Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist

Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Analysis

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.
Poverty, Institutions, and Class Theme Icon

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, Dickens does a service to the English poor—he shows they are human beings, and that they are not treated as such.

Dickens' description of the workhouses, and of Bumble and Mrs. Bumble especially, also serves to show that the Poor Laws are not simply dehumanizing—they are a part of the cycle of poverty rather than a remedy for it. The workhouse provides Oliver and others with no meaningful skills, and it feeds them so little that many simply become sick and die. Bumble is a "beadle," or an Anglican Church official in charge of managing the poor within each county. Dickens shows that Bumble behaves "un-Christianly" in hoping simply to shelve the poor in the workhouse, and to prevent them from leading meaningful lives. The novel's goal, then, is not just to describe English poverty—it is actively to change perceptions of both poverty and the general sense of Victorian society that poverty is being dealt with humanely and appropriately, in the hopes of changing society.

Dickens' argument about poverty, social institutions, and class immobility is a complex imagining of the interrelation of the three. Dickens believes that workhouses play to the worst desires of people in power—people like Sowerberry and the Bumbles—to keep the poor poor. The workhouses then enable the middle and upper classes to argue for a self-fulfilling prophecy: that people who have no options in life, no ability to make a positive contribution to society, either die or become society's outcasts. Dickens does not excuse crime committed by those who are inherently evil (Fagin and Sikes), but he does tend to be more sympathetic to the lives of those that have been determined by terrible circumstances (Oliver, Nancy, Bates and the Dodger). Dickens champions Oliver above all, since Oliver struggles so mightily to maintain his goodness, and manages to do so.

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Poverty, Institutions, and Class Quotes in Oliver Twist

Below you will find the important quotes in Oliver Twist related to the theme of Poverty, Institutions, and Class.
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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

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:

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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:

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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:

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Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.