I'm having a lot of trouble finding scholarly written articles on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist that prove that Mrs.Mann, Artful Dodger, and the Monks are symbolic characters who help create the...

I'm having a lot of trouble finding scholarly written articles on Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist that prove that Mrs.Mann, Artful Dodger, and the Monks are symbolic characters who help create the theme of cruelty (either through their actions or things they say). I have been looking everywhere but I'm overwhelmed by the number of articles and am in desperate need for help!

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

To paraphrase Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his 1892 Sherlock Holmes short story Silver Blaze, the dog that didn’t bark could indicate that an absence of scholarly articles discussing the theme of evil and its personification in certain characters in Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist signifies that there is no answer to the question.  In other words, the absence of such articles could indicate that there is less to the suggestion that Dickens intended, consciously or not, for his characters to represent evil than one might anticipate to be the case, or, that some of these characters are so obviously representative of cruelty or evil that there is no real point in digging any deeper.  That said, there are several theses drafted by graduate students on the subject of Dickens and Oliver Twist that provide useful bits of analysis, especially with regard to the character of the Artful Dodger.  What follows are links to such material.

Megan Samples, "THIS WORLD OF SORROW AND TROUBLE": THE CRIMINAL TYPE OF OLIVER TWIST provides some interesting insights into the Artful Dodger and Monks, and includes sections devoted each of these two characters:

Section 3.3.2: The Artful Dodger

Section 3.3.5: Monks


The following Master’s thesis is the rare source of analytical information on the character of Mrs. Mann (“Charles Dickens dismisses the Poor Law officials who are represented by characters like Mr. Bumble, the church beadle and Mrs. Mann who sell the workhouse inmates into child labour and misuse the funds sent to care for the children.”)  Otherwise, little information on Mrs. Mann was located.



The The Cambridge Companion to Charles Dickens (edited by John O. Jordan) includes useful essays that provide insights into Dickens and his characters, especially those by Robert Newsome, Fictions of Childhood, which suggests that Oliver and the Artful Dodger are both reflections of the author’s own inner self, each representing opposite ends of the behavioral spectrum, and Murray Baumgarten, Fictions of the City, which similarly provides insights into the character of the dodger.

Daniela Dumovska, The Women in Charles Dickens’s Novel Oliver Twist, another graduate thesis, does not mention the character of Mrs. Mann despite the obvious relevance of the topic to the question at hand.


Finally, Charles Dickens as Social Commentator and Critic by Dr Andrzej Diniejko (D. Litt. in English Literature and Culture, Warsaw University; Contributing Editor, Poland) provides a small amount of analytical information regarding the personification of evil in Dickens’ characters:

“Dickens explores many social themes inOliver Twist, but three are predominant: the abuses of the new Poor Law system, the evils of the criminal world in London and the victimisation of children. The critique of the Poor Law of 1834 and the administration of the workhouse is presented in the opening chapters of Oliver Twist. Dickens gives the most uncompromising critique of the Victorian workhouse, which was run according to a regime of prolonged hunger, physical punishment, humiliation and hypocrisy.”


One reason for a shortage of scholarly articles discussing these three particular characters as symbolizing cruelty or evil is that Monks is so obviously the personification of cruelty anyway; he is on a mission to destroy the personification of innocence embodied in his half-brother, Oliver.  The Artful Dodger does not represent cruelty, let alone evil, because he, like Oliver, is a child and a victim of his circumstances.  As with Monks, Mrs. Mann is so obviously cruel that deeper analysis of this character would prove merely superfluous.  There’s no subtext to Mrs. Mann that would indicate she is anything but the pernicious director of an orphanage where the children are an afterthought.

kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A quick perusal of the early chapters in which the character of Jack Dawkins (aka “The Artful Dodger) is introduced provide some evidentiary passages that both illuminate the character’s seemingly intrinsically cruel nature, and the circumstances that serve to mitigate any such indictment.  From all appearances, one could conclude that the Dodger is possessed of certain sociopathic tendencies courtesy of his “upbringing” by the story’s more vicious character, that of Fagin.  Whether one wants to condemn the Dodger, a young boy, to the categorization of “cruel” or “evil” is a matter of opinion.  What follows, however, are passages that indicate both inherent cruelty and a potential mitigating factor suggesting the potential of a more benevolent character:

From Chapter VIII:

“The boy who addressed this inquiry to the young wayfarer, was about his own age: but one of the queerest looking boys that Oliver had even seen. He was a snub-nosed, flat-browed, common-faced boy enough; and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short of his age: with rather bow-legs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment—and would have done so, very often, if the wearer had not had a knack of every now and then giving his head a sudden twitch, which brought it back to its old place again. He wore a man's coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back, half-way up his arm, to get his hands out of the sleeves: apparently with the ultimate view of thrusting them into the pockets of his corduroy trousers; for there he kept them. He was, altogether, as roystering and swaggering a young gentleman as ever stood four feet six, or something less, in the bluchers.”

“Mr. Dawkin's appearance did not say a vast deal in favour of the comforts which his patron's interest obtained for those whom he took under his protection; but, as he had a rather flightly and dissolute mode of conversing, and furthermore avowed that among his intimate friends he was better known by the sobriquet of 'The Artful Dodger,' Oliver concluded that, being of a dissipated and careless turn, the moral precepts of his benefactor had hitherto been thrown away upon him. Under this impression, he secretly resolved to cultivate the good opinion of the old gentleman as quickly as possible; and, if he found the Dodger incorrigible, as he more than half suspected he should, to decline the honour of his farther acquaintance.”

Those passage provides clues to the Dodger’s underlying personality, which could conceivably have him develop on either side of the law.  He does, after all, take Oliver in and lead him to a source of shelter and sustenance, regardless of how decrepit those surroundings will prove to be.  The following quote, from Chapter X, provides further clues as to the environment in which the Dodger exists, and which can’t help but shape his character, in effect, the less-than-benevolent temperament of Fagin:

“Oliver was rendered the more anxious to be actively employed, by what he had seen of the stern morality of the old gentleman's character. Whenever the Dodger or Charley Bates came home at night, empty-handed, he would expatiate with great vehemence on the misery of idle and lazy habits; and would enforce upon them the necessity of an active life, by sending them supperless to bed. On one occasion, indeed, he even went so far as to knock them both down a flight of stairs; but this was carrying out his virtuous precepts to an unusual extent.”

And then, also in Chapter X, is a quote suggesting that the Dodger represents cruelty for its own sake – a quote that, absorbed in a vacuum, would certainly lead one to conclude that his is an intrinsically barbarous nature:

“The Dodger had a vicious propensity, too, of pulling the caps from the heads of small boys and tossing them down areas;”

The Dodger is hardly a role model for children straddling the line between right and wrong; that he is but a child forced into a life of servitude for the benefit of Fagin as his only chance of survival would, certainly by today’s standards, excuse his tendencies towards cruelty.

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Oliver Twist

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