Oliver Twist Themes


Good and Evil
According to George Gissing in Critical Study of the Works of Charles Dickens, Dickens once wrote, "I wished to show, in little Oliver, the principle of good surviving through every adverse circumstance, and triumphing at last." The novel does this but perhaps at the cost of depicting Oliver as a realistic character. Although he runs away from Mr. and Mrs. Sowerberry, in the remainder of the novel Oliver has little initiative or drive. He is the tool of thieves or the protégé of kind Samaritans, but he never purposefully seeks his own life or decides, on his own, what he must do.

Nevertheless, the pattern of good versus evil runs throughout the book; generally, the good people, like Oliver, Mr. Brownlow, and the Maylies, are very good, and the bad people, such as Fagin, Monks, and Sikes, are thoroughly bad. A rare exception is Nancy, who has led a corrupt life but who nevertheless yearns to protect Oliver and do some good. Despite these desires, however, she is so sunk in her own miserable life that she doesn't believe she can ever change; she feels she is doomed to die at the hands of the criminals, and she turns out to be right.

Other characters, such as Mr. Bumble and Mr. Fang, are presented as holders of positions of public trust who are nevertheless evil and untrustworthy. These characters, and the corrupt-but-good ones like Nancy, were intended to shock readers of Dickens's time out of their traditional class-based views, which held that the poor were often corrupt and criminal, whereas those who were wealthy or in high positions were automatically moral. One of the most corrupt and scheming people in the book is Monks's mother, a high-born and wealthy woman who proves to be an evil and...

(The entire section is 715 words.)