Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)

Oliver Twist was the second book by Charles Dickens, and was the first one to portray a child in the main role. The book tells of the struggles of this boy, Oliver Twist, having been born in poverty and suffering through large sections of his life. The book also portrays an England of that time as a time of suffering for the poor (something that typically does not come through many historical books of that period, which concentrate on the richer class of society). Charles Dickens is acknowledged as an all-time great writer, with his portrayal of a life more than ordinary. His characters typically go through great suffering, physical and emotional; sometimes they come out trumps, and many times their condition does not really improve that much. Books by Charles Dickens are a must read for most English literature courses, and once you read the book (and get through the emotions, you realize that these are great books).

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Many of Charles Dicken's books were serialized in magazines, with a chapter appearing in each issue of the magazine. Similarly, Oliver Twist was published in monthly installments in a magazine called 'Bentley's Miscellany' (starting in February 1837 and through to April 1839), with a steel etching by George Cruikshank for every installment. The book has 2 very famous phrases - 'Please, sir, I want some more', and 'The Law is a Ass'.
The story is about this poor orphan (his mother died in childbirth and father was absent) called Oliver Twist, who is forced to spend the first 9 years of his life at a 'baby farm' run by a lady called Mrs. Mann, done under the auspices of a law called the Poor Law. In reality, he is brought up in a life of few, with bad conditions and inadequate food. Around his 9th birthday, he is removed from the poorhouse and sent to work in a place with inadequate food. There, through a draw of lots, he utters a line that angers the folks running the establishment, 'Please, sir, I want some more'. They decided to send him off with anybody who is willing to pay 5 pounds; Oliver manages to avoid being sent off with a chimney sweep, instead he is sent off with Mr. Sowerberry (who is an undertaker for the local parish). Mr. Sowerberry treats Oliver well, and this angers his wife who treats Oliver badly. Similarly, another employee Noah Claypole and the maidservant Charlotte also mistreat Oliver.
Eventually, Oliver attacks Noah after one insult too many, and after being punished for this, Oliver runs away, wandering aimlessly for some time before heading towards London. in the journey, he encounters a gentleman by the name of Jack Dawkins, and this encounter is liable to cause him many problems; Jack Dawkins is not called the 'Artful Dodger' for no reasons, he lures Oliver to a lair called Saffron Hill that is the headquarters for the criminal called Fagin. He sets out with Dodger and another boy once for 'making handkerchiefs' and realizes too late that their mission is to do pick-pocketing. They are chased, and only Oliver gets arrested. He only escapes prison when a witness clears him. He is taken in by an elderly gentleman called Mr. Brownlow who cares for him.
However, this is shortlived as Fagin gets him back with the help of an accomplice called Nancy; and he is forced to take part in a burglary. The burglary goes bad and Oliver gets shot, however, he is again saved when the occupants of the house take him in and care for him. By this time, Nancy wants to save Oliver. Things start turning bad when a new person called Monks (who wants to destroy Oliver) joins Fagin's gang. Nancy manages to protect him till her secret of trying to protect Oliver is revealed and her lover Sykes kills her, and is himself killed while escaping.
And then the secret of Monks is revealed; he is Oliver's half-brother and is searching for Oliver in order to destroy him (not searching out of any love, but more to destroy him). Monks makes up with Oliver reluctantly, and moves to America where he eventually dies in prison after reverting to crime. Fagin is also arrested and sentenced to death. And then things turn out better for Oliver, with finding his mother's half-sister in the form of Rose. He eventually lives happily ever after with Mr. Brownlow.

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