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“Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 5th, 2021

Introduction

Oliver Twist is a novel that was written by Charles Dickens and recounts the life of a young orphan faced with lots of hardship in the streets of London. Oliver Twist, born in a poor family living in Mudfog, is orphaned during his birth. Although he survives after the death of the mother, he is forced to lead a life full of hardship following an unexplained disappearance of the father. Forced to live under the care of cruel people who are keen on inflicting pain on him, he learns to endure the cruelty of the world.

He finds himself is a gang of young pickpockets in the city of London. However, his character stands out as one who cares for others and willing to sacrifice personal benefits for the sake of the friends. This novel can be classified as children’s literature. The major characters used on the novel, the author’s choice of words, the style used in the narration, and even the common jokes are all targeted to children. As Gourlay and Grant (90) explain, this is an archetype narrative where the prophetic characters in Oliver Twist make him unique from other characters in the book.1 This research paper will look at the five elements that make Oliver Twist a prophetic character.

Discussion

The novel ‘Oliver Twist’ presents the life of a young boy who faces a series of life misfortunes from birth. The fact that the mother died immediately after giving birth to the young Oliver is not enough. He finds himself faced with object poverty, especially after the disappearance of the father. Dickens (7) says, “If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies….”2 This is a demonstration that he was orphaned at a very tender age.

He is forced to live in a children’s farm where life is not easy. The young lad moves from the children’s farm to live with an undertaker. Life does not get any better, especially due to the mistreatments against him by the undertaker’s wife. He then finds himself in the street life, with a gang of pickpockets under the leadership Fagin. However, Oliver’s problem seems not to go away. Inasmuch as Oliver Twist is faced with all the injustices that life can offer to such a young child, he stands out as a morally upright person.

Even when he is forced to engage in pick pocketing, he strikes as a child that is unique among the rest. His ability to understand fellow children, act in their favor, and forego personal benefits does not match the injustices and unfair treatment he has been facing since his birth. This makes him a prophetic character in this novel. The following five areas may help substantiate that Oliver Twist is a prophetic character as presented in this novel.

A Sense of Consciousness that is Different from a Regular Individual

According to Bellett (75), a prophetic character must a sense of consciousness that is different from that of regular individuals.3 Such a character understands what the society considers as ideal, and always tries to ensure that he or she lives by it. The character also makes a conscious effort to ensure that their actions do not offend others, but if it does by mistake, they are quick to apologize because of the desire not to harm others. This is a trait that is seen in Oliver Twist. As a young child living in the streets, Oliver was always ahead of his peers in understanding various factors within the environment. He was keen on uniting the peers towards a common goal for the benefit of all. Even in the instances when he was forced to engage in criminal activities such as robbing, he was always compassionate about issues to do with helping his peers.

Influence Gained Through Nature Not Nurture, and High Morals within the Character

According to Dijk (64), most of the prophetic characters are always influenced by nature, not through nurturing, and they always have high moral standards.4 As mentioned previously, these are characters who were orphaned at a very early age. They learn life through what they experience, what nature presents to them. Nature becomes their teacher in many instances of their lives. However, instead of picking the negative lessons about life from what they get through nature, they uniquely become individuals of high morals, and ability to lead a righteous life. Oliver Twist went through the harsh realities of being a poor orphan.

Dickens (20) says, “And yet he burst into an agony of childish grief as the cottage gate closed after him.”5 He was finally taken in by Mr. Brownlow’s family after being released by the court. In this family, he exhibits high standards of morality and respect to the members of this family. In his entire life, he had been used to hardship and life of scavenging. What this family presented to him was very different from what nature had taught him.

However, he portrays the traits of a gentleman, a sign that he picked the best out of what nature had to offer him. He wins the trust of Mr. Brownlow who sends him for errands that requires payments (Dickens 46).6 Every time he was sent, he would dutifully make the payments and bring back any balances after accounting for everything. In this family, no one had any genuine complains about his character. He was a perfect boy, respectable and respecting in the eyes of Mr. Brownlow.

A Strong Sense of Self Criticism

In many cases, people tend to hurt others or act selfishly because of their inability to criticize themselves. According to Frost (21), self-criticism is very important when it comes to administering justice to others.7 Self-assessment of an action that one plans to take makes it possible to establish the possible outcome it may have on others. Prophetic characters always have a strong sense of self-criticism, especially when making a decision that may have an impact on others. Whenever they realize that they have done or just about to do what is morally wrong, they would criticize such thoughts or actions and make genuine efforts to correct such mistakes.

As shown in this novel, Oliver was always quick to criticize himself whenever he felt that he had done something wrong. He was always mindful of others. His compassionate nature stirred a unique desire in him to avoid doing anything that may be considered immoral in the society. Being a human being, sometimes the desire to act in self interest would overwhelm him. However, his conscience would never allow his an opportunity to do wrong. He would criticize himself for thoughts that he considered being too materialistic. This is seen when he makes a quick decision to share his inheritance with the strange brother who had planned to kill him. He respects Mrs. Sowerberry even though the lady mistreats her. Dickens (66) says, “Oliver lingered no longer, but meekly followed his new mistress.”8 He obeys his mistress.

A Personality that is Compassionate and Understanding towards Others

A prophetic character is compassionate and very understanding towards others. According to Carroll (32), these characters are always keen on ensuring that people around them are not subjected to pain and suffering when they have the capacity to assist in order to overcome the situation.9 Sometimes their sense of compassion is used against them, but this does not stop them from offering assistance to those who need it. Oliver Twist is such a character, a selfless young lad who is keen on making the life of people around him better whenever he has an opportunity. His compassionate and understanding nature to the plight of others is seen when he decides to assist Nancy. Oliver has been released by the cost following his arrest when stealing under the command of Fagin.

Upon his release, he went to stay with the Brownlow’s who cares for him (Carroll 76).10 However, Fagin was keen on ensuring that he is back to his criminal gang, fearing that Oliver could betray him to the authorities, having been part of the gang before. Fagin uses Nancy, who pretends to request for Oliver’s assistance, to trap him and bring him back to the group. So Nancy approaches Oliver, against her own wish, and asks for his help.

As directed by Fagin, she directs her to a hideout where Fagin’s boys can kidnap him and take him back to their master. Oliver knew that those hideouts were dangerous. However, the desire to help Nancy surpassed the need to avoid the dangers posed by these hideouts. Unfortunately for him, he is kidnapped and taken back to Fagin (Watts and House 84).11 What is strange is that fact that he does not hold personal grudge against Nancy, the young girl who lured him back to the gang.

A High Sense of Awareness and Self-Decorum

According to Petersen (42), another important trait of the prophetic characters is the high sense of awareness and self-decorum.12 As Pilcher (31) says, to earn respect, one must start by respecting self. This way, he or she will learn the importance of respecting others.13 Oliver Twist was a man of decorum. His modest behavior earned him respect among many people. The family of Mr. Brownlow loved Oliver because of his modesty.

He respected everyone in the family, irrespective of their age or gender. He knew how important this was as a way of holding the family fabric together. When he was taken in the second time by Rose Maylie’s, a family he was supposed to rob, Ellis and Ravelli (83) says in their analysis, “Oliver demonstrated the same self-decorum that earned him love and admiration in the family.” One may argue that Oliver was modest in these two families because of the benefits he got. However, an analysis of this book demonstrates he was modest throughout his life. Even when he was forced into pick pocketing, he was always conscious of the evil nature of such acts, only that he never had an option. He respected his peers and this explains why Nacy, a friend who once betrayed him, dies trying to defend him.

Conclusion

In the book ‘Oliver Twist’, Oliver comes out as a prophetic character. An orphan forced through difficulties in life at a tender age, grows up to become an honest young man, very understanding and concerned of the well-being of the people around him. He comes out as a prophetic character, an individual who is willing to sacrifice personal benefits for the well-being of others.

Works Cited

Bellett, J G. Short Meditations on the Psalms: Chiefly in Their Prophetic Character. London: A.S. Rouse, 1902. Print.

Carroll, Michael. Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening. New York: Philomel Books, 2007. Print.

Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Surrey: Nelson, 1998. Print.

Dijk, Teun. Discourse and Literature. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Pub. Co, 1985. Print.

Ellis, Robert A, and LouiseJ Ravelli. Analysing Academic Writing: Contextualized Frameworks. London: Continuum, 2005. Print.

Frost, Mark. Understanding the Themes in Oliver Twist. New York: Cengage, 2014. Print.

Gourlay, Alexander, and John Grant. Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant. West Cornwall: Locust Hill Press, 2002. Print.

Petersen, David L. The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. Print.

Pilcher, Carmel T. The Prophetic Character of Eucharist. New Jesrsey: Wiley & Sons, 2001. Print.

Watts, James, and Paul House. Forming Prophetic Literature: Essays on Isaiah and the Twelve in Honor of John D.w. Watts. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996. Internet resource.

Footnotes

  1. Gourlay, Alexander S, and John E. Grant. Prophetic Character: Essays on William Blake in Honor of John E. Grant. West Cornwall, CT: Locust Hill Press, 2002. 90. Print.
  2. Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Surrey: Nelson, 1998. 7. Print.
  3. Bellett, J G. Short Meditations on the Psalms: Chiefly in Their Prophetic Character. London: A.S. Rouse, 1902. 75. Print.
  4. Dijk, Teun. Discourse and Literature. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Pub. Co, 1985. Print.
  5. Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Surrey: Nelson, 1998. 20. Print.
  6. Ibid 46.
  7. Frost, Mark. Understanding the Themes in Oliver Twist. New York: Cengage, 2014. 64. Print.
  8. Dickens, Charles. Oliver Twist. Surrey: Nelson, 1998. 20. Print.
  9. Carroll, Michael. Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening. New York: Philomel Books, 2007.76. Print.
  10. Carroll, 76.
  11. Watts, James, and Paul House. Forming Prophetic Literature: Essays on Isaiah and the Twelve in Honor of John D.w. Watts. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996. 84. Print.
  12. Petersen, David L. The Prophetic Literature: An Introduction. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002. Print.
  13. Pilcher, Carmel T. The Prophetic Character of Eucharist. , 2001. 31. Print.
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