Born in a public workhouse of a destitute mother, it was uncertain whether Oliver Twist, whose mother nearly dies in childbirth, would survive. In his description, the humor of Dickens evidences itself in the fourth paragraph of the novel after Dickens narrates that poor Oliver lay struggling for breath on an old mattress:
Now, if during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses and doctors of profound wisdom, he most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time.
When the little Oliver makes it safely into life, the doctor hands the baby to his mother, who kisses him, and dies. For the next year, Oliver is "brought up by hand" in a "systematic course of treachery and deception as the parish authorities "farmed out" the orphans. An elderly woman in charge of the orphans kept a large percentage of the money the children made, and fed them with the rest. So, Oliver was underfed and rarely had a bath:
Hunger and ill-usage are great assistants if you want to cry; and Oliver cried very naturally indeed.
Perhaps the most famous scene of Oliver's childhood is the scene in which he asks for more to eat: "Please, sir, I want some more." His statement convinces a boardmember that Oliver "will come to be hung." When Oliver is almost apprenticed as a chimney sweep, he begs the magistrate not to sign him; the man feel sympathetic and does not sign. After this, Oliver goes to work for an undertaker named Mr. Sowerberry, but has problems with another boy, Noah, who is a charity-boy, by whom Oliver is beaten severely. After this, Oliver runs away to London where he meets a strange young man named John Dawkins, better known as "the artful Dodger." After feeding Oliver, the Dodger takes Oliver in the dark to London. In the morning, Oliver wakes and sees no one in the room but "the Old Jew," whom the reader learns is Faggin. Faggin trains Oliver to be a pickpocket. One day as Oliver is learning his trade, a Mr. Brownlow chases the boys and apprehends Oliver. He later has Oliver released into his company.
Ironically, the reader later learns that Mr. Brownlow is actually the grandfather of Oliver. But at this point, the kind gentleman has merely taken in Oliver, who falls ill. After he recovers, Oliver is stolen back by Fagin's boys. Mr. Brownlow searches for Oliver and finally rescues him. Brownlow does all he can to help restore Oliver to his family.
Like his dear friend, Dick, who dies in the workhouse, Oliver is child who is positive and always thinks well of people. He is sensitive, compassionate, loving, loyal, and gentle.
Oliver is a pretty good looking kid, and rather upbeat for having grown up in the workhouse for most of his life. He is also rather cheeky and has the tendency to put himself forward when it isn't necessarily called for. The musical based on the book does quite a great job of pointing this out when he famously asks for "more."
In the novel, it is also important to note that he is incredibly naive but at the same time very intelligent, two things that are in seeming contrast in some ways. But he doesn't always allow his situation to get him down, though he does often get very disappointed when the people he trusts (whom he trusts rather easily) do let him down.