Oliver Twist is the central character of the novel. He is also a link among the three different worlds depicted in the novel—the workhouse, the crime world and the world of the genteel middle class people. He is, as a matter of fact, more a symbol than a fully individualized character. In the opening sentence of the Novel, Dickens describes him as an item of mortality. Till the end of the novel nothing is specifically known about his parents. The name that he bears is given to him just by chance. All this suggests that Dickens wanted to make him an instrument of exposing the inhumanity and the cal1ousness of the workhouse and the underworld.He belongs to the class to which Huckleberry Finn and Becky Sharp belong,that is to say, he belongs to no class. He is a mobile character and the novelist makes him freely come across the different cross sections of the society in order to expose them. In his Preface to the third edition of Oliver Twist, Dickens says, “I wished to show in little Oliver the principle of Good surviving through every adverse circumstance and triumphing at last”. So, in a way, Oliver is symbolic of the principle of good. If we appreciate Oliver,it is for his propensity towards always being good, and if we sympathise with him, it is for his being a deprived and outcast child. In any case we accept him less as a real child and more as a symbol.
Innocent and melancholy looks
It should be noted that Dickens has nowhere fully described Oliver’s appearance. In fact, with the exception of Rose Maylie, Oliver is the only major character whose appearance is not well depicted. However, we come to understand that he is delicate and handsome. He always looks innocent and the chief expression on his face is that of melancholy. In chapter 5, Mr Sowerberry notices it and is convinced that he will make a very effective mute. Soon after, he is given the responsibility of accompanying the funeral processions, particularly when it is young children that are being taken to be buried. The young melancholy, Oliver, dressed in black quietly moving at the head of the procession, makes a very pathetic appearance. Later in the novel, in chapter 22, Toby Crackit also observes the same thing, “Wot an invalable boy that” I’l make, for the old ladies pockets in chapels! His mug is a fortun to him.”
It is worth noticing that Oliver looks innocent because he is innocent.. Unlike some other novels where external appearances are utterly deceptive, in Oliver’s case there is a remarkable correspondence between his inward nature and external appearance. Sikes is evil and he looks evil. The diabolical and sinister nature of Fagin is adequately reflected on his face, and So is Oliver’s innocence. When he collapses outside Mrs Maylie’s house, he looks not only weak but also innocent. Rose is sure that a childlike Oliver could never commit a robbery. Mr Brownlow low also does not need a second thought to convince himself of Oliver’s innocence. Even the sceptical Mr Grimwig easily acknowledges his goodness.
Another point to be noted about Oliver’s character is that his virtue remains uncontaminated throughout the novel. Most of his life is spent under the care of scoundrels like Mr Bumble, Mrs. Mann, the inconsiderate Mrs Sowerberry, the sneakish rogue Noah Claypole, the devilish Fagin, and the odious Sikes. Anyone living under the shadow of the wicked characters would have either completely succumbed to and turned into a rogue himself, but Oliver survives. In spite of all the effort made by Monks to convert him into a thief, Oliver persists in his goodness. That is why it has been said that he represents goodness. Dickens has made him so good that on occasions he ceases to be a convincing character.
Apart from his almost incredible piety and irreproachable conduct, his one positive characteristic that is conspicuously in evidence in the early chapters is his courage. In chapter 2, we are told nature or inheritance had planted a good sturdy spirit in Oliver’s breast which enabled him to survive the cruel regime of Mrs Mann’s baby farm. In the same chapter, he approaches the board and makes his famous demand, “please, sir, I want some more”. It is true that he is as much prompted by his own courage as by the fear or that domineering and bullying senior boy who had threatened that he would eat raw the boy sleeping next to him, if he were not given an additional helping of gruel. Still it must have taken tremendous courage to approach the members of the boards in view of their inevitable fury. Further evidence of his courage is seen in chapter 3 when he resists being apprenticed to Mr Gamfield, the Chimney sweep and in chapter 6 when he gives a sound thrashing to Noah Claypole. The charity boy is older than Oliver and enjoys the patronage and help of Mrs Sowerberry and Charlotte. But once when Oliver is provoked by the disparaging marks of Noah about his mother,nothing can suppress his wrath, not even Mr. Bumble, who in spite of the properly waxed cane in his hand, is frightened by Oliver’s audacity. His flight from Mr Sowerbenys in chapter 7 is another proof of his being courageous. But after he goes to London, he is almost swallowed by his circumstances and after “this everything seems done to him and for him, and almost nothing is done by him”.