Oliver Twist Characters
The main characters in Oliver Twist are Oliver Twist, Fagin, Jack Dawkins, Mr. Brownlow, and Rose Maylie.
- Oliver Twist is the eponymous protagonist who, born an orphan, attains a better life through purity of character and good fortune.
- Fagin is the manipulative leader of a ring of child thieves.
- Jack Dawkins, also known as the Artful Dodger, is the most adept thief in Fagin's group.
- Mr. Brownlow is the gentleman who takes Oliver in and helps attain justice for Oliver and Nancy.
- Rose Maylie is the thoughtful woman who cares for Oliver after the botched robbery. She turns out to be Oliver's aunt.
Last Updated on February 25, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1311
The eponymous protagonist is a young orphan who is a poor, abused ward of the parochial system. He grows up unaware of the identities of his parents. Oliver is innocent, a gentle child with a sweet expression. Though the novel is named for him, Oliver is less an active agent and more of a pawn who changes hands between corrupt and friendly groups of people.
When Oliver joins Fagin’s band of thieves, they repeatedly refer to Oliver as “green” because of his purity and obvious lack of criminal experience. Oliver is shocked and appalled when he learns what sort of business Fagin runs, and his association with the thieves gets him brought to the magistrate and nearly imprisoned. Though he is regularly mistreated, Oliver is also the recipient of great generosity from those who love him. Oliver is portrayed as deeply grateful for every kindness bestowed upon him, and he is eager to serve his friends in any way he can. Oliver’s character proves that those who are good can be rewarded with a meaningful life even if they are born into undesirable circumstances. The novel suggests that the hardships Oliver endures cannot break the inherent purity of his soul.
Fagin is the ringleader of a circle of child thieves in London. He is notorious and vile, and he seems to lack all capacity for empathy. His appearance is dreadful, and his behavior matches his hideous countenance. Fagin repeatedly takes advantage of and abuses the children who work for him. He does not commit crimes himself but rather forces his band of thieves to do his dirty work. Fagin is consistently portrayed as despicable, and his eventual capture and execution are framed as acts of justice.
Bill Sikes is a famed house burglar and an associate of Fagin’s. Sikes is almost always accompanied by his dog, whom he kicks and abuses. Sikes has a close relationship with Nancy. Sikes’s full potential for violence and cruelty is realized when he hears that Nancy has betrayed him and the other thieves to Rose Maylie. Sikes brutally murders Nancy and leaves her body in his apartment before fleeing. He is tormented by the vision of Nancy’s empty eyes looking towards the ceiling. Sikes, like Fagin, is an irredeemable villain whose downfall is seen as an act of justice.
Monks / Edward Leeford
Monks’s mysterious identity remains shadowy for much of the novel. Eventually, it is revealed that he is Oliver’s half-brother and has been trying to sabotage the boy and prevent him from knowing the identity of his parents. Monks’s animosity toward Oliver is entirely a product of his mother’s jealousy and his own desire to keep all of his father’s inheritance for himself. As such, he destroys evidence of Oliver’s parentage and tries to help Fagin recapture Oliver so that the boy will live an ignominious life and therefore remain unable to inherit his father’s property. At the end of the novel, Brownlow and Oliver agree to allow Monks to have some of the inheritance despite his despicable behavior, but Monks squanders it and dies in an American prison.
Jack Dawkins / The Artful Dodger
Jack is the precocious young thief who first takes Oliver to Fagin in London. Jack is dressed like a man and smokes and drinks like an adult, even though he is a child similar to Oliver in age. He is known as Fagin’s star pupil and is skilled at swiping handkerchiefs and other profitable items. His nickname suggests that he is truly crafty and elusive as a thief. Eventually, Jack is imprisoned for stealing a snuff box, but at his trial he characteristically acts as if he is above the proceedings. His reputation as cool, unbothered, and precocious remains intact, though the others speculate that he may never get out of prison.
Another one of Fagin’s young apprentices, Charley is an experienced thief but is less serious than Jack. He is often seen erupting into uncontrollable laughter. Unlike most of the other criminal characters, Charley eventually reforms. The beginnings of his transformation are evident when Sikes returns to London: Charley is utterly disgusted by the man and wants nothing to do with him. Charley goes on to become a livestock farmer and make an honest living. Through Charley, Dickens shows that a notorious character can redeem himself.
Nancy is a young woman who is a prostitute and thief working under Fagin. Nancy begins the novel as a loyal member of the thieving community. However, Nancy’s character evolves once Oliver arrives. She stands up for Oliver and argues on his behalf. Later, Nancy reveals to Rose that Monks has tried to destroy evidence of Oliver’s parentage. Nancy feels embarrassed of herself when she meets the proper, lady-like Rose, and she begins to imagine a different outcome for her own life. When Rose offers to help Nancy distance herself from the criminal world, Nancy refuses and says that she feels an inexplicable bond to the community of thieves. Nancy is seen as a traitor by Fagin and Sikes, the latter of whom murders Nancy. Brownlow and the others seek justice for Nancy’s murder, understanding that Nancy was at her core a good person who wanted to help Oliver.
Brownlow is a kind and intelligent older gentleman who Oliver meets in London when Jack pickpockets Brownlow’s handkerchief. Brownlow at first accuses Oliver of theft but quickly regrets his action. The charitable Brownlow takes the boy back to his home to help him recover from the trauma, before the boy is abducted by Nancy. Over time, and after reuniting with Oliver, Brownlow pieces together Oliver’s story and helps the boy claim his inheritance. Brownlow ultimately adopts Oliver as his son. The gentleman is portrayed as kind and generous but also fierce in his pursuit of justice—for Oliver and for Nancy alike.
Bumble is the beadle of the town in which Oliver is born. Though his position in the church is a rather minor one, Bumble carries himself with great pomp and arrogance. He takes advantage of those he is meant to care for—the orphans and paupers of the parish—by physically and verbally abusing them. He does everything in his power to make sure Oliver is miserable, but he is eventually punished for his crimes with a tumultuous marriage and a subsequent drop in status to master of the workhouse. Bumble is stripped from his responsibilities in the parish after Brownlow learns of all the ways Bumble wronged Oliver and mistreated the other orphans. Bumble is Dickens’s personification of everything that is wrong with the parochial system and its so-called charity work.
Rose is a kind and courageous young woman who insists that the members of the Maylie household treat Oliver with care and respect. She, too, is an orphan who knows nothing of her background, which makes it easy for her to sympathize with Oliver. However, her background also makes it impossible for her to marry the man she loves, Harry Maylie. Rose is arguably the personification of pure goodness. Despite—or perhaps because of—the poor circumstances of her birth and childhood, she is deeply generous and thoughtful. She wants to help young people born into unfortunate circumstances, such as Oliver and Nancy. She does not judge Nancy for her choices; instead, she reaches out a helping hand, wanting to extend the same opportunity to others than Mrs. Maylie once gave her. Rose is selfless, putting her own happiness aside so that Harry Maylie does not lose his career prospects or social status by uniting with her. However, her story concludes happily when Harry gives up his status to become a clergyman and marry Rose.
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