Sunday, February 27, 2011

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

"Oliver cried lustily. If he could have known that he was an orphan, left to the tender mercies of church-wardens and overseers, perhaps he would have cried the louder."
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is the classic story of an orphan, Oliver Twist, who becomes involved with a gang of criminals in Victorian London after he runs away from an abusive situation. These criminals include Fagin who runs the organization of young pickpocketers, the Artful Dodger, and Bill Sikes.

Before discussing the novel as a classic work of literature, I wanted to note something that really bothered me from a personal standpoint. I was extremely offended by Dickens' totally anti-Semitic portrayal of Jews through the character of Fagin. Fagin cheats others and gets them to steal for him while he hoards away his wealth, and is constantly referred not by his name but rather as "the Jew", implying he is a representation of all Jews. I realize Oliver Twist was written almost two centuries ago but I don't think that is an excuse for the stereotype and close-mindedness it portrays. Reading books like this only serve as a powerful reminder of the persecution Jews have faced, which certainly wasn't helped by novels that normalized it.

Bigotry aside, one aspect of Oliver Twist I particularly enjoyed was the narration voice of the story. The narrator is omniscient and omnipresent, strategically letting  the reader in on certain situations while keeping particular information, like what one person whispers to another, secret. In general, I was surprised by how easy to read this novel was as I have previously attempted Dickens' David Copperfield and enjoyed it about as much as pulling teeth. Although the story is more fully developed, I think Oliver Twist is more akin to A Christmas Carol, the only other book by Dickens I have completed, than some of his other works. 

The story was quite different from what I can remember of the musical adaptation which was nice because I could still be surprised by how events turned out and managed to read the book without too many songs going through my head. As a villain I thought that Bill Sikes, the man who leads Oliver in an attempt to rob a house, was particularly well done and his ultimate fate was deliciously dramatic. I found myself most heartbroken over the outcome of his dog. Overall, I thought the novel provided interesting commentary on 19th century London as Fagin attempts to corrupt Oliver:
"Having prepared his mind, by solitude and gloom, to prefer any society to the companionship of his own sad thoughts in such a dreary place, he was now slowly instilling into his soul the poison which he hoped would blacken it, and change its hue forever."
Oliver Twist contains a lot of evil characters who do not seek redemption for their actions and end the book just as corrupted as when they started which surprised me slightly in the sense that there wasn't a lot of character growth going on. Characters who started the book evil like Fagin, mostly stayed evil and those who began the book good, like Oliver, didn't really show temptation to change either.  There was one or two minor characters who didn't fit this norm, but overall it was the case. Ultimately Oliver Twist was a thrilling and exciting book to read because of the adventure that goes on, but lacked the emotional connection I craved because so many of the characters showed no growth throughout the novel.

Release Date: 1837
Pages: 554
: 3.5/5

Source: Ebook (Free Online)
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