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 money to be able to pass some on to Oliver. Thus Oliver has a competing fate: that of a son who realizes his fortune later in life. The grand question of the novel, then, is which fate will determine the course of Oliver's life: the fate of the pauper, or the fate of the gentleman?
Other characters have their fates set up and determined in interesting ways. Monks, also the son of a gentleman (he and Oliver are half-brothers), seems not to be able to "realize" his fate as a gentleman himself—he become a criminal, and even after inheriting half of his father's money, he dissipates it away and returns to crime. Fagin and his crew—including the Dodger—are mostly fated to remain criminals. Although Fagin does everything he can to avoid detection, it is not a surprise when he is captured at the novel's end, and sentenced to death. Similarly, the Dodger, despite his skill in thievery, accepts that it is his fate to be sent to a penal colony. Sikes understands that, after he kills Nancy, he is a hunted man, and that he can never recover the "normalcy" of his life-in-crime before the murder.
Rose and Harry, too, seem fated to be together. When Harry first proposes to Rose, Rose rejects his offer of marriage—not because she does not love him, but because Harry is poised for a brilliant career, and she comes from a disgraced family. But Harry implies that he is willing to alter the trajectory of his career, to take over the modest life of a country parson, in order to "level" his social relationship to Rose, and therefore to facilitate their marriage. Thus the novel shows that, although there are many strong social forces appearing immutably to "fate" characters to certain destinies, characters can, through exceptional strength of character, determine their own paths in life.
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will ThemeTracker
Social Forces, Fate, and Free Will 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 . . . !
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.