Oliver Twist: The Anchor Of Character Development
Oliver Twist: the Anchor of Character Development
Charles Dickens novel, Oliver Twist, centers itself around the life of the young, orphan Oliver, but he is not a deeply developed character. He stays the same throughout the entire novel. He has a desire to be protected, he wants to be in a safe and secure environment, and he shows unconditional love and acceptance to the people around him. These are the only character traits that the reader knows of Oliver. He is an archetype of goodness and innocence. His innocence draws many people close to him. Each character is attracted to his innocence for different reasons, some to destroy it and others to build it. Their relationships with Oliver reveal nothing more about his personality. They reveal more about their own personalities. Therefore, Oliver is used not as the protagonist of the story, but as the anchor for the development of the other characters.
As the anchor of character development, Oliver helps reveal the redeeming qualities of Dickens’ Mr. Brownlow. Dickens moves through a series of developments with Mr. Brownlow and it is only when he comes into contact with Oliver that his character is fully developed. He is initially described by Dickens as an “old gentlemen” with a “very respectable-looking personage, with a powdered head and gold spectacles” (114). The reader is left to draw their own conclusions about him as he is only described one dimensionally. When Mr. Brownlow gives chase to Oliver after being robbed by Olivers’ associates, it seems as though Mr. Brownlow might have little respect or mercy for the lower class. Instead, the reader finds that Mr. Brownlow is a kind and merciful man. He takes pity on Oliver, telling the policeman not to hurt him and arguing for his release inside the court house. Mr. Brownlow takes Oliver to his house where he is very well cared for by Mrs. Bedwin. When Oliver recovers from his fever, he goes to speak with Mr. Brownlow. During their meeting Mr. Brownlows character is further developed. He reveals a sad past to Oliver saying,
” I have been deceived, before, in objects whom I have endeavored to benefit…but I feel strongly disposed to trust you…..although the happiness and delight of my life lie buried, I have not made a coffin of my heart”(146).
This scene is important in Brownlows development because it describes his morals and human nature. He moves from a two dimensional character to a three dimensional character. His relationship and actions towards Oliver reveal his deepest emotions, which is what happens to all of the characters that come to understand Olivers innocent nature. Roses’ motives for helping Oliver reveal a deeper side of her human nature that brings the reader in close contact with her personality. She is immediately drawn towards Oliver, even though he was a part of the robbery that occurred at her aunts’ house the night before. When Miss Maylie is asked to inspect Oliver, “the thief,” she declines the offer and instead treats him with compassion saying “Poor fellow! Oh! treat him kindly, Giles, for my sake!”(263). Kindliness, charity, and compassion are immediately revealed as Roses’ personality traits before she meets Oliver. These aspects are predictable character traits for Dickens to bestow on an upper class women. She is left as a one dimensional character, but her personality continues to develop as she becomes closer with Oliver. When she first encounters Oliver she knows that she must help him. She feels as though it is her duty to protect him, as she was almost in a similar situation herself, being without a Mother to care for her. She pleads to her Aunt
“as you love me, and know that I have never felt the want of parents in your goodness and affection, but that I might have done so, and might have been equally helpless and unprotected with this poor child, have pity upon him before it is too late”(269).
In this scene, she is developed even further because the reader now understands her motives for wanting to help Oliver. Her childhood could have been a lonely and desolate one, but she was helped, and now she needs to do the same for Oliver. She wants to make sure that Oliver is not lead into a life of crime. She wants to build his innocent nature by keeping him away from a poverty stricken life. Her relationship with Oliver enhances her character and the reader comes to know Rose better than we do Oliver. Her emotions concerning her situation as an orphan are more clear to us than Olivers. The reader becomes engaged in the mystery of who Roses parents are and why she is so ashamed, which is one of the great riddles involved in Oliver Twist. Dickens used Oliver as a median in which he could develop Roses character in order to involve the reader in her mystery.
The true nature of Nancy, the young prostitute and thief, is revealed to the reader in her actions towards Oliver. She is first introduced as a lower class women with a “good deal of hair, not very neatly turned up behind, and rather untidy about the shoes and stockings”(111). When she is put up to the task of kidnapping Oliver back from Mr. Brownlow she appears to the reader as an evil villain. Later on, when she recognizes Olivers’ innocent nature, she regrets her actions. She stands up for him when Fagin and Sikes attempt to beat him, telling them that “the child shan’t be torn down by the dog, unless you kill me first”(164). This argument with Fagin and Sikes concerning Oliver develops her character and reveals her past. Screaming at the tops of her lungs she shouts
“I thieved for you when I was a child ……It is my living; and the cold, wet, dirty streets are my home; and you’re the wretch who drove me to them long ago”(167).
Her words express feelings of sadness and regret about her past. Oliver reminds her of her own situation when she was a child. It drives her to help Oliver escape from the filth and crime that she was pushed into as a child. Dickens develops Nancys character to show that people in poverty can not always help their situations. They might live a life of crime, but do they have any other choices? Nancys development as a character gives the reader an interesting perspective on the lower class and their situations.
Oliver Twist is a novel about the adventures and the life of Oliver yet, his character is not as developed as some of the others. He is not the protagonist, which leads one to ask, what purpose does he serve? Oliver has the most important role in the novel, he links everyone together. He is the anchor, not the hero. He develops the characters. The characters whom he becomes the closest with are the characters that the reader comes to know and love. He might be deemed a symbol rather than a character. A symbol of innocence. Innocence reveals so much about a person because it is so pure. Does the character want to destroy his innocence or does he want to make it grow? The way that each character interacts with Oliver tells the reader about their nature. This is Dickens method for character development.