The Artful Dodger, whose real name is Jack Dawkins, is Fagin’s chief pupil. He is initially responsible for taking Oliver to Fagin’s den. He is also the most prominent figure among a host of boys that include Charley Bates and Tom. He is more resourceful than all the others and he stands out like a splash of colour in the dark underworld.
The Artful Dodger is one of those characters whose external appearance is fully described. This is how Dickens describes him, “…one of the queeres tlooking boys that Oliver had ever seen. He was a snub nosed, flat browed common faced boy enough, and as dirty a juvenile as one would wish to see; but he had about him all the airs and manners of a man. He was short for his age; with rather bowlegs, and little, sharp, ugly eyes. His hat was stuck on the top of his head so lightly, that it threatened to fall off every moment and would have done so, very often, if the wearer had not “had a knack of every now and, then giving his head a sudden twitch, which brought it back to its old place again. He wore a mans coat, which reached nearly to his heels. He had turned the cuffs back half way up his arm to get his hands out of the sleeves; apparently with the ultimate view of thrusting them into the pockets of his corduroy trousers”. His face is peculiarly intelligent at al1times. In contrast to Charley Bates, he is preeminently serious and seldom gave way to merriment when it interfered with business not because he lacks Charley Bates high spirits but because he is more self possessed.
The Dodger has no scruples . He is ready to desert a companion if need be. He doesn’t think even for a moment. Oliver is arrested and is taken to the Police Station. Fagin has taught the boys that their object is to take care of number one and in this as in other matters, the Dodger is his outstanding pupil. If he is to betray even his master in the process, he wouldn’t mind.
The Dodger has a peculiar wit which we can see in the trial scene. Fagin has great confidence in him and he sends Noah Claypole to the court to see how he conducts himself in his trial. His prestige among his associates is so high that when they learn that he been arrested they all feel sorry for him,not so much because he will be transported for life but because it is on charge of stealing only a snuff box. In the court he behaves in a peculiar manner. In his broken English he asks why he has been brought there,claims his privileges, calls to the Magistrate who is busy reading the newspaper that he should first conduct his trial. After the trial is over and he is found guilty and sentenced, he threatens the jailor and the Magistrate of dire consequences, “Ah, (to the bench) its no use looking frightened, I won’t show you no mercy, not a ha’porth. You’ll pay for this my fine fellers, I wouldn’t be you for something. I wouldn’t go free, now, if you was to fall down on your knees and ask me. Here, carry me off to prison”! Take me away!”. His daring role deserves appreciation.
Arnold Kettle writes, “it is an interesting instance of the power of Dickens’s genius that he should have realised that in the Dodger he had created a figure which the plot was quite incapable either of absorbing or obliterating and so he is obliged to give the irrepressible boy his final fling (the trial scene), a fling which raises the book into a serious art. The importance of the Artful Dodger in the pattern of the novel is that he, almost alone of the characters of the underworld, does stick up for himself, does continue and develop the conflict that Oliver had begun when he asked for more.