Charles Dickens' second novel, "Oliver Twist," is the story of an orphan growing up among criminals in London, England. The novel, one of Dickens's most popular works, is known for its harsh depiction of poverty, child labor, and life in the London slums of the mid-19th century.
"Oliver Twist" was published at a time when many of Dickens's countrymen were living in great poverty. The most unfortunate were sent to workhouses, where they received food and lodging in exchange for their labor. The protagonist of Dickens's novel ends up in such a workhouse as a child. To earn his gruel, Oliver spends his days picking oakum.
"Please, sir, I want some more." Chapter 2
"Oliver Twist has asked for more!" Chapter 2
"I am very hungry and tired… I have walked a long way. I have been walking these seven days." Chapter 8
"Bleak, dark, and piercing cold, it was a night for the well-housed and fed to draw round the bright fire, and thank God they were at home; and for the homeless starving wretch to lay him down and die. Many hunger-worn outcasts close their eyes in our bare streets at such times, who, let their crimes have been what they may, can hardly open them in a more bitter world." Chapter 23
Dickens was admired not only as a novelist but also as a social critic, and in "Oliver Twist" he uses his sharp eye to dissect the weaknesses of human nature. The social canvas of the novel, which includes the poor underclass of London and the criminal justice system designed to contain it, allows Dickens to explore what happens when humans are reduced to the basest conditions.
"The doctor seemed especially troubled by the fact of the robbery having been unexpected, and attempted in the night-time; as if it were the established custom of gentlemen in the housebreaking way to transact business at noon, and to make an appointment, by the twopenny post, a day or two previous." Chapter 7
"Although Oliver had been brought up by philosophers, he was not theoretically acquainted with the beautiful axiom that self-preservation is the first law of nature." Chapter 10
"There is a passion for hunting something deeply implanted in the human breast." Chapter 10
"But death, fires, and burglary, make all men equals." Chapter 28
"Such is the influence which the condition of our own thoughts, exercises, even over the appearance of external objects. Men who look on nature, and their fellow-men, and cry that all is dark and gloomy, are in the right; but the sombre colours are reflections from their own jaundiced eyes and hearts. The real hues are delicate, and need a clearer vision." Chapter 33
"The suspense: the fearful, acute suspense: of standing idly by while the life of one we dearly love, is trembling in the balance; the racking thoughts that crowd upon the mind, and make the heart beat violently, and the breath come thick, by the force of the images they conjure up before it; the desperate anxiety to be doing something to relieve the pain, or lessen the danger, which we have no power to alleviate; the sinking of soul and spirit, which the sad remembrance of our helplessness produces; what tortures can equal these; what reflections of endeavours can, in the full tide and fever of the time, allay them!" Chapter 33
Society and Class
As the story of a poor orphan, and of the downtrodden more generally, "Oliver Twist" is filled with Dickens's thoughts about the role of class in English society. The author is highly critical of the institutions that protect the upper classes while leaving the poor to starve and die. Throughout the book, Dickens raises questions about how society organizes itself and treats its worst-off members.
"Why everybody lets him alone enough, for the matter of that. Neither his father nor his mother will ever interfere with him. All his relations let him have his own way pretty well." Chapter 5
"I only know two sorts of boys. Mealy boys, and beef-faced boys." Chapter 10
"Dignity, and even holiness too, sometimes, are more questions of coat and waistcoat than some people imagine." Chapter 37
"We need be careful how we deal with those about us, when every death carries to some small circle of survivors, thoughts of so much omitted, and so little done- of so many things forgotten, and so many more which might have been repaired! There is no remorse so deep as that which is unavailing; if we would be spared its tortures, let us remember this, in time." Chapter 8
"The sun,--the bright sun, that brings back, not light alone, but new life, and hope, and freshness to man--burst upon the crowded city in clear and radiant glory. Through costly-coloured glass and paper-mended window, through cathedral dome and rotten crevice, it shed its equal ray." Chapter 46