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Oliver Twist is the protagonist of the novel Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. He was the first child protagonist in an English language novel.

Background

In the novel, Oliver is born in a parish workhouse, in an un-named town, but his mother died in labour. Old Sally, who was at the birth and death, takes from the dying woman a locket and ring. Bumble, the Beadle, names the boy Oliver Twist. Oliver is sent to an infant farm, run by Mrs Mann, until he is nine years old, when he is returned to the workhouse.
The orphans at the workhouse are starving because of their cruel treatment. They cast lots to decide who will ask for more gruel for them and Oliver is chosen. At evening supper, once the gruel is dished out, Oliver goes to Bumble and makes his famous request, "Please Sir. I want some more." He is then branded as a troublemaker and is offered as an apprentice to anyone willing to take him and he is apprenticed to the undertaker, Sowerberry. Oliver fights with Noah Claypole, an older boy at the undertakers, because Noah mocked Oliver's dead mother. Oliver is then beaten for the offence, but he manages to escape and runs away to Londonmarker.

In London Oliver meets Jack Dawkins, the Artful Dodger, who offers him a place to stay, where he meets up with Fagin and his band of young thieves. Oliver innocently goes "to work" with Dawkins, and Charley Bates where he sees their real "work" when Dawkins picks the pocket of a gentleman. When the gentleman, Mr Brownlow, realises he is being robbed, Oliver is mistaken for the pickpocket. And he is then chased, captured and taken to the police. Oliver, who was injured in the chase, is cleared by a witness to the crime and is taken in by Brownlow to his home where he is well treated. After recovering from his injuries, Oliver is sent on an errand by Brownlow to pay a local merchant £5 and to return some books. However, Oliver is caught by Nancy and Bill Sikes, who pretend to be his sibling, and returned to Fagin's den. Nancy later berates Fagin and Sikes as well as herself for such a thing, though, since they've stolen Oliver's chance to have a better life.

Mr. Brownlow, who mistakenly thinks that Oliver has run away with the money then believes that Oliver was a thief all along. This belief is further strengthened when Bumble answers an advert in a newspaper placed by Brownlow, for information about Oliver. Bumble gives a disparaging opinion of Oliver. Still, Brownlow holds onto a little bit of hope that this might not be true.

Meanwhile, Oliver is forced by Fagin to join Sikes in an attempted robbery at a rural house, because a small boy was needed to enter a window and open the front door for Sikes to get in. However, the robbery is foiled and in the ensuing chase, Oliver is shot. He is then nursed back to health at the home of the Maylies, the house Sikes was attempting to burgle. Oliver gives his story to the Maylies (more exactly, the widow Mrs. Maylie, her son Harry and her adoptive daughter Rose) and Doctor Losberne. He also helps out when Rose falls ill, casually meeting a mysterious man in his way...

The mysterious man is Mr. Monks, who is revealed to be Oliver's half brother (his true name being Edward Leeford). He joins Fagin in an attempt to recapture Oliver and lead him into a life of crime so that Oliver's rightful inheritance, of which Oliver knew nothing, would then go to Monks. Nancy, who still feels compassion for Oliver, overhears Fagin and Monk's plans and tells Rose Maylie hoping to thwart the plan. Rose then contact Brownlow (clearing Oliver's name in the way, much to Brownlow's relief), Dr. Losberne, and other people to help her.

Meanwhile, Bumble has married the matron of the workhouse, Mrs Corney. The former Mrs Corney, attending the death of Old Sally, has taken the locket and ring that Sally had taken from Oliver's mother Agnes on her deathbed. Monks buys the locket and ring from the Bumbles and throws them to the Thames rivers, hoping that by destroying them that Oliver's true identity would remain hidden.

Brownlow and Rose Maylie meet Nancy on London Bridgemarker where she tells them how to find Monks. However, Fagin has had Nancy followed and, thinking Nancy has revealed Fagin's secrets, he tells Sikes that Nancy has betrayed them. Sikes brutally murders Nancy by hitting her on the head with a blunt object, then flees London to the country. However, their neighbors (even some of the members of Fagin's band) soon find out about Nancy's death and, enraged, they tell the police; Sikes dies when he's about to be captured.

Oliver is revealed to be the illegitimate son of a rich man named Edwin Leeford and his mistress, a girl named Agnes Fleming. Leeford had also fathered another son, Edward Leeford (Monks) through a failed former marriage. After seducing Agnes, Leeford died, leaving a will which stated that the unborn child would inherit his estate if "in his minority he should never have stained his name with any public act of dishonour, meanness, cowardice, or wrong" in the event of which all would go to Edward Leeford (Monks). Monks is given half of Oliver's inheritance by Brownlow, who had been the best friend of Edwin Leeford and the keeper of his secrets, in the hope that he would start a new life. Monks flees to the United Statesmarker, where he quickly squanders the money and dies in prison.

Rose Maylie is revealed to be Agnes Fleming's younger sister, who was adopted by the Maylies after her parents died. Therefore, Rose is Oliver's aunt and is able to marry Harry Maylie. Oliver collects his inheritance and is adopted by Brownlow, and Rose marries Harry, for the conventional happy ending to the novel.

References

  1. . . . a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name . . .", Chapter 1 However, when originally published in Bentley's Miscellany in 1837 the town was called Mudfog



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