Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The contemporary literary paradigm regards the novel Oliver Twist written by Charles Dickens as one of the most significant works of the nineteenth century, which contributes largely to English literary heritage. The plotline evolves around controversial and misfortunate life of an orphan boy, who attempts to act against the demands the society imposes on him and find a decent place in life. Despite the misdeeds and troubles that surround him and the endless efforts of other characters to lead him astray, Oliver, nonetheless, endeavors to live a moral life and escape the fate that has been obtruded upon him since his birth.
Although Oliver Twist is depicted as a boy with a child’s worldview, the protagonist often acts more mature than he would commonly be expected to. Having been brought up in an orphanage, where he received little food and even less attention from teachers, Oliver was forced to cognize the world by himself, without any parental guidance that usually predetermines decision-making and behavioral patterns. Hence, while being childishly gullible and easy to persuade, which suggests the flexibility of his personality and perspective, Oliver, nonetheless, has several developed virtues that are a basis of his attempts to live a moral life. Thus, while some children find it hard to distinguish between right and wrong, Oliver seems to be capable of doing so without excessive cognitive effort or moral preaching. Hence, having first met Artful Dodger, Oliver examines his appearance and presumes his immoral lifestyle, which makes the protagonist decide he does not want to be associated with the person of this kind, and that their communication must end as soon as he gets to London. The latter is particularly unusual for a person with a misfortunate background, given the condition of the Poor Laws, which forced people to search for any source of earnings, both legal and illegal. At the same time, the social environment of Victorian England shaped the stereotype of an orphan as a human being that was doomed from his/her birth to suffer from poverty and who is likely to pursue the path of crime. While orphans are expected to be raised evil and angry in their nature, possessing these qualities virtually from the first minutes of their lives, Oliver appears to be resistant to the corruption of the unjust situation as well as to the innate mean-spiritedness. Instead, his world perception appears to be formed in defiance to the hardships of his life, as he keeps challenging the whole system of Victorian beliefs by his “otherness”.
The latter, in its turn, can be regarded as a background for another virtue of the protagonist – his inner innocence. Throughout the novel, Oliver feels terror almost every time he faces injustice or violation of moral laws. Thus, he is horrified when Fagin forces him to take part in a burglary or when he sees boys in Fagin’s house drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking pipes. At the same time, when Fagin tells Artful Dodger he intends to teach Oliver to remove the marks on the stolen handkerchiefs, the protagonist does not take them seriously and believes they are joking until he watches Dodger “at work” days later. Oliver’s innocence metaphorically shields him from the immoral actions, protecting his worldview from the impact of social corruption. Although merging with naivety, which is highly untypical for a person with Oliver’s background, the innocence of the main character both allows him to be manipulated and prevents him from transforming into one of the immoral people that surround him.
While supporting the desire to live a moral life, Oliver’s virtues complicate his existence among the criminals and “underdogs”. Hence, one of his distinctive qualities – the sense of justice – stands in the way of his assimilation into the world of crime. Although somewhat oxymoronic for the victim of utmost social injustice, the aforesaid virtue separates Oliver from the masses and justifies his involvement in criminal actions. Hence, when forced to participate in a burglary with Sikes, Oliver decides to warn the family even though he is aware of his role in the crime. Similarly, after discovering Fagin’s real business, Oliver attempts to run away. Furthermore, the protagonist’s sense of justice is obvious enough to make him innocent in the eyes of the victims of the crimes he took part in.
In conclusion, Oliver’s virtues can be interpreted as his “ticket to a better life”, helping him to earn people’s trust. Although hyperbolized, these qualities are a prerequisite for the development of the protagonist as an honest and uncorrupted character, in spite of the repeated attempts of antagonists to turn him onto the path of crime. At the same time, they allow Oliver to rebel against his social predestination and break the stereotype of an “evil orphan” by living a life in the most moral way possible.
In his novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens attempted to contradict the commonly held social misconception that all orphans and paupers were evil and corrupted by their nature. Thus, Oliver Twist was created as a character that breaks almost every stereotype that existed at the time. Moreover, he is presented in peremptory opposition to the environment he originates from and is being repeatedly forced into. Therefore, the main conflict in the novel, opposition between Oliver and society, originates from Dickens’ idea to prove that it is the society that corrupts people, and it is the environment that should be resisted.
The conflict takes its origin from Oliver’s birth. The author describes that he was delivered by a parish doctor and an intoxicated nurse and that his mother died immediately after labor - a setting that foreshadows the misfortunes of Oliver’s future life. This point can be regarded as a basis of the conflict as well as a situation that determines its subsequent development. The unspoken social protocol of the time dictated that orphans had a miserable life ahead of them, and, being born in such an ill-fated environment. Consequently, the conflict develops along with the plotline. Hence, the rising action of the conflict bases on such situations as Oliver’s dissatisfaction with the undertaken apprenticeship (which bases on the injustice and indifference towards his master’s clients), his subsequent escape to London in search of a better life as a means of objecting to the society of his hometown, and his horror upon realizing Fagin’s occupation and what he was really involved in. At this point, Oliver understands that his surrounding did not change upon his arrival to London, and that is how he voluntarily decides to stand against the social environment. The climax of the conflict coincides with Oliver’s request for Sikes to let him go and consequently his decision to prevent the crime after being pushed through the window. After this point, Oliver is no longer involved in the conflict development directly, and the focus changes from his present to solving a mystery of his past. Therefore, the described plotline event can be regarded as a point of Oliver’s self-actualization as well as his complete and conscious neglect of the stereotype that was ascribed to him at birth.
Finally, the conflict becomes resolved at the end of the novel, when Oliver finds a family, and all of the people that mistreated him, such as Fagin, Mr. and Mrs. Bumble, Monks and Sikes, are punished for what they did. Although the resolution can appear somewhat utopian, Dickens’ idea that a person can be virtuous in spite of the environment is proven. Hence, having won the struggle with the society, Oliver succeeds in breaking the stereotype of an “evil pauper” and confirms the idea that it is actions, not origin, that people should be judged for.