Summary of Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist

Oliver Twist; or, the Parish Boy’s Progress is the second novel by Charles Dickens.


A child was born in a dark and dingy work-house about seventy-five miles north of London. His mother’s name was not known. She had perhaps undertaken a long journey on foot and had fallen unconscious by the roadside near the workhouse. She died almost immediately after giving birth to the child, leaving behind a locket and a ring as the only tokens of the child’s identity. These too were stolen by old Sally, present at her death. Sally was just an ordinary pauper, living in the workhouse.

Mr Bumble, the parish beadle and a bullying official of the workhouse named the child, Oliver. Mr . Bumble named the children born in the workhouse in the interesting order of an alphabetical system he had himself devised. On Mr. Bumble’s list, Twist was the name falling between Swubble and Unwin. So he was named Oliver Twist.

A reward of ten pounds was offered to anyone who could give helpful clues about Oliver’s parents. But no useful information could be procured. Oliver was sent to a nearby poor farm, where he passed his early childhood in neglect and near starvation. At the age of nine, he was moved back to the workhouse. The children in the workhouse were given very little to eat, so virtually they were always hungry. One day Oliver was forced by other children to ask for a second serving of porridge. The authorities were stunned by this unusual and unprecedented demand. In order to give him deterring punishment, they immediately put him in solitary confinement and posted a bill offering five pounds to some master who would take him off the parish.

Oliver was apprenticed to Mr Sowerberry, a coffin maker, to learn a trade. Since Oliver cut a pathetic figure, Sowerberry finally made him an attendant at children’s funerals. Noah Claypole, another employee of Sowerberry, once teased Oliver about his parentage. Oliver patiently stood the insult but when he could not endure more, he ran into a violent fury and fiercely hit Claypole. It was with great difficulty that he was overpowered by Mrs Sowerberry, Charlotte, a maid at Sowerberrys and Claypole, and locked in the cellar. When Sowerberry returned, Oliver was given a severe thrashing. But later he was released. That night Oliver packed his meagre belongings and left for London.

The journey to London was tiresome and painful. When Oliver reached the out-skirts of London, he was worn out walking and had become weak from hunger. He met Jack Dawkins, popularly known as the Artful Dodgr, who offered him food and lodging sin the city. Oliver soon found himself in the midst of a gang of young thieves led by a miserly old Jew, Fagin. Here Oliver was trained as a pickpocket.

One day the Artful Dodger, Charley Bates and Oliver were sent on a pickpocketing mission. Oliver did not pick any pockets, but it was he who was caught and taken to the police station. There he was rescued by kindly Mr Brownlow, the man whose pocket Oliver was accused of having picked. This adventure left a rude shock on young Oliver’s mind and for some time he was terribly sick. He was carefully looked after by Mr Brownlow, his gruff friend MrGrimwig and the old housekeeper Mrs Bedwin. In the room where Oliver was kept, there hung on one of the walls the portrait of a young woman, and almost everyone marveled at the resemblance between young Oliver and the lady in the portrait.

Mr Brownlow was sure that Oliver was a sincere and honest boy but his friend Mr Grimwig thought otherwise. When Oliver was fully recovered, he was one day given some money and books to take to a bookseller. Grimwig wagered that Oliver would not return. Brownlow was equally confident he would. Meanwhile Fagin and his gang had been on the constant look-out for his appearance. So as soon as he left Mr.Brownlow’s house, he was intercepted by Nancy, a young street girl associated with the gang and brought back to Fagin’s den.

Mr Brownlow still sure that Oliver had been the victim of some unfortunate mishap advertised for his recovery. This advertisement was seen by Mr Bumble, then in London on some parochial business. Hoping to earn some profit, he hastened to Mr Brownlow and reported that Oliver was incorrigible. The information made Mr Brownlow an utterly dejected and unhappy person. He felt so miserable that he refused to have Oliver’s name mentioned in his presence.

Oliver was once more back in the hands of Fagin. During his absence the gang had been studying a house in Chertsey,west of London, with a view to breaking into it at night. The time came for his adventure and Oliver, much to his horror, was chosen to participate. This daring robbery was to be attempted by Bill Sikes, the brutal young co-leader of the gang, Toby Crackit, another housebreaker and Oliver, who had been chosen because of his short height. They thought he would be handy to let into the house through a ventilator. The three met in the dark of early morning and pried open a small window of the house. Oliver was in no mood to be an accomplice in the robbery. He entered the window,determined to warn the occupants. He fell on the floor with a thud and the robbers were discovered. All the three of them fled, but as he was running,Oliver was wounded by a gunshot.

It was not, possible to carry the wounded Oliver with them. So Sikes, threw him into a ditch and covered him with a cape. Toby Crackit returned to Fagin and reported the incident.In the meantime one Monks had met Fagin and held with him an important conversation about Oliver’s parentage. Monks wanted to got hold of the boy and sought Fagin’s assistance. This conversation was overheard by Nancy, who later played a very significant role in Oliver’s life.

Oliver, left by Bill Sikes in the ditch, was feeling weak and miserable. But he crawled back to the house into which he had gone the night before. He was taken in by the owner, Mrs Maylie and Rose, her adopted niece. Oliver’s story aroused their sympathy and he was saved from police investigation by Dr Losberne, friend of the Maylies. He had still not forgotten Mr Brownlow. After he had recovered, he accompanied Dr Losberne to seek out Mr Brownlow but he was disappointed to learn that the old gentleman and his friend Mrs Bedwin had gone to the West Indies.

Meanwhile Mr Bumble had been courting the widow, Mrs Corney. During one of their conversations, Mrs Corney was called out to attend the death of old Sally, who had stood by at the death of Oliver’s mother. After old Sally died, Mrs Corney removed a pawn ticket from her hand. In Mrs Corney’s absence, Bumble appraised her property to his satisfaction. He also proposed marriage to Mrs Corney.

The Maylies moved to the country where Oliver studied gardening, read and took long walks. During the holiday Rose Maylie fell sick and nearly died. After her recovery, Harry Maylie, the son of Mrs Maylie joined the group. Harry, in love with. Rose, proposed marriage to her. But Rose declined the proposal. She said she could not marry him before she had discovered her real identity. Secondly he must mend his ways before he married her. One evening Oliver was frightened to see Fagin and Monks peering at him through the study window.

Mr Bumble was soon disillusioned with his wife, for the former Mrs Corney dominated him completely. Monks went to the workhouse seeking information about Oliver.He met Mrs Bumble and learnt that she had recommended a locket and a wedding ring with the pawn that she had recovered from old Sally. Monks bought the trinkets from Mrs Bumble and threw them into the river.

Monks told Fagin that he had disposed of the tokens of Oliver’s parentage.This conversation was again overheard by Nancy. She drugged Bill Sikes,whom she had, been nursing after the robbery at Chertsey and went to Rose Maylie whose name and address she had overheard in the conversation between Fagin and Monks. Nancy told Rose everything she had heard concerning Oliver. Rose was unable to understand fully the various connections of the plot nor could she see Monks’ connection with Oliver. She offered the miserable girl the protection of her own home. But Nancy refused the offer since she was in love with Bill Sikes and could never leave him. The two young women, however, agreed on a time and place for a later meeting.

Oliver had seen Mr Brownlow in the street. So he persuaded Rose to take him to the old gentleman. The reunion of Oliver, Mr Brownlow and Mrs Bedwin was a joyous one. Even old Mr Grimwig gruffly expressed his pleasure at seeing Oliver again. Rose acquainted Mr Brownlow with the important facts in Nancy’s story.

Noah Claypoie and Charlotte, maidservant of the Sowerberrys, had in the meantime, run away from the undertaker and arrived in London. They happened to go to the pubic house which was also the haunt of Fagin and his gang. Fagin easily succeeded in persuading Noah to join him. He was given the job of stealing small coins from children on household errands.

Nancy could not meet Rose Maylie at the appointed time. Bill Sikes was still unwell and he did not let her move from his side. Noticing Nancy’s impatience to go away, Fagin concluded that she had got tired of Sikes and that she had another lover. Fagin hated Sikes because Sikes wielded a strong power over the gang. He saw this situation as an opportunity to get rid of Sikes. He asked Noah to spy on Nancy.

The following week Nancy got free with the aid of Fagin. She went to Rose and Mr Brownlow and revealed to them the haunts of all the members of the gang except Sikes. Noah overheard all this and reported it to Fagin who conveyed it to Sikes. Sikes was naturally infuriated. He brutally murdered Nancy without knowing that the girl had been faithful to him. But once the murder was over, he was haunted by the vision of murdered Nancy’s eyes. He just kept running about but got no peace. Apprehending that the presence of his dog might betray him, he attempted to kill his dog. The dog ran away.

On the basis of Nancy’s information, Monks was soon apprehended. And he confessed to Mr Brownlow the plot against Oliver. Oliver’s father, Edwin Leeford had married a woman older than himself. Their son, Edward Leeford was the man now known as Monks.The senior Mr Leeford separated from his wife after leading several years of unhappy married life with her. Monks and his mother stayed on the continent while Mr Leeford returned to England. Later he met a retired naval officer and fell in love with his seventeen years old daughter. There was another daughter aged three. Leeford contracted to marry the girl, but before the marriage could be solemnised, he was called to Rome, where and old friend had died. On the way to Rome, he stopped at the house of Mr Brownlow, his best friend, and left with him a portrait of his betrothed. He himself fell sick in Rome and died.

The girl he was to marry on his return was pregnant. When she heard of Leeford’s death, she ran away to hide her condition. Soon afterwards, her father died and the younger sister was eventually adopted by Mrs Maylie. She was Rose Maylie, Oliver’s aunt. Monks squandered away much of the property left to him. When his mother died, he went to the West Indies where Mr Brownlow had gone in search of him. But Monks had already returned to England. He wanted to find his half brother Oliver’s whereabouts so that he might appropriate his part of the property. It was Monks who had offered the reward at the work house for information about Oliver’s parentage, and it was Monks who had paid Fagin to see that the boy remained with the gang as a common thief.

After the Artful Dodger had been seized, Bill Sikes and the remainder of the gang met at Jacob’s Island in the Thames River. They wanted to stay there in a deserted house till the hunt had died down. But Sike’s dog led their pursuers to the hideout. Bill Sikes hanged himself accidentally with the rope he was using as a means of escape. The other robbers were captured. Fagin was hanged publicly at Newgate after he had revealed to Oliver the location of the paper concerning the boy’s heritage. Monks had entrusted these papers to the Jew for safekeeping.

Harry Maylie, who had become a minister, married Rose Maylie. Mr Brownlow adopted Oliver and took up residence near the church of Reverend Harry Maylie. Mr and Mrs Bumble lost their positions in the parish and soon became inmates of the workhouse which once had been their domain. Monks allowed to retain his share of the father’s property, went to America and eventually died in prison. Charley Bates went to Northamptonshire and reformed himself. Oliver’s years of hardship and unhappiness were over.

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