Oliver Twist

This study guide will help you analyze the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it and putting it into perspective

Presentation of the text

Title: Oliver Twist (1837-39)
Author: Charles Dickens
Genre: Novel

Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was an English novelist, writer, and social critic. Over the course of his career, Dickens published 15 novels and five novellas, as well as a huge number of short stories and essays. He became a celebrity in his lifetime and his books offer some of the best-known depictions of Victorian England, and especially of Victorian London. 

Oliver Twist was first published as a series of installments in 1837-38, before being published as a novel in 1839. The book follows the life of the main character over the course of his childhood, covering his involvement in a criminal gang and his subsequent escape to a better life. Like many of Dickens’ novels, Oliver Twist draws attention to the terrible and unfair conditions experienced by many poor and working-class people in early 19th century England. 

Today, the story is one of the most famous of Dickens’ novels. It has inspired a large number of adaptations, including many film and television versions. For example, the 1948 movie adaptation directed by David Lean is considered one of the most powerful. The novel is also the inspiration for the 1960 hit musical Oliver!, with music and lyrics by Lionel Bart. Many of the well-known songs from the musical are still popular. 

Excerpt 

Below, you can read an excerpt from our study guide: 

Symbols

The novel includes a number of symbols, which are used to convey the story’s themes and messages. 

Coffins are referenced several times over the course of the book. For example, Oliver is made apprentice to Mr Sowerberry the undertaker, and forced to sleep in the coffin workshop: “ ‘You don’t mind sleeping among the coffins, I suppose? But it doesn’t much matter whether you do or don’t, for you can’t sleep anywhere else.’ ” (Chapter 4, 100%). Oliver notes that his sleeping place looks “like a grave” (Chapter 5, 6%). This is a reminder of how close Oliver comes to death over the course of his life, through both illness and accident. He eventually finds a happier life, but there is always the very real possibility that he will not survive to receive his inheritance. 

The novel ends with a reference to a memorial for Oliver’s dead mother: 

Within the altar of the old village church there stands a white marble tablet, which bears as yet but one word: ‘Agnes’. There is no coffin in that tomb […]. I believe that the shade of Agnes sometimes hovers round that solemn nook. I believe it none the less because that nook is in a Church, and she was weak and erring. (Chapter 53, 100%)...

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Oliver Twist

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