In Dickens's Oliver Twist, can a passive character, such as Oliver, display virtue?Oliver Twist's virtue

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In the context of Victorian England, the typical heroine is a passive, long-suffering character.  Therefore, goodness is associated with passivity. Little Oliver Twist, loving and tender toward his friend at the Workhouse--poor, long-suffering Dick--is much like the Victorian heroine  of another novel of Dickens, Lucie Manette.  Much like Lucie of A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver is sensitive, compassionate, kind, loyal, and gentle. Despite his being abused and mistreated, Oliver remains innocent and retains his deep faith in the innate goodness of people as exemplified in Chapter XIV as he obeys the housekeeper.  After Mr. Brownlow buys him a new suit of clothes, he tells Oliver that he can do what he likes with his old clothes--

...he gave them to a servant who had been very kind to him, and asked her to sell them to a [ragpicker], and keep the money for herself.

And, in Chapter XVI after Mr. Brownlow entrusts Oliver with books to return, Oliver is captured by Sikes; immediately, he begs Sikes and Nancy to return the books to Mr. Brownlow so that he will not think Oliver has stolen them.  Oliver's honest heart cannot stand the thought that others will think he has stolen:

Oh, pray send them back; send him back the books and money. Keep me here all my life long; but pray, pray send them back. He'll think I stole them; the old lady: all of them who were so kind to me: will think I stole them. Oh, do have mercy upon me, and send them back!'

Oliver is likened to the "meek" of the New Testament "meek who shall inherit the world." Again, like Lucie Manette for whom others strive to protect her and make life better for her, Nancy finally risks her life to save little, innocent and pure Oliver.  So, perhaps Oliver's greatest virtue is that, like the meek of the Bible, he inspires virtue in others.


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