Analysis: Oliver Twist

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Oliver Twist (1838) is Charles Dickens' second novel. The book was originally published in Bentley's Miscellany as a serial, in monthly installments that began appearing in the month of February 1837 and continued through April 1839, originally intended to form part of Dickens' serial The Mudfog Papers.[1][2][3] George Cruikshank provided one steel etching per month to illustrate each installment.[4] Oliver Twist is the first novel in the English language to centre throughout on a child protagonist[5] and is also notable for Dickens' unromantic portrayal of criminals and their sordid lives.[6] The book's subtitle, The Parish Boy's Progress alludes to Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress and also to a pair of popular 18th-century caricature series by William Hogarth, "A Rake's Progress" and "A Harlot's Progress".[7]

An early example of the social novel, the book calls the public's attention to various contemporary social evils, including the Poor Law that states that poor people should work in workhouses, child labour and the recruitment of children as criminals. Dickens mocks the hypocrisies of the time by surrounding the novel's serious themes with sarcasm and dark humour. The novel may have been inspired by the story of Robert Blincoe, an orphan whose account of his hardships as a child labourer in a cotton mill was widely read in the 1830s.

Oliver Twist has been the subject of numerous film and television adaptations, and is the basis for a highly successful musical, Oliver!. This novel is loved by people around the world, while the book itself is now translated into more than 25 languages .

[edit] Plot summary

[edit] Workhouse and first jobs

Oliver Twist is born into a life of poverty and misfortune in a workhouse in an unnamed town[8] within 75 miles north of London. Orphaned almost from his first breath by his mother’s death in childbirth and his father’s unexplained absence, Oliver is meagerly provided for under the terms of the Poor Law, and spends the first eight years of his life at a baby farm in the 'care' of a woman named Mrs. Mann. Along with other juvenile offenders against the poor laws, Oliver is brought up with little food and few comforts.

Around the time of the orphan’s ninth birthday, Mr. Bumble, a parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking oakum at the main workhouse (the same one where his mother worked before she died). Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months, until the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots; the loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal tremblingly comes forward, bowl in hand, and makes his famous request: "Please, sir, I want some more."

[pic]
"Please, sir, I want some more." Illustration by George Cruikshank. A great uproar ensues. The board of well-fed gentlemen who administer the workhouse, while eating a meal fit for a king, are outraged by Oliver's 'ingratitude'. Wanting to be rid of this troublemaker, they offer five pounds sterling to any person wishing to take on the boy as an apprentice. A brutal chimney sweep almost claims Oliver, but, when he begs despairingly not to be sent away with "that dreadful man" a kindly old magistrate refuses to sign the indentures. Later, Mr. Sowerberry, an undertaker employed by the parish, takes Oliver into his service. He treats Oliver better, and, because of the boy's sorrowful countenance, uses him as a mute, or mourner, at children's funerals. However, Mr. Sowerberry is in an unhappy marriage, and his wife takes an immediate dislike to Oliver – primarily because her husband seems to like him – and loses few opportunities to underfeed and mistreat him. He also suffers torment at the hands of Noah Claypole, an oafish but bullying fellow apprentice who is jealous of Oliver's promotion to mute, and Charlotte, the Sowerberry's maidservant, who is in love with Noah.

One day, in an attempt to...
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