Discuss the theme of coincidence in Oliver Twist. Do you think it is acceptable?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The coincidences in Oliver Twist are pretty extraordinary, to say the least. In the hands of a lesser writer they'd be ridiculous and absurd. To take but one example, Oliver is forced to go with Bill Sikes to burgle a house one night. The burglary goes badly, and yet the...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

The coincidences in Oliver Twist are pretty extraordinary, to say the least. In the hands of a lesser writer they'd be ridiculous and absurd. To take but one example, Oliver is forced to go with Bill Sikes to burgle a house one night. The burglary goes badly, and yet the family whose house was broken into take pity on Oliver and care for him. The owner of the house, a certain Mrs. Maylie, has an adopted daughter called Rose. In one of the many astonishing coincidences in the book, Rose just happens to be Oliver's aunt, the orphaned sister of his mother. Rose is instrumental in persuading Nancy to help save Oliver from the evil clutches of Bill Sikes, Monks, and Fagin.

It's arguable that this particular coincidence is therefore very important for the subsequent development of the plot. Furthermore, the chance meeting of Oliver and Rose is entirely in keeping with the overall tone of the book. Oliver and his aunt are held together by a bond of love and affection before they become aware that they're actually related. As is often the case with Dickens, high sentimentality is never far away. But as with the accompanying coincidences, it's a sign of Dickens's talent as a writer that his rich characterizations and remarkable eye for detail provide more than adequate compensation.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Any reader of Dickens will know that he often relies on rather incredible leaps of the imagination to make us believe the stories he is writing. Often critics have judged Dickens very harshly for his reliance on the amazing power of coincidence. In this novel, one of the biggest elements of coincidence is when the Artful Dodger just happens to steal from Mr. Brownlow, who in turn just happens to be a relative of Oliver and a very kind and gentle man who implicitly trusts a character such as Oliver, who most people would have handed over to the authorities. Examining such events from this viewpoint, we can clearly see that so much of the plot relies centrally on coincidence.

However, it is a mark of the skill of Dickens that he is such a compelling storyteller that we often choose to overlook such leaps of the imagination and just settle into enjoying the story. We willingly partake in what is called "the suspension of disbelief" as we basically enjoy the story so much that we accept such coincidences without questioning them. In a sense, another way of looking at these coincidences would be to say that, actually, life is made up of such coincidences, and so perhaps it could be considered realistic that they are such key elements in these stories that do so much to reflect life.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team