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What is/are the main conflict(s) in Oliver Twist?

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kamkelms | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 21, 2009 at 11:52 AM via web

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What is/are the main conflict(s) in Oliver Twist?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 21, 2009 at 4:48 PM (Answer #1)

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In Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, the classical theme of Good vs. Evil undergirds the main conflict of Oliver's quest for identity and a place in the world: the boy against the world.  The good is most significantly represented by Oliver and Oliver's pitiable mother who struggles to the workhouse to give birth to the unfortunate Oliver.  Mr. Brownlow and Rose Maylie also represent the good and rescue Oliver permanently from the criminal life he has been forced to live. 

Exploited by the callous beadle, Mr. Bumble, Oliver runs away from his indenture master after being starved and beaten. He succeeds in getting the 75 miles to London only to become exploited by a more terrible force of evil, Fagin.  But, in the end, Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney, who ignore the humanity of the children in the workhouse, are implicated by their greed in a crime because valuables belonging to Agnes Fleming, Oliver's mother, were long ago stolen.

The evil forces are defeated as information on Fagin's whereabouts are given to Mr. Brownlow who sets in motion the "wheels of justice."  The criminals are all punished, Rose Maylie's name is cleared, and Oliver goes to live with Mr. Brownlow.

Concomitant to this conflict of boy against the world of evil characters is the conflict of good versus evil forces in the society that Dickens exposes in Oliver Twist.  Greatly concerned that society, in a metaphorical sense, was a jail, Dickens shows that the characters Oliver and the thieves are victims of England's Poor Laws and the social institutions that support the Laws while keeping the children alive only to discouraged them and isolate them.  Dickens exposes workhouse children as equally deprived of food, of warmth, and of decent living conditions.  Society, represented by the likes of corrupt Mr. Bumble, is confounded by mistaken beliefs in its attempts to control and improve the twin problem of the poor and the orphans. 

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