Oliver Twist

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.
City and Country Theme Icon

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 all the difficulties of "modern" industrial life.

Oliver, tellingly, comes from the "country," from a town environment relatively far from London. He makes his way to London to avoid Sowerberry, the coffin-maker, and a live of terrible poverty in the workhouses, but what he finds in the city is not a means of escape, but rather, a more difficult life: one of forced criminality. Only when Oliver stumbles, half-dead, upon the Maylies' house far outside the city, does he begin to recuperate, to think longingly for Brownlow, and to begin to find a stable family life. Oliver ends up near a country parsonage at the novel's end, with the Maylies and those who care about him; he is adopted as Brownlow's legal son, allowing him to be educated in peace and quiet.

Dickens wrote during the English Industrial Revolution's most robust stage—when cities were becoming "the" location for all those hoping to make their fortunes, and to rise up out of poverty. But cities were also repositories for vice and poverty, and seemed to provide ammunition for those who sought to equate the "social diseases" of poverty and criminality. Thus Dickens has a complicated relationship to the city and the country as he describes them. He believes that Oliver's virtue is best suited to the country, but that country is rapidly disappearing as England becomes more connected by rail and roads, and more economically dependent on the factories of the city. Dickens does not advocate that the country should remain wholly separate from the city, or that the city should cease to exist. Rather, he seems to argue that the country provides a kind of serenity and family structure that should be brought back to the city.

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City and Country Quotes in Oliver Twist

Below you will find the important quotes in Oliver Twist related to the theme of City and Country.
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.


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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 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 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 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 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 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 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.