Oliver Twist Summary

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is an 1839 novel about a boy named Oliver who is born in a workhouse in Victorian England.

  • Oliver leaves the workhouse to serve an undertaker, but he soon runs away for London.
  • Oliver meets the Artful Dodger and the evil Fagin and unwittingly joins their gang of thieves.

  • Oliver is arrested, reprieved, kidnapped, and forced to break into the house of Rose Maylie, who turns out to be his aunt. The Maylie family takes Oliver in. 

  • Oliver ultimately learns of his origins and inherits a large sum of money. He thereafter lives a respectable life.

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Last Updated on April 21, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1403

Oliver Twist is an English orphan who grows up in an unnamed town near London. He is raised in the parochial system, an institution that abuses him for much of his childhood. Mr. Bumble, the town beadle, uses his power to assault poor children and paupers. When Oliver asks for more gruel at mealtime, he is beaten and locked up. Oliver is eventually placed with the undertaker Mr. Sowerberry, who treats him fairly. However, after suffering at the hands of the other household servants, Oliver runs away to London.

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On his way to London, Oliver meets Jack, also known as “the Artful Dodger,” who takes him to a criminal named Fagin. Oliver joins Fagin’s gang and is struck by the other boys who live with him: they dress and act like adults. Eventually, Oliver is allowed to go out with the boys, and he witnesses Charley stealing a handkerchief. Oliver, panicked, begins to flee the scene, causing the target, a man named Mr. Brownlow, to think Oliver is guilty. A chase ensues, and Oliver is caught and brought to the magistrate.

Once the case is dismissed, Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver home with him, where Oliver falls ill and is kindly nursed by Mrs. Bedwin. When Oliver recovers, he expresses his deep gratitude. Meanwhile, Fagin is desperately trying to locate Oliver and has sent Nancy to find information on the boy. Nancy discovers where Oliver is staying, and the thieves plan to kidnap him and bring him back to Fagin. One evening, Oliver energetically volunteers to run an errand for Brownlow. While out on his mission, Oliver is abducted by Nancy in the streets and brought back to Fagin.

Oliver is terrified and tries to escape. Fagin begins to beat him, but Nancy protects him from a second blow. Fagin and the boys continue to train Oliver, who lives in fear of Fagin’s threats. Fagin and Sikes work on a plan to rob a house near Chertsey. Sikes is in need of a small boy to gain access to the house, and Fagin volunteers Oliver. Nancy transports Oliver to Sikes’s apartment, and they make their way toward Chertsey. Sikes does not give Oliver any details, so Oliver does not realize what is happening until Sikes orders him to go through the small window; he begs the men to not make him steal anything. Sikes threatens the boy with his pistol, so Oliver proceeds but drops his lantern inside, rousing some of the house’s tenants. The robbers are chased away. Oliver is shot, and Sikes tries to carry him while running but eventually leaves Oliver in a ditch so he can flee.

Back in London, Fagin learns that Oliver was shot and abandoned; he tries to find Sikes, but no one has seen him. Fagin meets Monks, whom he recruits to help him find the boy. Oliver wakes up in the ditch. He sees the very house he and the burglars targeted the night before but has no choice but to seek help there. Rose Maylie—an orphan herself and Mrs. Lindsay Maylie’s adopted ward—insists they treat him kindly, and Oliver is placed in a bed upstairs. The family doctor, Mr. Losberne, thinks the boy will recover. When he is strong enough, Oliver tells the residents his entire tragic history, which moves everyone who hears it. Most of the residents agree that Oliver should be protected from the police and that Giles and Brittles should give conflicting accounts of the robbery.

Oliver recovers; soon, they retire to a country cottage, and Oliver lives an idyllic life amongst nature and friends. One evening, though, Rose becomes extremely ill. Oliver is sent to the village where he must post a letter, and he has a strange encounter with a man he does not know. At the Maylie cottage, Lindsay Maylie and Oliver pass a tense night, but Rose miraculously recovers, and Harry Maylie, Lindsay’s son, arrives the next morning, clearly shaken up. Harry and his mother converse about his wish to marry Rose, and Lindsay alludes to a detail of Rose’s history that would make the marriage a mistake. During this time, Oliver has a strange dream that he is back with Fagin, and he wakes up to see Fagin and Monks, the strange man from the village, at his window. He screams in horror and sends his friends on a chase that results in nothing but confusion.

Once Rose recovers, Harry proposes to her, but she insists that she would jeopardize his ambitions. Monks and Mr. Bumble cross paths at a pub. Monks recognizes him as the former beadle and inquires about Oliver. Bumble is in possession of something Monks desires, and so they meet at a dilapidated house, where Monks pays Bumble and his wife for the items—a locket and ring engraved with the name Agnes. Monks then swiftly throws the jewelry into the river.

Sikes continues a long recovery from a fever he contracted following the botched robbery. When visiting Fagin to get money for Sikes, Nancy eavesdrops on a conversation between Monks and Fagin. After bringing Sikes the money and drugging him so he’ll stay asleep, Nancy goes to meet Rose Maylie. Nancy tells Rose about what she heard pass between Monks and Fagin: Monks destroyed some evidence of Oliver’s identity. Rose is shocked but wants to help Nancy, who refuses her charity. Nancy says that they can meet again on London Bridge on a Sunday night. Oliver comes in from a carriage ride excited because he has spotted Mr. Brownlow. Rose and Oliver return to the address where he saw Brownlow, and Rose facilitates a happy reunion facilitated between Oliver, Brownlow, and Mrs. Bedwin. Meanwhile, Rose tells Brownlow the details of her conversation with Nancy. They decide to have a meeting at the hotel with their entire party.

Noah and Charlotte (Sowerberry’s servants) arrive in London and join Fagin’s gang. Jack has been arrested for stealing a snuffbox. Nancy attempts to leave Sikes’s apartment on Sunday evening to meet Rose but he stops her, because she will not say where she is going. Fagin becomes suspicious; he asks Noah, now known as Morris Bolter, to follow Nancy. On the next Sunday, Nancy does meet with Rose and Brownlow, and Noah hears the entire conversation. It is revealed that Brownlow already knows who Monks is, a story that will be filled in later. They plead with Nancy to give up Fagin and let them help her reform her life, but she repeats her claims that Fagin’s circle is the only community she knows. Sikes retaliates by brutally murdering Nancy and then leaving town.

Brownlow finds Monks and threatens him into cooperation. Monks is actually named Edward Leeford, and his father was Brownlow’s best friend. Monks and Oliver are half-brothers, the former the product of the elder Leeford’s marriage to an older woman and the latter the illegitimate child of Leeford and a country girl named Agnes. Monks absorbed his mother’s hatred of Leeford, so he sabotaged Oliver and kept him from the knowledge of his parents and inheritance.

Sikes returns to London and goes to a run-down building on the Thames, where other thieves associated with Fagin are sheltering. The police have followed him and a crowd angered by Sikes’s murder of Nancy has assembled. Sikes tries to escape with a rope but inadvertently hangs himself. Fagin has also been arrested—surrounded by a crowd hurling insults at him as the police drag him to prison.

Oliver’s friends travel to his birthplace, where Oliver and Rose hear their full histories. Monks is made to tell everyone about his relation to Oliver and his attempt to keep Oliver from his inheritance. The Bumbles are brought in to confirm that Monks destroyed the evidence, and Bumble tries to pretend that he was always supportive of Oliver. It is revealed that Rose is Agnes’s sister and therefore Oliver’s aunt. Harry proposes to Rose again; she accepts, because he has decided to give up his prior social status and prospects and become a clergyman. Fagin is sentenced to death. The circle of friends continues to live in harmony, and many of them move into houses near each other in and around Harry’s parish. Harry and Rose happily marry, and Oliver is adopted by Brownlow.

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