Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Oliver Twist, a workhouse foundling, the helpless, abused hero of the novel. Both innocent and morally sensible, he gives force and sharpness, as well as a full measure of sentimentality, to Dickens’ vision of social injustice. Exploited from birth by the selfish managers of the poor farm and workhouse, he is apprenticed to a mortician. Treated cruelly, he runs off to London, where he is taken in by a gang of thieves. Falsely arrested as a pickpocket, he is rescued for a time by Mr. Brownlow and then recaptured by the thieves. He is wounded during a burglary attempt and saved from arrest by Mrs. Maylie and her adopted daughter, who care for him until the mystery of his birth is solved and the criminals are taken or killed. Mr. Brownlow offers him a permanent home.
Mr. Brownlow, the kindhearted, benevolent man who delivers Oliver Twist from a vicious judge, gives him care and trust, solves the question of his parentage, and finally adopts him.
Mrs. Maylie, the gentle, good-hearted woman who takes Oliver in after he has been wounded and is being hunted as a burglar. She sees that he is happy and cared for until he finds a lasting home with Mr. Brownlow.
Rose Maylie, her adopted daughter, the tender, lovely girl who nurses Oliver and helps expose the treachery that surrounds him. Later, it turns out that she...
(The entire section is 841 words.)
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Themes and Characters
Dickens's story revolves around young Oliver Twist, an orphan brought up at a "charitable" institution "where twenty or thirty other juvenile offenders against the poor-laws rolled about on the floor all day, without the inconvenience of too much food or too much clothing." After nine years Oliver graduates to a workhouse for young orphans. There his starving fellow sufferers elect him to ask for more food, in punishment for which Oliver is sold to an undertaker. Eventually Oliver runs away, making his painful way to London. Penniless and hungry, Oliver is befriended by a young thief, the Artful Dodger, who introduces him to Fagin and his gang, the evil Bill Sikes, and Sikes's lover, Nancy. Steadfastly resisting the criminals' attempts to corrupt him, Oliver eventually escapes, discovers his true parentage, and receives the respect he deserves. Dickens does a creditable job of making Oliver's unshakable goodness believable. Despite the book's title, however, Oliver has less to do with the story's action than do most protagonists. Other characters act toward him or around him more than he acts on his own; his essentially passive role in the novel makes him less interesting than some of the other, more fully drawn characters.
The villains of Oliver Twist are the novel's most memorable characters. Bill Sikes is stupid, strong, insensitive, and thoroughly evil. With no respect for human life, he insults, threatens, or beats every living thing that gets...
(The entire section is 701 words.)
Oliver is born in a workhouse to an unknown woman whose name, the reader learns much later, is Agnes Fleming. He is sensitive, compassionate, kind, loyal, and gentle, and no matter how much he is abused and mistreated, he retains these qualities as well as his deep faith in the innate goodness of people. At times he seems rather naïve; for example, when he sees the members of Fagin's gang practicing picking Fagin's pockets and when he goes out with them to steal but has no idea they are thieves until they run off and he is apprehended for the deed. An example of his loyalty is his love for his childhood friend Dick; when he goes back to the workhouse, his first thought is to find Dick, and he is crushed to learn that Dick has since died. Although he is badly treated by many people in the book and comes to fear them, he never hates them. Similarly, although Monks has spent most of his life trying to ruin Oliver's, Oliver has no hard feelings against him and divides his own inheritance with Monks, although Monks is legally entitled to nothing.
(The entire section is 194 words.)
See Jack Dawkins.
Barney is a waiter at the Three Cripples, a pub where the thieves hang out. He has a nasal condition, so everything he says sounds like he has a cold.
Charley Bates is a member of Fagin's gang and is most notable for his habit of laughing all the time, even when it's inappropriate.
Mrs. Bedwin is a comforting, motherly old woman, very clean and neat. She is Mr. Brownlow's housekeeper and takes care of Oliver when Mr. Brownlow takes him in. Even when Mr. Brownlow becomes disillusioned about Oliver's true nature, her faith in Oliver never wavers.
Betsy is a member of Fagin's gang; she is not really pretty but is healthy looking and loyal to the gang.
The bookseller runs the book stall where Mr. Brownlow stands reading when the Artful Dodger and Charley Bates pick his pockets. They run away, and Oliver is accused of the crime, but the bookseller follows him to court and insists on testifying that he is innocent. He is "an elderly man with decent but poor appearance."
Brittles is a servant of Mrs. Maylie's. Although he is over thirty years old, he is considered a "boy" by the others in the household, indicating that he may be a little slow.
Mr. Brownlow is a wealthy, respectable...
(The entire section is 1889 words.)