Character Sketch of Monks in Oliver Twist

Monks is Oliver’s half brother. His real name is Edward Leeford. For quite some time he remains in the background. If at all he makes an appearance, he is more a mysterious force than a real character. It is quite late in the novel, in chapter 40; that his real identity is revealed. All the other aspects of his life are given much later.

Ugly and disfigured

In chapter 25 Monks is described as a dark stranger. This vague impression of his personality persists untill chapter 46 when Nancy gives a very detailed account of his appearance. He is tall,strong, with dark hair and eyes even his face is dark, his eyes are deeply sunken and his whole personality looks almost disfigured. Nancy tells Mr Brownlow that there is a mark like a burn or a scald which he tries to keep covered with his handkerchief. He is subject to fits, most probably the fits of epilepsy. When he suddenly comes across Oliver in the inn yard, he is much taken by surprise that he curses the boy and then falls into a fit The poor, frightened Oliver has to shout for help before he goes back. Because of these fits, he is in the habit of biting his lips and hands. He has a lurking walk and constantly looks over his shoulder as he goes along. He is completely evil minded and his evil is fully reflected in his appearance.

Unstable and cowardly character

Monks is obviously unstable and subject to uncontrollable fear. Although he pretends to be brave, he is rather cowardly. While talking to Fagin, he notices a woman shadow moving along the wainscot and is overpowered by a sense of fear. Fagin takes him round the whole building but even then Monks is not satisfied. It becomes difficult for the old Jew to hide his contempt for Monks’s cowardice. At other moments also, very trivial provocations make him tremble and he throws himself into violent outbursts. About Nancy, at one moment he says that he would like to see her throttled, but the very next minute he declares that he won’t shed blood. It becomes difficult to reconcile these two aspects of his character. In chapters 378, in his meeting with Mr Bumble and his wife, he is in a position of command and he bullies them. But he easily succumbs to Mrs Bumble and betrays his cowardly nature. He gets frightened during the storm also. When Mr Brownlow interrogates him, he is sullen and defiant in the beginning but almost immediately collapses under the weight of evidence and blurts everything.

Incorrigibly wicked

Monks is incorrigibly wicked. It seems that he has inherited this wickedness from his mother. Before her death his mother tells him something about Oliver’s birth. He also knows that Oliver is to get his father’s property, subject to the condition that he does not taint his life with any evil action and from that day he makes it the sole purpose of his life to convert Oliver into a thief. He is so much obsessed with this idea that his personality becomes unstable. He pays quite a huge sum to Fagin and it is mainly to satisfy him that Oliver is involved into the robbery at Chertseyal though he is furious when the robbery fails and Oliver is taken over by Mrs Maylie. He tries to destroy all evidence about Oliver and his parentage and feels triumphant when he throws the locket into the dark, surging water of the river Thames. The kind and benevolent Mr Brownlow agrees to give him half the property to allow him another opportunity to redeem himself but Monks squanders the whole of the money and is imprisoned. He ultimately dies in a jail, most probably as a result of his epileptic fits.

A device to link three worlds

It should be noticed that Monks is not so much a character, like Oliver he is a device created by the novelist for the purpose of linking the three worlds in which Oliver moves, the three worlds represented by Mr. Bumble, Fagin and Mr Brownlow, and Oliver and Monksare themselves linked up by their blood relationship. Thus Monks is a key figure in the plot. He introduces a lot of suspense and mystery and provides additional motivation to Fagin for his villainy. It is rather regrettable that Dickens has not made him a more convincing character.

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