Oliver Twist

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Themes and Colors
Thievery and Crime Theme Icon
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon
Individualism and Social Bonds Theme Icon
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will Theme Icon
City and Country Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Oliver Twist, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Oliver Twist is, among other things, a meditation on the nature of criminality in 1830s England: an examination of who commits crimes; of the spectrum of crimes (from petty thievery to murder); and of the idea of criminality as a learned behavior or an innate quality. Oliver is born a poor orphan; he is raised in a workhouse and makes his way to London, where is "rescued" by a group of young thieves controlled by…

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Oliver Twist is a sustained attack on the British Poor Laws, a complex body of law that forced poor families to labor in prison-like "workhouses." One of the novel's effects is, simply, to describe what poverty was like at this time in England. Although many parts of English society had come in contact with the poor, few had read accounts of what it meant to be poor. Simply by telling of conditions in the workhouse…

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Oliver Twist presents, also, an inquiry into the nature of "individualism" in 1830s England, and in the social bonds that must be formed and sustained by individuals if they are to prosper. One of the novel's most notable scenes is Fagin's speech, to Noah, arguing that one must look out both for "Number One" (oneself) and "the other Number One," or Fagin. The thieves Fagin controls all look out for themselves, since they would…

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In the novel, "fate" is revealed to be an interaction of social forces or pressures on one's life, and one's decisions as an agent possessing free will. Oliver is an orphan and a pauper, meaning his "fate" is more or less sealed from birth: social forces appear poised to keep him in a "low" position forever. But Oliver, as it turns out, is the illegitimate son of a gentleman, and his father has inherited enough…

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The novel takes place in two separate, morally distinct locations: the Country and the City. The Country is everything outside London and its outlying villages; London is the primary City. To Dickens, the country is a place of peace, quiet, hard work, and strong family structures that ensure people continue to work hard and avoid criminality. The city, however, is a place of difficult working conditions, where the poor are crowded together, ground down by…

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