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 probably not work for Fagin if they were able to earn their living elsewhere. But Fagin argues that, since he is in command of this band of thieves, he is truly their Number One, or the figure they must obey if they are to continue living.
Fagin's organization of the group is based primarily on fear; if the thieves do not rat one another out, they will be saved from the courts and hanging. Dickens shows that this is not a strong enough social bond to keep the boys safe. Bates eventually leaves his life of crime; the Dodger is taken into court, and the boys are encouraged to believe that the Dodger will long be remembered for his defiance in the courtroom. Sikes hangs himself by mistake, and Fagin is tried and sentenced to death on the scaffold.
Oliver, however, is an example both of the importance of a strong individual work ethic and of social bonds. Oliver leaves Sowerberry; braves the criminals of Fagin's gang in London; escapes to Brownlow; is recaptured by Fagin; survives a gunshot to his arm and dodges Sikes; and finally educates himself under Brownlow's tutelage. If it weren't for Oliver's goodness and his drive to better himself, he would have remained at Sowerberry's for the rest of his life. But Oliver also benefits greatly from the love he receives from Brownlow, Rose Maylie, Mrs. Bedwin, Mrs. and Harry Maylie, and Mr. Losberne. Dickens praises these social bonds above all—the bonds of love and of a family-like atmosphere. The Maylies and Mrs. Maylie move to a parsonage with Oliver, who is officially adopted by Brownlow, so that he can continue in his education with all the legal protections afforded to the child of a gentleman.
Individualism and Social Bonds ThemeTracker
Individualism and Social Bonds Quotes in Oliver Twist
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.
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?
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That boy will be hung . . . I know that boy will be hung.
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].
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 . . . !
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.
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.
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.
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 . . . .
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.
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 . . . .
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'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!
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.
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 . . . .
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 . . . .
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.