What is the moral of Oliver Twist?

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The moral of Oliver Twist is that compassion and closer communities make for a better, more wholesome society.

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Oliver Twist is undoubtedly a moral novel in which good triumphs over evil. Considering the philosophies and behaviors of both the good and evil characters in the story, its main moral message is arguably the importance of compassion and community in forming individuals.

Compassion is sorely lacking in Oliver's society. The poor are treated as lazy dogs unfit for any charity. Simply due to lacking parents or money, Oliver is told again and again that he is destined to become a victim of the gallows. As a result, poor children such as himself are often forced into a criminal life, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. At the time Dickens wrote the novel, such attitudes were common, leading to the unjust Poor Law of 1834, which essentially punished people for needing government assistance. By showing how Oliver and other characters are affected by these prejudices, Dickens is emphasizing the need for compassion should anyone want the situation of the needy to improve.

Throughout the book, characters are also highly affected by their surroundings. With the exception of the guileless Oliver (presented slightly as a tabula rasa in danger of becoming corrupted by bad company), the morally good characters tend to come from loving families and support systems while the evil characters act wholly from self-interest. The criminals in Oliver Twist—both the underworld types like Fagin and Bill and the underhanded likes of Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corney—are driven by selfishness. While they do form communities, they are not lasting ones, nor are they built on unconditional love. Fagin keeps his young orphans in his care so long as they can procure him stolen goods, and Mr. Bumble only courts Mrs. Corney because he covets her possessions. By having both lawbreakers and so-called lawful types exhibiting such behavior, Dickens is illustrating that this behavior is not limited to the poor, challenging the assumptions of his original audiences.

Dickens makes it plain that redemption and goodness are possible for all people regardless of class, as are corruption and lawlessness. He openly contrasts the characters of Nancy, the prostitute and pickpocket, and Rose Maylie, the virtuous young lady: Nancy was raised in a world of criminal self-interest and exploitation, while Rose was raised in a loving family. Dickens subtly suggests that one could have easily become like the other had she been brought up within a different community. That Nancy is able to redeem herself morally by saving Oliver from her fate is Dickens' ultimate illustration of his moral message: no one is inherently evil, and compassion can go a long way in building a better society.

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What is the central theme of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens?

The central theme in Oliver Twist is good versus evil. More specifically, Dickens explores the immense struggle that goodness must endure before it finally triumphs over its oldest and most bitter enemy. All of the good characters in the story—most notably Oliver himself—experience considerable challenges and hardship. Yet by remaining true to themselves, they are ultimately able to triumph over the forces of darkness.

Take the example of Oliver. Life's been a constant struggle for him ever since he could walk. A poor orphan forced to endure the harshness of the workhouse and its appalling conditions, Oliver's had the worst possible start in life. Given such an upbringing, we might expect Oliver to go on and pursue a life of crime. Yet even when he falls in with a gang of thieves, his innate goodness still shines through. He only commits crime out of fear of what Fagin and Bill Sikes will do to him if he refuses.

Although bad things may happen to good people in Oliver Twist, goodness wins out in the end, suggesting that it will always be much stronger than evil, however hopeless the odds may often seem.

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What is the theme of the Oliver Twist?

Oliver Twist was one of Dickens’s earliest works.  What makes it unique is that it is a progress.  A progress is a story where the main character does not change.  He goes through his journey affecting other characters, but not changing himself.  This makes the theme of the story interesting, because theme is usually what the main character learns.  Here are some important themes in this work.

Innocence triumphs over evil. Oliver is the definition of innocence and good. He refuses to be corrupted, even though he has continually tests.  Noah Claypole, Jack Dawkins, Fagin, and Bill Sikes all attempt to corrupt him, yet he resists.

The law does not always accomplish justice. The story has some interesting takes on justice.   Essentially, it’s hit or miss.  Fagin is hanged, but Bill dies accidentally.  Oliver is accused, but he did nothing wrong.

The poor are everyone’s problem. This is the most important theme in this book.  Unlike in A Christmas Carol , the poor are not represented as innocent and good.  They are thieves, burglars and prostitutes- except Oliver.  Oliver comes from a family of means though, so he’s not technically poor.  Dickens hoped that readers would sympathize with Oliver, and Nancy, and realize that even if they don’t care about the poor they end up paying for them when their pockets are picked because Jack Dawkins got his education from Fagin and not a school.

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What are the themes of Oliver Twist?

In a richly developed framework of events and issues, Dickens' presents the joint themes of Education and Workhouse Life by contrasting workhouse children to street children of London. It is interesting to note that Henry Morton Stanley, the journalist who found the missing Dr. David Livingston, was raised in a workhouse in Wales: his workhouse education was well-founded enough that he became a journalist and famous expedition leader.

It is important to recognize that the Poor Laws, with the first in 1601 and with significant updates made in 1767 and 1834, required that poor and orphaned children be sent to the country where they might escape the exposure to crime, indolence, drunkenness and disability that oftentimes accompanied residence in a London workhouse. Thus the contrast between workhouse children and street children is in significant regards a contrast between country children and city children.

As part of the rich framework addressing the themes stated above, Dickens contrasts workhouse children to street children using the issue of language. Specifically, Oliver and Dick have exceptional language skills though they had been "beaten, and starved, and shut up together, many and many a time" in the Poor Law specified childs' farmhouse while the Artful Dodger can't readily be understood by the standard English speaker. Dickens exposes the failings of the English approach to education while simultaneously underscoring the missed potentiality for success in the workhouses.

Oliver Speaking with Dick

'You musn't say you saw me, Dick,' said Oliver. 'I am running away. ... How pale you are!'

'I heard the doctor tell them I was dying,' replied the child .... 'I am very glad to see you, dear; but don't stop, don't stop!'

'Yes, yes, I will, to say good-b'ye to you,' replied Oliver. 'I shall see you again, Dick. I know I shall!'

Oliver Speaking with the Dodger

'My eyes, how green!' exclaimed the young gentleman. 'Why, a beak's a madgst'rate; and when you walk by a beak's order, it's not straight forerd, but always agoing up, and niver a coming down agin. Was you never on the mill?'

'What mill?' inquired Oliver.

'What mill! Why, the mill—the mill as takes up so little room that it'll work inside a Stone Jug; and always goes better when the wind's low with people, than when it's high; acos then they can't get workmen. But come,' said the young gentleman; 'you want grub, and you shall have it. I'm at low-water-mark myself....'

1834 Poor Law

The 1834 Poor Law required all workhouse children be taught daily lessons on "reading, writing, arithmetic, and ... Christian Religion ... to fit them for service, ... usefulness, industry and virtue." Of course, application of these requirements varied greatly with the effect being as much dependent upon the administrators, like Mr. Bumble and Mrs. Corey, as much as upon the lessons given. Yet extant workhouse lesson schedules and biographies of workhouse residents like Henry Morton Stanley attest to the potential for success resulting from rightly administered workhouse and educational systems.

St. Marylebone Workhouse Lesson Timetable


9.00-10.00 Historical reading, with explanations.

10.00-11.00 General and mental arithmetic, tables, use of clock dial for learning the time of day.

11.00-12.00 Grammar. Parsing and Dictation.

2.00-3.00 Writing in copy books & arithmetic.

3.00-4.00 Reading with explanations.

4.00-5.00 Geography, with maps.


9.00-11.30 Reading, spelling, tables, arithmetic.

1.30-12.30 Working in copy books. Dictation

12.30-2.00 Dinner. Recreation.

2.00-5.00 Needlework, knitting and domestic employment.

6.00-8.00 Needlework, knitting & domestic employment.


Language and Theme

The language of Oliver and Dick illustrates the results of successful education whereas the language of the Dodger illustrates the results of the failure to provide education. The Dodger was one of London's street children. According to Workhouses.Org.UK, street children were orphans or children who had chosen to live on the street rather than suffer abuses of drunkenness, molestation or violence at home. Street children had no access to education or apprenticeships, work opportunities that might render them useful and industrious, because free compulsory education to age 10 was not implemented until 1880 and not revised to age 12 until 1899. By contrast, workhouse children were educated "at least three hours a day" from age 7 to 16.

While Oliver's speech may sound to modern readers like a affectation on Dickens' part or like a stylistic mistake, Dickens was in fact deliberately illustrating his joint themes. Readers contemporaneous with Dickens would have immediately recognize the truth of the situations being exposed and satirized by the elegance of the one's speech and the virtual incomprehensibility of the other's speech. The contrasting language used by Oliver and the Dodger shows the value and necessity of education, the potentiality within the workhouse system--the ironic satire with which Dickens' exposes both the failures and potentialities underscores his call to social action to reform education and workhouses--and horror of poor childrens' lives, whether workhouse children or street children.

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