BOOK TALK: OLIVER TWIST by Charles Dickens

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Oliver Twist

by Charles Dickens

Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about

 

STORYLINE

Workhouse years

    Oliver Twist is born and raised into a life of poverty and misfortune in a workhouse in an unnamed town 70 miles north of London. Orphaned by his mother’s sad demise during childbirth and his father’s mysterious absence, Oliver is meagrely provided for under the terms of the ‘Poor Law’ and spends the first nine years of his living at a baby farm in the ‘care’ of a woman named Mrs Mann. Oliver is brought up with little food and few comforts. Around the time of Oliver’s ninth birthday, Mr Bumble, the parish beadle, removes Oliver from the baby farm and puts him to work picking and weaving oakum at the main workhouse. Oliver, who toils with very little food, remains in the workhouse for six months. One day, the desperately hungry boys decide to draw lots. The loser must ask for another portion of gruel. The task falls to Oliver, who at the next meal comes forward trembling, bowl in hand, and begs Mr Bumble for gruel with his famous request. “Please, sir, I want some more.”

    A great uproar ensues. The board of well-fed gentlemen who administer the workhouse hypocritically offer five pounds to any person wishing to take on the boy as an apprentice. Mr Gamfield, a brutal chimney sweep, almost claims Oliver. However, when he begs despairingly not to be sent away with ‘that dreadful man,’ a kindly magistrate refuses to sign the indentures. Later Mr Sowerberry, an undertaker employed by the parish, takes Oliver into his service. He treats Oliver better and, because of the boy’s sorrowful countenance, uses him as a mourner at children’s funerals. Mr Sowerberry is in an unhappy marriage, and his wife looks down on Oliver and loses few opportunities to underfeed and mistreat him. He also suffers torment at the hands of Noah Claypole, an oafish and bullying fellow apprentice and ‘charity boy’ who is jealous of Oliver’s promotion to mute, and Charlotte, the Sowerberry’s maidservant, who is in love with Noah.

    Wanting to bait Oliver, Noah insults the memory of Oliver’s mother, calling her ‘a regular right-down bad “un.”’ Enraged, Oliver assaults the much bigger boy. Mrs Sowerberry takes Noah’s side, helps him to subdue, punch, and beat Oliver, and later compels her husband and Mr Bumble, who has been sent for in the aftermath of the fight, to beat Oliver once again. Once Oliver is sent to his room for the night, he breaks down and weeps. The next day, Oliver escapes from the Sowerberry’s house and later decides to run away to London to seek a better life.

London, the Artful Dodger and Fagin

    Nearing London, Oliver encounters Jack Dawkins, a pickpocket more commonly known by the nickname the ‘Artful Dodger,’ and his sidekick, a boy of a humorous nature, named Charley Bates, but Oliver’s innocent and trusting nature fails to see any dishonesty in their actions. Dodger provides Oliver with a free meal and tells him of a gentleman in London who will ‘give him lodgings for nothing, and never ask for change.’ Grateful for the unexpected assistance, Oliver follows Dodger to the ‘old gentlemen’s’ residence. In this way, Oliver unwittingly falls in with an infamous Jewish criminal known as Fagin, the gentleman of whom the Artful Dodger spoke. Ensnared, Oliver lives with Fargin and his gang of juvenile pickpockets in their lair at Saffron Hill for some time, unaware of their criminal occupations. He believes they make wallets and handkerchiefs.

    Soon, Oliver naively goes out to ‘make handkerchiefs’ with Artful Dodger and Charley Bates, only to learn that their real mission is to pick pockets. Dodger and Charley steal the handkerchief of an old gentleman named Mr Brownlow and promptly flee. When he finds his handkerchief missing, Mr Brownlow turns round, sees Oliver running away in fright, and pursues him, thinking he was the thief. Others join the chase, capture Oliver, and bring him before the magistrate. Curiously, Mr Brownlow has second thoughts about the boy—he seems reluctant to believe he is a pickpocket. To the judge’s evident disappointment, a bookstall holder who saw Dodger commit the crime clears Oliver, who, by now actually ill, faints in the courtroom. Mr Brownlow takes Oliver home and, along with his housekeeper Mrs Bedwin, cares for him.

Bill Sikes by Fred Barnard

    Oliver stays with Mr Brownlow, recovers rapidly, and blossoms from the unaccustomed kindness. His bliss is interrupted when Fagin, fearing Oliver might tell the police about his criminal gang, decides that Oliver must be brought back to his hideout. When Mr Brownlow sends  Oliver out to pay for some books, one of the gang, a young girl named Nancy, whom Oliver had previously met at Fagin’s, accosts him with help from her abusive lover, the robber Bill Sikes, and Oliver is quickly bundled back to Fagin’s lair. The thieves take the five-pound note Mr Brownlow had entrusted to him, and strip him of his fine clothes. Oliver, shocked, flees and attempts to call for police assistance, but is dragged back by the Artful Dodger, Charley, and Fagin. Nancy, alone, is sympathetic towards Oliver and saves him from beatings by Fagin and Sikes.

    In a renewed attempt to draw Oliver into a life of crime, Fagin forces him to participate in a burglary. Nancy reluctantly assists in recruiting him, all the while assuring the boy that she will help him if she can. Sikes, after threatening to kill him if he does not cooperate, puts Oliver through a small window and orders him to unlock the front door. The robbery goes wrong and Oliver is shot by people in the house and wounded in his left arm. After being abandoned by Sikes, the wounded Oliver makes it back to the house and ends up under the care of the people he was supposed to rob: Miss Rose and her guardian Mrs Maylie.

Mystery of a man called “Monks”

    The mysterious man Monks plots with Fagin to destroy Oliver’s reputation. Monks denounces Fagin’s failure to turn Oliver into a criminal, and the two of them agree on a plan to make sure he does not find out about his past. Monks is apparently related to Oliver in some way. Back in Oliver’s hometoen, Mr Bumble has married Mrs Borney, the matron of the workhouse where the story first began, only to find himself in an unhappy marriage, constantly arguing with his domineering wife. After one such argument, Mr Bumble walks to a pub where he meets Monks, who questions him about Oliver. Bumble informs Monks that he knows someone who can give Monks more information for a price, and later Monks meets secretly with the Bumbles. After Mrs Bumble tells Monks all she knows for a price, Monks takes the locket and ring proving Oliver’s parents, which had once belonged to Oliver’s mother, and drops them into the river flowing under his place. Monks relates these events to Fagin, unaware that Nancy is eavesdropping on their conversations and plans to inform Oliver’s benefactors. Mr Brownlow returns to London, where Oliver sees him, and brings him to meet the Maylies.

    Now ashamed of her role in Oliver’s kidnapping and worried for the boy’s safety, Nancy goes to Rose Maylie, staying in London. She knows that Monks and Fagin are plotting to get their hands on the boy again, and offers to meet again any Sunday night on London bridge. Rose tells Mr Brownlow, and the two then make plans with all their party in London. The first Sunday night, Nancy tries to leave for her walk, but Sikes refuses permission when she declines to state exactly where she is going. Fagin realises that Nancy is up to something, perhaps has a new boyfriend, and resolves to find out what her secret is. Meanwhile, Noah has fallen out with the undertaker Mr Sowerberry, stolen money from him, and fled to London with Charlotte. Using the name “Morris Bolter,” he joins Fagin’s gang for protection and becomes a practicer of ‘the kinchin lay’ (robbing of children), and Charlotte is put with the girls. Fagin sends Noah to watch the Artful Dodger on trial, after he is caught with a stolen silver snuff box; the Dodger is convicted while showing his style, with a punishment of transportation to Australia. Next, Noah is sent by Fagin to spy on Nancy, and discovers her meeting with Rose and Mr Brownlow on the bridge, hearing their discussion of why she did not appear the prior week and how to save Oliver from Fagin and Monks.

    Fagin angrily passes the information on to Sikes, twisting the story to make it sound as if Nancy had informed on him, when she had not. Believing Nancy to be a traitor, Sikes beats her to death in a fit of rage that very night and flees to the countryside to escape from the police and his conscience. There, Sikes is haunted by visions of Nancy and alarmed by news of her murder spreading across the countryside. He returns to London to find a hiding place and intend to steal money from Fagin and flee to France, only to die by accidentally hanging himself while attempting to flee across a rooftop from a mob angry at Nancy’s murder.

Resolution

    While Sikes is fleeing the mob, Mr Brownlow forces Monks to listen to the story connecting him, once called Edward Leeford, and Oliver as half brothers, or to face the police for his crimes. Their father was once friends with Brownlow. Mr Leeford had fallen in love with Oliver’s mother, Agnes, after Monks’ parents had separated. Mr Leeford had to help a dying friend in Rome, and then died there himself, leaving Agnes, ‘his guilty love,’ in England. Mr Brownlow has a picture. Mr Brownlow has a picture of Agnes and had begun making inquiries when he noticed a marked resemblance between her and Oliver. Monks had hunted his brother to destroy him, to gain all in their father’s will. Meeting with Monks and the Bumbles in Oliver’s native town, Brownlow asks Oliver to give half his inheritance to Monks to give him a second chance; Oliver is more than happy to comply. Monks moves to ‘the new world,’ where he squanders his money, reverts to crime, and dies in prison. Fagin is arrested, tried and condemned to gallows. On the eve of Fagin’s hanging, Oliver, accompanied by Mr Brownlow in an emotional scene, visits Fagin in Newgate Prison, in hope of retrieving papers from Monks. Fagin is lost in a world of his own fear of impending death.

    On a happier note, Rose Maylie is the long-lost sister of Agnes, and thus Oliver’s aunt. She marries her sweetheart Harry Maylie, who gives up his political ambitions to become a parson, drawing all their friends to settle near them. Oliver lives happily with Mr Brownlow, who adopts him. Noah becomes a paid, semi-professional police informer. The Bumbles lose their positions and are reduced to poverty, ending up in the workhouse themselves. Charley Bates, horrified by Sikes’s murder of Nancy, becomes an honest citizen, moves to the country, and eventually becomes prosperous.

Synopsis by Kamlesh Tripathi

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https://kamleshsujata.wordpress.com

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