Charles Dicken’s ‘Oliver Twist’ shows how an individual’s opportunities in life can be both restricted and improved through their interactions to a large extent by showing us the different types of people that you could come across in Victorian London. The plot is about an orphan who sets out into London looking for a way to get by. In this process, he meets the criminal underworld where he is abused and forced to learn how to rob for their personal gain. Each individual you met could have a vast effect on your life and the opportunities that could have been. In this essay, I will analyse the different characters that have had a major impact on Oliver’s opportunities in life to further prove my point.

‘Oliver Twist’ by Charles Dickens shows how and individual’s opportunities in life can be restricted improved to a great extent. When Oliver was taken in by Mr. Brownlow, Fagin and Sikes concoct a plan to kidnap him. They decide to use Nancy as the faux sister in distress. This unfortunately works and Oliver is forcefully dragged back to the den. This can be seen in the dialogue, “Why, it’s Nancy!” “You see he knows me, he can’t help himself. Make him come home, there’s good people, or he’ll kill his dear mother and father, and break my heart.” “I don’t belong to them. I don’t know them. Help! Help!”.          Therefore, Nancy restricted Oliver’s opportunities in life by kidnapping him.                         

However, later Nancy chooses to improve Oliver’s opportunities in life. This is shown when she throws herself onto to Sikes to protect Oliver from Bulls-Eye after Oliver is brought back to the den. The argument between Sikes and Nancy, “Serve him right! Stand off from me, or I’ll split your skull against the wall” “I don’t care for that, Bill; I don’t care for that. The child shan’t be torn down by the dog, unless you kill me first” shows how adamant Nancy is about Oliver’s well being. Nancy restricts Oliver’s opportunities in life kidnapping him and condemning him to abuse in the gang. But she also improves his opportunities by preventing his potential death and abuse from Sikes.

Nancy is shown as a character that has a lot of grit and stands for what is right. She’s portrayed as strong and fearless. Yet a feeling of empathy is invoked due to the abuse she suffers from Sikes. She would probably be the most important in Oliver Twist because without her, Oliver would have died and the authorities would have never known about his kidnapping. When Nancy goes to the Maylie household to inform them about Oliver’s whereabouts, they sympathise with her and offer financial support and an escape from the thieves. She denies their offer saying that she has been in this life for too long and there could never be an escape for her.

This can be seen in the quotes, “If you repeat this information to a gentleman whom I can summon you in one instant from the next room, you can be consigned to some place of safety without half an hour’s delay”- Rose Maylie. “I wish to go back, I must go back, because – how can I tell such things to an innocent lady like you? – because among the men I have told you of, there is one the most desperate among them all that I can’t leave; no – not even saved from the life I am leading now.” – Nancy. Here is where we see under her façade and understand how fragile Nancy really is. Even though her death was a shock to us all, it was highly anticipated because it was the only way to free herself from the grip of the London underworld.

Another person that has both restricted and improved Oliver’s opportunities in life is Old Sally. Old Sally is a minor background character but that does not mean she’s of less importance. She can be seen improving Oliver’s life by helping him do the very first thing everyone learns to do. Old Sally helped Oliver to breathe. She was Agnes’ midwife and after Agnes died, Old Sally helps to dress and calm down a baby Oliver. Without Old Sally, Oliver would’ve died along with his mother. This can be seen in the line, “The medical surgeon walked away to dinner; and the nurse, having once more applied herself to the green bottle, sat down on the low chair before the fire, and proceeded to dress the infant.” Thus, Old Sally has improved Oliver’s opportunities in life to a great extent by helping the medical surgeon and his mother give birth to him.

Even though Old Sally improved Oliver’s opportunities, she restricts them shortly after his birth. When Old Sally neared her death, she summons Mrs. Corney to confess that once in the past she stole a locket and a ring from a dying woman that had given birth. She later reveals that the child of the woman was named Oliver Twist. Since Mrs. Corney had stolen Agnes’ locket and ring, she had taken away evidence that Oliver should have gone to live a privileged life. Instead he was taken for a poor orphan so he was sent to live in a parish workhouse. This can be seen in the line “I robbed her, so I did! She wasn’t cold – I tell you she wasn’t cold, when I stole it! […]  She charged me to keep it safe, and trusted me as the only woman about her. I stole it in my heart when she first showed it me hanging around her neck; and the child’s death, perhaps, is on me besides! They would have treated him better if they had known it all!” Old Sally’s greed and guilt led to her demise as she eventually died soon after telling Mrs Corney that she had robbed Agnes. Consequently, Old Sally had both improved and restricted Oliver’s opportunities by first helping in his birth then stealing his mother’s jewellery.

As I had mentioned before, Old Sally is a minor character that only appears in the beginning of the novel and near the middle. Most of the time she is portrayed, Old Sally is usually accompanied by her trusty green bottle of alcohol. This shows that she is or was a drunkard which shows that she’s susceptible to desire and cannot contain her greed. When Old Sally confesses to her crime, she finally does it with some reluctance and guilt with the overbearing fact that she is upon her deathbed.  However, when she dies, Mrs. Corney dismisses her important claims and walks back to Mr. Bumble. This can be illustrated in the line, “She was bending eagerly over the woman to hear her reply, but drew back instinctively as she once again rose slowly and stiffly into a sitting posture, and, clutching the coverlid with both hands, muttered some indistinct sounds in her throat, and fell lifeless on the bed. “And nothing to tell at all,” re-joined the matron, walking carelessly away.”

In conclusion, one’s opportunities in life can both be greatly improved or restricted by anyone you meet. This is shown throughout Charles Dicken’s iconic novel, ‘Oliver Twist’ when he is kidnapped by Nancy then she saves him from Sikes. Also from Old Sally being Agnes’ midwife and robber of her jewellery.

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William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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