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.
City and Country ThemeTracker
City and Country Quotes in Oliver Twist
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.
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.
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 . . . .
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.
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 . . . .
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 . . . .
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 . . . .