Oliver Twist Summary and Analysis
While on the road, Oliver decides to make London his destination - according to a sign post, it is seventy miles away. His first day he manages to walk twenty miles, with only a crust of bread and little else. He keeps walking, getting weaker along the way and having to beg for food and water. After a week of walking, he arrives in the town of Barnet, and is by then too weak to stand. He sees a boy watching him, who appears to be about Oliverâs age but has the airs and manners of an adult. This boy buys Oliver a meal and asks him if he is on his way to London. He tells Oliver that he can introduce him to an old gentleman who will give him a place to stay and not ask anything in return.
The boyâs name is Jack Dawkins, but he is known to his friends as the artful Dodger. Oliver begins to think that the Dodger might not be the most desirable companion, but he still plans to follow him to the gentlemanâs place in London. There Oliver meets Fagin, the old gentleman, and sees that there are many other boys there about his age. Fagin feeds him and the other boys, and Oliver falls asleep.
While pretending to be asleep, Oliver sees Fagin pull a small box out of a trap door in the floor and admire the watches, jewelry and trinkets held therein. Fagin catches Oliver watching him, and questions him threateningly, but seems reassured and lets Oliver wash up. Fagin, Oliver, the Dodger and Charley Bates have breakfast together. The Dodger and Charley say they have been working, and produce some pocket-books and pocket-handkerchiefs. Oliver is very impressed by their workmanship, and hopes Fagin will teach him to make things as well.
Fagin and Bates and the Dodger then play a game, where Fagin pretends to be an old man walking along, and Bates and the Dodger pickpocket him. Two young women, Bet and Nancy, stop by, and Oliver likes them both very much. Everyone goes out except for Oliver and Fagin, and Fagin tells Oliver if he works like Dodger and does as he says, he will end up a great gentleman.
Oliver spends most days playing the pickpocket game with Fagin and other boys, and taking the monograms out of handkerchiefs. He wants fresh air, however, so he asks Fagin if he can go out to work with the Dodger and Bates. Fagin finally gives his assent, and Oliver goes out with the two boys. He starts to worry, because they donât seem to be going anywhere at all, when Bates and the Dodger spot an old gentleman at a book-stall and approach him from behind. Oliver sees the Dodger pull a handkerchief from the old manâs pocket, and then the two run around the corner. Oliver suddenly understands what has been going on at Faganâs all along, and becomes delirious, running away down the street.
At this same moment the old gentleman - named Mr. Brownlow - realizes that his handkerchief is gone, and, noticing Oliver running away, assumes he is the thief. Bates and the Dodger join in the cry, happy to have the attention drawn away from themselves, and soon everyone is shouting, âStop thief!â Someone eventually knocks Oliver down, and a police officer comes and drags him off, with the victimized gentleman following.
Although Mr. Brownlow says he would rather not press charges, Oliver is taken to the police station. Mr. Brownlow doubts that Oliver is guilty, and sees something in his face that reminds him of someone, although he cannot think who. Mr. Fang, the magistrate, is offended by Mr. Brownlowâs impertinence in not being cowed by him, and so wonât listen to what he says in defense of Oliver. Oliver is quite ill, and canât respond to the questions, but Mr. Fang believes he is just trying to trick them, so Oliver ends up fainting. Mr. Fang sentences him to three months hard labor. Just then, however, the bookseller comes into the court and demands to be heard. He tells Mr. Fang that he saw the whole thing, and Oliver was in no way guilty. Mr. Fang dismisses the charges, and Mr. Brownlow takes the sick Oliver and the book-stall keeper away in a coach.
Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver home with him, where a bed is prepared for the boy and he is taken care of with great solicitude - unlike any he has ever known in his life. For many days he doesnât wake, but after he does, he slowly regains his strength. When he is able, Mrs. Bedwin takes him down to her room, where Oliver sees a portrait of a lady that entrances him. Mr. Brownlow comes to see him, and notices that Oliver looks exactly like the portrait. Oliver, surprised by Mr. Brownlowâs exclamation, faints.
Fagin questions the Dodger and Bates to find out what happened to Oliver. Fagin throws a pot of beer at Bates, which ends up getting on Bill Sikes, who has just appeared. Sikes has a few drinks, then hears from Dodger and Bates about the story of Oliverâs capture. Fagin says that he is worried about the boy, because he thinks that Oliver will say something to get them in trouble.
Sikes declares that they must go and find out what happened to the boy, but none of them wants to go anywhere near the police station. Bet and Nancy return, though, so Fagin asks Bet to go. She refuses, as does Nancy, but Sikes ultimately convinces her to go. At the station Nancy asks for her brother Oliver, and the officer tells her that he was taken off by a gentleman to somewhere in Pentonville. Nancy gives this information to Fagin and Sikes, and Fagin sends her and Dodger off to find him.
After Oliverâs fainting fit, Mr. Brownlow takes down the picture for fear that it overexcites him. Oliver misses it the next day, but Mrs. Bedwin just says they will put it back up when he has recovered. Mrs. Bedwin tells Oliver about her family, and teaches him cribbage until it is time for him to go to bed. One evening, after Oliver has regained much of his strength, Mr. Brownlow asks for him to come to see him in his study. Oliver worries that he is going to be turned back out onto the streets, and says so, but instead Mr. Brownlow says that he wonât even desert Oliver, so long as Oliver doesnât give him reason to, and he asks Oliver to tell him the story of his upbringing.
Before Oliver can begin, however, a servant comes to announce Mr. Grimwig has arrived. Mr. Grimwig joins Oliver and Mr. Brownlow in the study. After tea, Mr. Brownlow sends Oliver to the book-stall with some books to be returned, and some money that he owes. Mr. Grimwig believes that Oliver will make off with the money and the books, but Mr. Brownlow has faith that he will return quickly, and so they wait together to see who is right.
This section takes us to London, where Oliver meets both the best and worst characters of his life thus far. In meeting the artful Dodger and Fagin, Oliver has, ironically, his first experience of kindness and generosity - or at least what appear to be kindness and generosity. The reader never buys it completely, for there is a certain dramatic irony in the knowledge that Fagin and the Dodger must be thieves, while Oliver truly believes that they manufacture the handkerchiefs and purses he sees them with.
It is still, however, the first time that the reader has seen anyone be kind to Oliver on any level, so it is not immediately clear how evil a character Fagin is. This does not become truly clear until the end of the novel, when even his minor kindnesses are exposed to be completely selfishly motivated. Oliverâs moral goodness and clarity, even after having been raised without any examples of good morals, is underscored by this, for even though this is the first time he has been taken care of on any level, the minute that he understands that Fagin and his boys are thieves, he is completely disillusioned and wants nothing to do with them.
This self-interested kindness is soon juxtaposed with true generosity and kindness, in the form of Mr. Brownlow and Mrs. Bedwin. Mr. Brownlow, completely unlike any of the adults who have so far cared for Oliver, takes a moment to look more deeply at him, ignoring the fact that he thought he stole from him. Thus for the first time an adult truly cares about Oliverâs personality as it really is, not as he perceives it to be or would like it to be, and Oliver becomes more than just another orphan or potential thief.
Mr. Brownlow's attention to Oliver is especially striking when juxtaposed with the blindness of the mob who hunts him down. Almost no one knows what crime Oliver has been accused of or whether he actually did it; all are bent only on the joy of hunting him and seeing him captured. This is the first time the danger of the mob mentality becomes clear, and it affects the reading of a similar mob scene at the end of the novel, when Bill Sikes is hunted down.
This section also introduces the motif of the importance of family ties that will simmer throughout the book. At this point, no one in the novel has any idea of Oliver's family ties, but he is shown to have a very strong emotional reaction to a portrait in Mr. Brownlow's house, and similarly, Mr. Brownlow has an instinctual like of and trust for Oliver's face. Later, the same thing will happen with Rose, who will turn out to be related to Oliver. Familial relations are shown to be important, even when they are shrouded in mystery.
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