens' time - the idea that poor people are "naturally" immoral, have no control over their emotions, and tend to engage readily in illicit sexual behavior. 

Chapter 33 Quotes

Death! Who would have thought it! Grind him to ashes! He's start up from a marble coffin, to come in my way!

Related Characters: Monks (speaker), Oliver Twist
Related Symbols: Coffins
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

This is an instance of foreshadowing, and of the nature of coincidence and apparent coincidence in the novel. Oliver, running back to the Maylie's house after having delivered a letter for Dr. Losborne, who is to help Rose in her illness, runs straight into the man who will turn out to be Monks. And Monks, though he seems only to "accidentally" be in the same place as Oliver, is indeed following him, and has had his eye on him. Oliver, of course, cannot know this, nor can he know what will be revealed later - that Monks is Oliver's half-brother, and has been trying to frame Oliver as a thief in order to "ruin" Oliver. 

Monks brings up the "coffin" again, a symbol that recurs in the novel. The coffin is emblematic, of course, of the omnipresence of death - and it is also a piece of workmanship, and a trade, into which Oliver almost himself enters. Oliver, wherever he turns, cannot seem to avoid the coffin - they surround him, as does violence and death on the difficult streets of London. 

Chapter 34 Quotes

It was but an instant, a glance, a flash, before his eyes; and they were gone. But they had recognized him, and he them; and their look was as firmly impressed upon his memory, as if it had been deeply carved in stone . . . .

Related Characters: Oliver Twist, Fagin, Monks
Page Number: 214-5
Explanation and Analysis:

Oliver has been attempting to improve himself - to become educated following a lifetime's lack of formal schooling. He does this in the Maylie's home, under their supervision, and in his room there is a space for quiet contemplation and a good deal of work. It is, in short, the life he has always wanted - a life of personal and intellectual freedom. 

But when Monks and Fagin show up, they do so in part,to remind him that they have not forgotten him - that they will hound him for as long as they can. They want to take Oliver back to them as a point of pride - because they believe they are responsible for Oliver's "education," such as they see it. They are also worried that, if Oliver is free, he might be able to point the authorities to them - and that would be the end of their criminal enterprise. 

Chapter 35 Quotes

The prospect before you . . . is a brilliant one; all the honors to which great talents and powerful connections can help men in public life are in store for you. . . . I will neither mingle with such as hold in scorn the mother who gave me life; nor bring disgrace or failure on the son of her who has so well supplied that mother's place.

Related Characters: Rose Maylie (speaker), Harry Maylie
Page Number: 219
Explanation and Analysis:

Rose is the novel's most selfless character - the one to whom all other characters' generosity, including Oliver's, might be compared favorably. Rose thinks so much of Harry, and indeed loves him so much, that she could not imagine a world in which the unexplained "blight" on her family causes her to alter Harry's promising life's work as a lawyer and politician. She loves so deeply that she cannot be with the person she loves - and she is okay with this.

Harry's devotion to Rose, and Rose's devotion to Harry, is one of the book's underlying romances. In Dickens, romantic entanglements tend either to be like this one - where love is profound but thwarted - or like Nancy and Sikes' relationship, where love exists but is deeply imperfect and haunted by violence. There is a moral element, here, too - Harry and Rose are "chaste" in their life, whereas it is hinted that Nancy and Sikes are not - only adding to the illicit, "criminal" quality of the latter relationship.

Chapter 37 Quotes

Are you going to sit there snoring all day?
I am going to sit here, as long as I think proper, ma'am. . . . And although I was not snoring, I shall snore, gape, sneeze, laugh, or cry, as the humor strikes me . . . .

Related Characters: Mr. Bumble (speaker), Mrs. Bumble (Mrs. Corney) (speaker)
Page Number: 225
Explanation and Analysis:

Dickens here gives us another domestic scene, and a further contrast to Rose and Harry's relationship on the one hand, and to Nancy's and Sikes' on the other. Bumble believed that marrying Mrs. Corney would make him a rich man without too much work - and if there is anything Bumble does not like to do, it's work hard. Instead, however, he finds that Mrs. Corney is not particularly nice to him - or, from her perspective, she is willing to critique his laziness - something he is more or less comfortable with.

The Bumbles' marriage thus represents a third option in the spectrum of marriages in a Dickens novel. There is thwarted, beautiful love - illicit, dangerous love - and loveless, married life. Dickens implies that Bumble longs for his bachelor days, and that those days are long in the past - that his life now must be made with someone to whom he is not particularly well suited, and who is willing to point out his shortcomings. 

Chapter 40 Quotes

Do not close your heart against all my efforts to help you . . . I wish to serve you indeed.
You would serve me best, lady . . . if you could take my life at once; for I have felt more grief to think of what I am, tonight, that I ever did before . . . .

Related Characters: Nancy (speaker), Rose Maylie (speaker)
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

Rose and Nancy are not so much foils as characters in utter opposition. Rose Maylie, as above, has devoted her life to others, and her sickness, which nearly kills her, is an occasion for much grieving among those in her family. Nancy, on the other hand, has made a life of petty theft - although Fagin and Sikes did help to raise her and care for her, and she is loyal to them because of it. Nancy, Dickens implies, chose her life because she had nothing else to choose - there were no other options available to her that would keep her safe and fed.

Rose seems to understand this and wants to protect Nancy. She believes that Nancy is, at heart, a good person, and, further, that Nancy can change her circumstances, can improve them by leaving Fagin and Sikes behind. But Nancy seems already to know at this point that she can never abandon her life, nor can she leave Sikes - that Sikes would as soon kill her as let her do that. 

Chapter 43 Quotes

You'll pay for this, my fine fellers. I wouldn't be you for something. I wouldn't go free, now, if you was to fall down on your knees and ask me. Here, carry me off to prison! Take me away!

Related Characters: The Artful Dodger (speaker)
Page Number: 280
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage is an indication of the Dodger's carefree attitude and odd charm, right till the end. The Dodger does his best to show the court that he does not care much for their ruling - indeed, that someday, somehow, they will "regret" what they've done to him. Of course it is not clear how exactly this will come to pass, but the Dodger is accustomed, even at his young age, to a life lived as a mature adult - wherein, if the Dodger wants something, he will do everything he can do to get it, and will not let anyone, adults or the law, tell him otherwise.

The Dodger runs up against a limit on his free will when he finds himself in court, however. The Dodger could do as much as he pleased on the streets of London, but there are rules he cannot break - and when caught stealing the snuff box, he knew that his time had been called, that he was going to be hauled off to jail and made to serve at least one penalty for a young lifetime of small crimes already committed. 

Chapter 44 Quotes

You have a friend in me, Nance; a staunch friend. I have the means at hand, quiet and close. If you want revenge on those that treat you like a dog . . .come to me. I say, come to me.

Related Characters: Fagin (speaker), Nancy
Page Number: 285
Explanation and Analysis:

Fagin does not realize exactly what Nancy is doing - he believes that Nancy is meeting with another lover (not Sikes, that is), on the bridge, rather than meeting with Rose and attempting to work for Oliver's ultimate protection. But for Fagin, the real reason for Nancy's distance with Sikes is not important. What does matter is that Nancy wants this distance, that she hopes to build a life for herself away from Sikes' control. In this, Fagin sees an opening.

Dickens thus describes in this section two different kinds of treachery. On the one hand, Nancy is, of course, giving up her friends and associates to help Oliver and Rose, whom she considers to be worthy people. She is doing this, however, because she knows that her "friends" are criminals and should be stopped - she is serving, in effect, as a whistleblower. Fagin also wants to go against his friend (Sikes), but his treachery is motivated only by the possibility of greater personal gain - of cutting Sikes out of their illicit business.

Chapter 45 Quotes

She goes abroad tonight . . . and on the right errand, I'm sure; for she has been alone all da, and the man she is afraid of, will not be back much before daybreak . . . .

Related Characters: Fagin (speaker), Noah Claypole, Sikes, Nancy
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a further instance of Fagin's treachery. He has recruited Noah to do his spying for him, to track Nancy. Thus, he is not really trying to help Nancy at all, to help her get away from Sikes, for example, or to make a life for herself on her own. No - he wishes, instead, to use Nancy as a pawn, as a means of enraging Sikes, perhaps, and further asserting control among the other criminal associates.

Fagin is a difficult character to summarize for several reasons. First, of course, he is a profoundly offensive caricature, especially in the contemporary context (although the offensiveness would also have been apparent in Dickens' time) - and, related to this, his motivations are hard to understand. For Fagin seems to have almost no shred of dignity at all - he will do anything, at any cost, to get his own way - and he seems not to care who stands in his path. 

Chapter 47 Quotes

It was a ghastly figure to look upon. The murderer staggering backward to the wall, and shutting out the sight with his hand, seized a heavy club and struck her down.

Related Characters: Sikes, Nancy
Page Number: 302
Explanation and Analysis:

The most gruesome passage in the book, and the moment when the foreshadowings of death, which have run throughout the pages of Oliver Twist, become actualized in Nancy's murder. From the beginning, Nancy has attempted to assert herself against, and protect herself from, Sikes, a man who has no moral scruples, no willingness to contain his anger - and who has abused Nancy brutally for years. Sikes is a character with no good in him, and Dickens does not hide the cruelty Sikes is capable of inflicting on those around him. Sikes directs the vast majority of that cruelty against Nancy.

Nancy's death is the book's most upsetting, most graphic, and most jarring moment. It is noteworthy that Rose, in her attempts to encourage Nancy to leave Sikes and stay with them, was not able to convince Nancy of this plan. This is not because Nancy didn't think it would work, but because Nancy felt her rightful place was with Sikes, even if he vowed, ultimately, do to great violence to her. 

Chapter 49 Quotes

You must do more than that . . . make restitution to an innocent and unoffending child, for such he is, although the offspring of a guilty and most miserable love . . . .

Related Characters: Mr. Brownlow (speaker), Oliver Twist, Monks
Page Number: 319
Explanation and Analysis:

Brownlow has remained a staunch and dedicated defender of Oliver's throughout the novel, even as other characters have attempted to convince him that Oliver is only using Brownlow for his money and goodwill. Brownlow seems to sense that Oliver has "good" or "noble" (really, wealthy) blood in him - and that, though Oliver might have been the child of an unwed mother, he is nevertheless "deserving," based on his "high birth," of a far greater lot in life than he has already achieved.

That Monks and Brownlow know and have known each other is a surprise to the reader at this stage in the novel - but really should not be, as Dickens has primed the reader to expect coincidences at every turn. The characters in Oliver Twist, as in many Dickens novels, are drawn together in a "net" of overlapping relationships that is often knotted up, or unwound, at the close of the novel - when those relationships are revealed and explained, or else destroyed. 

Chapter 50 Quotes

The noose was at his neck. It ran up with his weight, tight as bow-string . . . there was sudden jerk, a terrific convulsion of the limbs; and there he hung, with the open knife clenched in his stiffening hand.

Related Characters: Sikes
Page Number: 326
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Dickensian universe, bad behavior cannot go unpunished for very long. Sikes has quite literally gotten away with murder -  at least, he has gotten away with murder for a time. But Nancy will be avenged - and in this instance, Sikes dies a painful and very public death, at exactly the moment when he is trying to elude being captured for the heinous crime he has committed. This is another gruesome moment in a novel that has seen increasing violence done to its characters.

Indeed, the relationship of the violent to the comedic, of the serious to the lighthearted, is one of Dickens' hallmarks. Oliver Twist, one of Dickens' earlier novels, is perhaps more lighthearted than others, as evidenced by some of the characters' rather whimsical or unrealistic-sounding names. But Oliver Twist is also a novel about the consequences of decision-making, and of criminal and selfish behavior. And to this end, Sikes' death is representative of a public and severe form of moral justice.

Chapter 53 Quotes

I believe that the shade of Agnes sometimes hovers round that solemn nook [in the country church]. I believe it none the les, because that nook is in a Church, and she was weak and erring.

Related Characters: Agnes Fleming
Page Number: 346
Explanation and Analysis:

This is a somewhat strange ending to the novel. Dickens has reserved a good deal of shame for Oliver's unwed mother - going so far as to blame her, implicitly, for Oliver's difficulties in life as an orphaned boy. Dickens and his narrator are unable to consider Agnes as being anything but guilty for her "crime" of giving birth to Oliver outside of wedlock. This, for the time in England, was an unpardonable sin, and Dickens does not excuse Agnes' behavior for any reason.

It is also striking that, in a novel so concerned with Oliver's development from young boyhood into young adulthood, the final paragraph should be reserved for a continued statement on the moral status of his mother. It is as though Dickens wishes to remind his audience that, despite everything, some choices - even made innocently, or having mitigating circumstances - can produce ill effects for other people involved. In this case, Dickens argues that Oliver's fate - the things in his life beyond his control, the social disadvantages he has had to endure - have a cause, and that is his mother's decision so many years before. Although it seems preposterous to a contemporary reader, this, for Dickens, was an important point to make at the close of the book.

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