What does 'the child' symbolise in Oliver Twist?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The importance of the figure of the child, personified in the character of Oliver, is of immense importance to the novel as a whole and the ideas and values that Dickens is trying to present us with. Dickens seems eager to depict a model of childhood that stresses the innocence and naivety, but at the same time the capacity for goodness that is present in children and which burns out like a torch no matter what darkness is surrounding it. Apparently, according to George Gissing, Dickens once said of the character of Oliver that:

I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last.

This perhaps helps explain the presentation of Oliver in this novel and the way that, although he is often used against his will by various n'er-do-wells, such as Bil Sykes and Fagin, these experiences only seem to reinforce the way in which Oliver is at heart an uncorruptible character whose goodness triumphs over evil throughout the novel. Even though Fagin and his cronies try to quash this goodness, Oliver's innocence is shown to be a force to be reckoned with. The child, then, symbolises the goodness and incorruptible nature of the human spirit, which sadly is faced with so many infinitely corruptible examples on its journey.


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