Character Sketch of Mr. Brownlow in Oliver Twist

Mr. Brownlow is the kind old gentleman whom Oliver is accused of having robbed. He is the representative of the middle class benevolent world. He thinks kindly of Oliver and decides to take him home when the testimony given by the owner of the book shop rescues him from being sentenced to three months hard life in jail. When the resemblance between Oliver and the lady whose portrait he finds in Mr. Brownlow’s house is noticed, we have a strong feeling that there is some connection between Oliver and the old man although we do not discover until chapter 49 that he was in fact a very close friend of Oliver’s grandfather.

Mr. Brownlow is respectable, kind and courageous. He is very sincere in his love and his greatest quality is that he is a man of strong and lasting attachments. When the girl he wanted to marry dies, he does not marry himself. He develops a great liking for her brother and does whatever he can for his sake. Oliver’s father leaves a portrait of the girl he wanted to marry and later Mr. Brownlow makes every effort to help her and to help Oliver.He goes to West Indies in search of Monks and in England also he searches him out and compels him to make a confession. His kindness is not confined only to Oliver; he tries to give an opportunity even to Monks so that the latter might turn over a new leaf. If Monks loses this opportunity,wastes the whole money and ultimately dies in prison, the fault lies with himself.

Mr. Brownlow is an example of what George Orwell called “that recurrent Dickens figure, the good rich man.” Orwell goes on to say that of course this is. a pure dream figure: “Even Dickens must have reflected occasionally that anyone who was so anxious to give his money away would never have acquired it in the first place.” It is really an interesting point that Mr. Brownlow has been extremely rich and it is difficult to believe that a man as generous as he could also be as rich as he is. However, if we read his character closely, we find him quite a wise and careful man. His being rich does not appear to be improbable but we will have to acknowledge that he is a dream figure. He is a masculine equivalent of a fairy godmother who appears at exactly the right time. Ultimately he adopts Oliver as his own son and settles down in the countryside at a small distance from the Maylies.

One point of interest about all the good characters portrayed by Dickens is their tendency to shed tears readily. Dickens himself was emotionally demonstrative and sometimes he wept as he wrote. Today this exercise in waterworks appears ridiculous to us, but for Dickens it was almost a proof of the ability to feel. In chapter 12, Mr. Brownlow is moved to tears at the very sight of Oliver and he has to pretend that he has caught cold. Even Mr Bumble has to pretend once that he has a bad throat. There is nothing strange about Mr. Brownlow’s shedding tears. Dickens writes, “Mr. Brownlow’s heart, being large enough for any six ordinary old gentlemen of humane disposition, forced a supply of tears into his eyes by some hydraulic process which we are not sufficiently philosophical to be in a condition to explain.” But whatever explanations may have been offered, it is to be admitted that Dickens has not been able to make his genteel characters including Mr. Brownlow as convincing as the criminals like Fagin and Sikes.

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