The first important part to notice in Oliver Twist is the importance of the characters and it is right to really define them and the conditions in which they evolve. The first character is of course Oliver Twist. As said before, Oliver is a young boy living in really tough conditions. He has to face loneliness, bad health, and poverty by being only a child. Abandoned since almost his first minutes, by the death of his mother giving him birth, and an almost nonexistent father, Oliver is put in a baby farm for the next eight years of his life in accordance with the Poor Law, which stipulate that poor people could only received help from the government if they worked in government workhouses. That law will put him at his ninth birthday into a work house, administered by a group of potbelliedÂ men of which Mr. Bumble is part. He will stay there for six months. Here, he joins other children who have to unknot ropes all day long. The children in the work house are really badly and not fed enough. One day, after six months in the work house, Oliver takes part in a draw lots game ; the looser will have to go to Mr. Bumble and ask to have another bowl of that horrible concoction called the gruel. There, he will have that famous phrase: "Please sir, I want some more". Shook up, Mr. Bumble, who considers that the children are fed enough and do not have to complain, gives chase to Oliver who is chased away from the work house. After that, a five pounds reward is offered for any person who would take Oliver as an apprentice. The young orphan will be taken as an apprentice in an undertaker house, Mr. Sowerberry's, but after a fight with Noah, who could be considered as Oliver's bully, Mrs. Sowerberry and the maidservant who is in love with Noah, Oliver runs away. His steps will lead him to London. But it would not be a real Oliver Twist story if it had finished like that.
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Indeed, Oliver is not the only main character in the story and it is in London after his flight that he will meet them. One of the first people Oliver meets when he arrives in London is Jack Dawkins, but in London, that character is best-known as "The Artful Dodger". And as Oliver is a naÃ¯ve and a hearted people, he does not have enough experience to see that Dodger is a dishonest boy. Soon, he makes the most of the opportunity to offers him a free lunch and enrolls him saying that he know somebody who would "give him lodgings for nothing, and never ask for change". That man is the person for who Dodger is working. Indeed, living in London in that period requests sacrifices, especially for the kids who are the first workforce in the slums of London. His work is nothing else that pickpockets work, more precisely handkerchiefs' stealing. But Oliver, as a candid will not immediately see that in the job, Dodger will wait him on hand and foot to the "bad guy".
So The Artful Dodger will bring Oliver to the person for whom he works, that person could be defined as one of the bad guys in the book because he will keep Oliver in his claws almost until the end. Fagin is actually an old man but above all a Jewish criminal reconverted in a worker children boss. He recruits young boys to make them steal handkerchiefs. In that kind of "gang", Oliver sees, too late, in what he is involved and when one day he is permitted to go out he is arrested for one of Dodger's misdemeanor. Indeed, trying to steal an old man's, Mr. Brownlow's, handkerchief Oliver is brought before the magistrate. The magistrate does not hesitate to condemn Oliver, but Mr. Brownlow seems unenthusiastic by that, and when a bookstall holder declares he has seen Dodger stealing, Oliver is cleared, but very pale and actually ill, he faints.
By that part of the book, we can say that the "good guy" appears in the story. Even if at the first sight he accused Oliver, he will help him. Indeed, after the young boy fainted, Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver to his house to give him the medical attention he needs. Oliver will stay at Mr. Brownlow's house, recovering quickly with the cares of Mrs. Bedwin. Finally, the story of Oliver was getting better, but it was without reckoning with Fagin's band. Actually, Fagin considers that he gave Oliver somewhere to live and something to eat so he would be grateful for that rather than flee. So one day when Oliver is sent by Mr. Brownlow to pay some book in London, the gang is on the look-out. They want Oliver back. And this is what is going to happen when Nancy, a girl from the gang helps Fagin to catch him. But the end of the story will finally be a good one. Oliver will succeed in going back to Mr. Brownlow's house where he will finally discover his origins.
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But even if the characters are an important part in the book, we have to remember that they are only used to portray a message for social change. Indeed, each character represents a different characteristic of the new era which was beginning when the novel was published, the Victorian Era. As we will see, this period will be a one of big changes, depicted by the main characters quoted before. In view of the fact that Oliver is the main character of Charles Dickens' book, it was in a way normal that he is the witness of the principal changes of that era which was principally about poverty, health and child labor.
The first important social change is the poverty. In Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, Charles Dickens uses Oliver to contradict the idea that poor people born instinctively as bad persons, or that, if they were poor, it was because of their laziness. Indeed, as said before, Oliver was born in bad conditions of life; he is poor, has no education but keeps a deep virtue, a real goodness. Surrounded by vice, dishonesty and theft, the protagonist is outraged by the "real" nature of the poor people around him. Because he has nothing to do with them, Oliver's apparent well-behavior seems to reflect one of the social changes Dickens want to show to the reader. The place where the young stealers live is also a reflection of the way people can see the London of 1830's ; muddy, disreputable and gloomy. Here again, Oliver will show that even poor, there is ways to go out of that kind of places by being respectable and keeping a deep goodness.
The second important thing to notice is the place that health takes. Actually, it is a concealed guiding thread. We can see it by the fact that Oliver's fainting fit in front of the judge is how he will end to Mr. Brownlow's house, symbol of Oliver's "emergency exit". Another time where health is important is at the moment when Oliver has to assist a burglary in Mr. Brownlow's house and the way once again he ends up in the care of Mrs. Bedwin. The thing to notice is that each time that Oliver was doomed to problems, his bad health "saved" him of bigger problems. Indeed, in that age, people who did not take care of their wounds were terminally ill. The other point about health that Oliver illustrates is how he is victim of malnutrition, as well in the workhouse with, as said before, the horrible gruel, only source of nutrition for the children. But it is also showed at the den, when children have to steal what they eat, cruel reality of the slums.
Finally, the last important thing to underline is the omnipresent child labor. Indeed, from nearly the beginning of Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, the most important workforce is children. Actually, we can see that in the work house, when the young boys have to work on oakum the whole day. In reality, the children who do not work in that place are often recruited as chimney sweeps, because of their small height, or in mines because they could edge their way into places where adult workers could not. When Oliver is chased from the workhouse, he is hired, as said before, as apprentice by an undertaker in exchange for a five pounds reward. Because, if young boys were easily hired, the fact that they were poor often meant that the employer had to feed them and give them a place to sleep. That is what happened in the undertaker family, Oliver is seen as another mouth to feed more than a help for Mr. Sowerberry.
In Oliver Twist; or, The Parish Boy's Progress, Charles Dickens tried to make his characters really representative of a part of the society in which they live. As Oliver can twist into reversals of fortune, Mr. Bumble is a bumbling character and Mr. Grimwig, a grim person. As the characters names reflect one of the sides of their personality, the author tried to illustrate by them social changes. In this way, Albert Einstein wrote: "Weakness of attitude becomes weakness of character."
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