Oliver Twist - Success and Ethics
Oliver Twist (1837-9)
Written by the Englishman, Charles Dickens (1812-70), pictured
- First published in monthly parts.
- The Oscar winning 1968 film and stage musical,
Oliver!, starred Ron Moody as Fagin.
- Dickens named Fagin after his despised supervisor at the shoe
blacking factory where he worked briefly as a boy.
Oliver Twist, orphan boy
Fagin, the head of a gang of boy pickpockets
The Artful Dodger (Jack Dawkins), one of the pickpockets
Bill Sikes, a brutal burglar
Nancy, Sikes’s lover
Oliver, a poor orphan, is born and lives in the workhouse after his mother dies in childbirth.
He is looked after by Mrs. Mann and Mr. Bumble whom he famously
asks for more food (pictured right in the 1948 film).
He is badly treated and fares no better as an apprentice to an undertaker.
Oliver runs away to Barnet, near London, where he is picked up by Jack Dawkins (the Artful
Dodger), a pickpocket in Fagin’s gang.
After being rescued by the kind Mr Brownlow, he is re-captured by:
- Bill Sikes (an acquaintance of Fagin).
- Nancy (Sikes' girlfriend and Oliver's kind friend).
Oliver takes part in a burglary with Sikes and gets shot. The lady of the burgled house, Mrs
Maylie, is horrified to find that the wounded thief is only a child. So she and Rose, her
adopted daughter, take care of him.
But Fagin, Sikes and a mysterious man called Monks, are determined to capture him again.
Nancy bravely tells Rose and Mr Brownlow about his plan and where to find Monks.
Sikes discovers Nancy’s betrayal, brutally murders her and then, guilt-ridden and pursued
by an angry mob, inadvertently hangs himself.
Mr Brownlow forces Monks to reveal himself as Oliver’s half-brother. His father had an affair
with Oliver’s mother, and Monks was trying to stop Oliver getting his share of the family inheritance.
Mr Brownlow makes sure that Oliver gets this money and adopts him. They live happily with the
Maylies, having discovered that Rose is Oliver’s aunt.
Fagin is caught and hung for his crimes.
Lessons for success and ethics
1. Protect the poor
The book attacks the view (held by many rich people in Dickens’ time) that the poor are
- are victims of their circumstances (like the children in the
workhouse and Fagin’s gang).
- can become successful (if given the opportunity like Oliver, pictured right - Mark Lester
in the 1968 musical).
The workhouses for the poor were horrible and degrading, and many people preferred to die in the streets than go
2. Stand up for your principles
Nancy (Shani Wallis, pictured right in the 1968 musical) sacrifices her life for
Rose persuades her aunt not to tell the police about Oliver’s theft, saying:
“Think how young he is, think he may never know a mother’s love”.
3. Long live love
The book’s heroes are all kind and hate violence:
- Oliver (pictured right with Bill Sikes, Robert Newton, in the 1948 film).
4. Evil destroys people
Fagin and Monks are both destroyed by selfish greed.
Sikes (Oliver Reed, pictured right below in the 1968 musical) is mortified by his murder of
5. Snobbery stinks
Mr. Bumble has a miserable marriage because he married only for his wife’s money and social
The same snobbishness nearly ruins the love between:
- Harry Maylie, Mrs Maylie’s son (who is rich and socially superior).
But they are happily married after Harry:
- gives up a rich political career
- becomes a church minister.
6. Beware of stereotypes
Dickens’ portrayal of the Jewish villain, Fagin, has been attacked as anti-Semitic.
But Dickens pointed out that all the other wicked characters were Christian.
Compare (pictured right) two Fagins - Ron Moody, left (1968 musical) and Alec Guinness (1948
7. Hate hypocrisy
Mr. Bumble claims to be a good Christian but treats Oliver cruelly, refusing him more
Bumble (Harry Secombe) is pictured right in the 1968 musical.
8. Fate can be fatal or fantastic
We are driven by circumstance - Oliver is lucky but Nancy
“I am chained to my old life. I loathe it and hate it, but I cannot leave it”, she
Key quotes on happiness
Surprises, like misfortunes, seldom come alone.
Key quote on
But tears were not the things to find their way to Mr Bumble’s soul: his heart was waterproof.
Key quote on the
If the law supposes that ... the law is an ass - an idiot, Mr. Bumble
Key quote on death and
The persons on whom I have bestowed my dearest love lie deep in their graves; but, although the happiness and
delight of my life lie buried there too, I have not made a coffin of my heart, Mr. Brownlow
Key quote on success
Self-preservation is the first law of nature, (referring to Oliver’s experience of pickpocketing)
Key quote on influencing people
Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more
questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine.
Key quotes on health
Please, sir, I want some more, Oliver
Key quote on peace of mind
How slight a thing will disturb the equanimity of our frail minds!
Two literature websites to